ALHI Executive Women in Leadership Conference Offered Mindful Solutions

As event professionals, we have dedicated our lives to bringing people together, but the irony is that sometimes we feel isolated working in our silos, valiantly attacking our to-do lists but too often getting overwhelmed in the struggle to do it all. That is why my heart sings when I hear about groups of women coming together to benefit the industry.

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For a couple of beautiful July days in California’s wine country, 70 female executives gathered at The Meritage Resort & Spa’s new Napa Valley Vista Collina Resort for the 13th annual Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI) Executive Women in Leadership Conference. ALHI Executive Vice President Ashly Balding described it as “an opportunity to share goals, challenges, network, collaborate and just be comfortable in a place where there is no judgment.”

I call it inspired.

Balding brought Romilia “Dr. Romie” Mushtaq, a neurologist and chief wellness officer for Evolution Hospitality (and former Smart Meeting speaker), to lead discussions about work-life balance—including the importance of hitting the pause button on our lives, as Mushtaq puts it. After her own stress-induced medical emergency, the former emergency-room brain surgeon has become an evangelist for strategically disconnecting in order to be more present and effective on the job.

The message of mindfulness resonated with Balding, who three months after the conference shared with me that she is still challenging herself to practice five minutes of meditation every morning and a 30-minute detox from electronics at night. “I had to move the television out of the bedroom,” she confided. But the struggle has been worth it. “The brain fog caused by stress hurt my ability to be effective at work and home. Taking time to focus without distraction helps clear that.”

The goal of these retreats—which include equal numbers of ALHI team leaders and meetings industry partners— is to impart actionable plans for mapping future business strategies. To that end, the agenda included immersive exercises, such as yoga in the vineyard. “There were some first-timers asking what a downward dog was and some experienced yogis, but everyone benefitted from the chance to reset mind, body and soul in such a beautiful environment,” Balding said. Past retreats have focused on the power of body language and wellness.

Balding is determined to be part of a movement that helps more women move into leadership roles. “We have grit, passion and purpose, but we also have a lot on our plates and need tools to deal with that stress,” she said.

Plus, she just loves the camaraderie, enthusing, “This is just so powerful.”