A Woman’s Place

Meeting Planning

One wonders what Peggy and Joan, Mad Men's enduring symbols of gender inequity, would think if they were magically transported into the modern workplace. Today's women are earning more college degrees than men, hold more management positions than their male counterparts, and have seen their average salaries increase by nearly 50% in the last 37 years. And modern females are finding success without relying on their feminine wiles like Joan or by playacting the part of a traditional man like Peggy.

The world today is simply much more embracing of women in the world of business—which explains why, when we asked females in the industry about gender dynamics, many expressed just how much they think times have changed.

But while there's no doubt we've come a long way, and the Mad Men era seems distant indeed, the gender gap is clearly not closed yet.

Consider the facts: The average American working woman, while she earns much more than she used to, still gets paid 80% of what a male colleague does. An example of a persistent salary disparity: Folio's annual compensation survey, released in September, revealed that male editorsin- chef earn $15,000 more than females in the same role. And while it's true that 51.4% of American women are managers, just 10% of them are in CEO positions, a fact that illustrates an interesting dichotomy—women are clearly making strides to reach high levels of success, yet still struggle to reach the highest levels. (Those female CEOs, for the record, earn 15% less than their male counterparts.)

The dearth of females in executive roles may explain why, when a woman does assume a high-profile position, it is often met with intense scrutiny and interest. Just ask Marissa Mayer, newly minted CEO of Yahoo, who recently confronted attacks on her executive readiness when she announced she was pregnant ("I'll work throughout [maternity leave]," she assured skeptics—and she was back to work after giving birth within days.)

Gender imbalance is evident in the meetings industry, too. Female planners dominate the field, but relatively few have penetrated the upper ranks of executive management. MPI's annual conferences have a much different gender makeup than PCMA's or ASAE's. Women serve myriad roles at CVBs, but rarely as CEO; in our October 2012 CVB update story, just four of the 39 top-tier bureaus featured were helmed by women. And a June 2012 PCMA study revealed that the average salary for women in the meetings industry is 14% lower than what men earn.

These stats reveal why it is still important to address gender issues in the workplace, even though many women ask why the conversation must be revisited at all. Such facts are also distressing for this simple reason: Women are proven to contribute significantly to professional success.

The nonprofit research organization Catalyst Inc., for instance, revealed that over a four to five year period, Fortune 500 companies with at least three women on their board of directors saw an 84% improved return on sales and 60% enhanced return on invested capital. It's fair to be concerned, then, that in 2011 women comprised just 16.1% of Fortune 500 board seats.

Sheila Dundon, a Monterey, Calif.-based executive coach, trainer and speaker who is developing the Rise Leadership Forum for professional women, puts it this way when talking about gender equality: "It's not just about being fair; it's about the bottom line."

The good news is that the tide is changing, and powerfully so. The March 2012 Time cover story "The Richer Sex" revealed a course-altering fact: In the majority of U.S. metro areas, single women in their 20s with no children outearn their male peers.

The fact that young unmarried women with no children are the ones earning more than men points to the persistent issue of work-family balance. In a July 2012 Atlantic Monthly cover story, boldly titled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," the first female director of policy planning at the State Department discussed her decision to leave that job and return to a tenured position at Princeton University so she could spend more time with family. Talking about her leadership role, she lamented playing a part, "albeit unwittingly, in making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot)." The problem, she noted, wasn't with the female work ethic, but with the system's chronic inability to acknowledge the importance of balance between work and home. Striking that balance, and the challenge in doing so, was a common theme among the women we spoke with for this story.

At Smart Meetings, we pride ourselves on the leadership of a female founder/CEO, Marin Bright, and on employing a staff with many women in senior roles. No matter how far women have come or how far they need to go, it is worth celebrating the many smart, visionary females who have found success in this industry. Here, we spotlight just a handful of those who have left their mark, blazing the trail for more women leaders to come.


Casandra Matej

Executive Director, San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau

Matej has overseen the promotion of San Antonio's visitor and tourism industry, which generates about $11 billion annually, since June 2011. Previously, she was senior vice president of sales and services for the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, where she helped the city host the annual meetings for MPI and PCMA, as well as Super Bowl XLV. She has 17 years of experience in the hotel and CVB industry.

1. What challenges and obstacles did you face as a woman ascending to your current position?

When I entered the field right after college, a male counterpart—though he was also right out of college— was able to get a coordinator position while I got a job as administrative assistant. It was the first time I realized there are potential barriers we all must overcome. Dealing with the city as a professional female, there are a lot of times when I'm the only woman sitting at the table. Some out there think that they have to give up their femininity to work in a man's world, but I don't feel that way. We have to own who we are and I think I own who I am.

2. What unique perspective do you as a woman bring to your role?

I don't know if it's gender or just the stage in my life, but as a woman I've contributed a work-balance perspective, not only as an executive director, but first and foremost as a wife and the mother of two, and to two preschoolers no less. I can provide true understanding to staff from that perspective. I do think it doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman—in today's world, we're all trying to find ways to balance work and life, and as leaders it's important for us to set that example while maintaining that healthy balance. A long time ago, someone gave me great advice. Especially as a working mom, you know as a mother when you need to be there and I make sure I'm there. I also try to work out a travel schedule where I'm not gone for long periods of time.

3. What successful women, in the industry and outside of it, inspire you?

One of my dearest friends is Christie Tarantino, executive director of the Association Forum of Chicagoland. She's been a personal friend for going on 18 years and has made great strides in the industry. We've both grown up in the industry and we've helped each other every step of the way.

4. Few CVB executives are female. Do you have any thoughts or ideas on how to increase the number of women who assume this role?

Looking across the landscape, there's going to be changes in the next five or seven years, with leaders retiring and job changes. CVBs are starting to promote from within, and with more females in that number two or three position, that's an opportunity for more leaders.

I feel like I'm a pretty positive individual, and what's really interesting is I didn't think of myself as someone to speak on gender topics, though it's a great opportunity. But I will tell you I had outreach from females across the country when I first got into this position. My general advice is this: Turn barriers into opportunities for the future.


Sherry Romello

Senior Director of Hilton Meetings & Product Management, Hilton Worldwide

Romello assumed her executive role with the Hilton hotel company in January 2012. Prior to that, she worked for the National Association of Convenience Stores (now the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing), National Recreation & Park Association and National Apartment Association, among others. She has more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry.

1. What challenges and obstacles did you face as a woman ascending to your current position?

One of my biggest challenges has come from balancing my personal life with career advancement. As a single mom after my first marriage ended, I completed my bachelor's degree while working full-time, and that journey has made me a better person. My son attended my college graduation, as did my soon-to-be husband, who has been my biggest supporter for almost twelve years. While reflecting on these challenges now, I truly do believe that everything happens for a reason.

2. Do you have any interesting anecdotes to share about your road to success?

I grew up in a rural part of Kentucky and my dad really shaped my view of believing that I could do anything I wanted. Whether it was changing the oil in my car or playing sports, my dad always encouraged me. I apply that same philosophy to my career—if I want something, I believe it is within my control to achieve it.

3. What advice would you offer other women working their way up in the meetings/hospitality industry?

For me, I wake up every morning wanting to add value and make a positive difference. I fell in love with the hospitality and events industry as soon as I entered the field. I often say, 'I didn't find my career, it found me.' Nothing replaces hard work, honesty, integrity and commitment. At the end of the day, I have to look at myself in the mirror and I want to like who I see.

4. A recent PCMA survey revealed that female meeting planners earn 14% less than their male counterparts. What's your response to figures like this?

My first reaction is that perhaps men are more confident in asking for what they think they're worth. I don't get caught up in what others get paid and have always felt that if I prove my value in my work, day in and day out, the financial and promotional opportunities will come.


Shawna Suckow

Founder and President, Senior Planners Industry Network (SPIN)

Since launching in 2008, SPIN has evolved into one of the industry's most respected organizations and now has 2,500 members. Prior to founding SPIN, Suckow was a corporate planner for seven years and owned her own company, Compass Events. In 2012, she published her first book, Planner Pet Peeves; she is also a highly sought-out industry speaker and consultant.

1. Do you have any interesting anecdotes to share about your road to success?

I came into the industry at a time when meeting planning wasn't an official 'job.' Like many of my peers, it fell into my lap. As such, I really didn't have any mentors to show me the ropes, and no Meeting Planning for Dummies books existed. I learned so many things the hard way and embarrassed myself so many times along the way.

I remember the day I learned about gratuities— that the wonderful men and women who work at hotels serving my meetings deserved a little extra for going the extra mile. I felt like such a heel, all those times I had just given them a hearty handshake, and they were gracious about it nevertheless.

2. What unique perspective do you as a woman bring to your role?

I believe what's influenced me more than my gender is my generation. My generation and others who came prior were really thrown into the job with no instruction manual and nobody to show us the ropes. As such, I've been really open to mentoring others, particularly because there was nobody to mentor me in my specific job function.

3. What advice would you offer other women working their way up in the meetings industry?

Find a mentor or two or three! In our industry, I really believe it's not six degrees of separation, but two. It's such a tight-knit industry, so whom you know is critical in forming your future opportunities.

4. What changes have you witnessed for women in the meetings/hospitality industry over the last ten years?

Over the past ten years, I feel like a lot more planners in general have risen to a higher level of credibility in their companies, where they're being seen as strategic assets and not just bagel counters. Because meeting planners by and large are female, it's great to see women ascending to this level and bringing more validation to our industry.

5. How can SPIN help empower meeting and event planners?

SPIN seeks to empower planners not by gender, but by experience level. We believe that senior-level meeting and event planners have amazing experience and wisdom to bring to the industry, but they also face challenges. Younger generations coming into the industry are more tech-savvy as a whole and more open to social media. They also come to the industry expecting a seat at the table immediately. I love their confidence, and the way their brains are wired for technology and multitasking in ways my generation never imagined.


Eve Wright Taylor

VP and Associate General Counsel, Miami Heat and AmericanAirlines Arena

Taylor advises on legal issues pertaining to concerts and events, corporate sales and more for the NBA Heat and arena where they play. She also drafts agreements for groups that conduct conferences at the arena, and can speak before games to those who purchase group tickets. Previously, she was senior director of business affairs for the LPGA.

1. The world of sports management is particularly male-dominated. What has the reaction been to your professional ascent in this world?

It starts with perspective for me. I am fortunate to live and work in a time in which I am able to stand on the shoulders of those women and minorities who sacrificed life and limb for each of us to have an equal opportunity to succeed. And while all of the "-isms" haven't been eradicated (sexism, racism, etc.), navigating those circumstances is about how I choose to respond; I can either be discouraged and allow it to stop me before I get started or I can honor this incredible opportunity and rich legacy of success left to me by succeeding in spite of those who try to stop me. I feel indebted to them (both the leaders and the nameless and faceless people in the trenches of those movements) for their sacrifice and am obligated to protect that legacy by succeeding and to continue to grow it by holding the door open for others.

2. What unique perspective do you as a woman bring to your role?

I think many women, through instinct or socialization, tend to be more perceptive about reading and relating to people. That sort of empathy is helpful in forming relationships, understanding what motivates a team and problem solving—all of which are crucial to how I do my job.

3. A recent PCMA survey revealed that female meeting planners earn 14% less than their male counterparts. What's your response to figures like this?

I think it's widely acknowledged that women largely earn less per dollar than their similarly situated counterparts. We've certainly made strides toward gender earning equality but it doesn't appear that, even in 2012, we're there yet.

I am hopeful, however, that with federal legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (see sidebar on pg. 80), and with the commitment of women who have cracked the glass ceiling to support equal pay practices, it will soon become a reality across all industries.


More Powerful Women

Industry Organization Head Honchos

Christine Duffy, President and CEO, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)

Duffy was president and CEO of Maritz Travel and chairwoman of the board for MPI before assuming her current role in February 2011, and has been a key advocate for cruise meetings.

Duffy also pioneered a leading resource for females in the industry, the Women's Leadership Initiative, which she recalls initially pitching to a nearly all-male board of directors. "They were really struggling with the need for the initiative, because the majority of people in the industry were women. Obviously, the fact that I was presenting to an almost entirely male board was lost on them. Ultimately, one of the members spoke up and said, 'You know, I have three young daughters, and I hope that by the time they grow up, if they choose to work in this industry, they would have a seat at this table.' That was an 'a-ha' moment."

Deborah Sexton, President and CEO, PCMA

Sexton has been in charge of the influential PCMA and its PCMA Education Foundation since March 2005. She has more than 30 years of experience in the meetings and conventions industry, including as president of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau (now Choose Chicago) and principal for Sexton Hospitality Services. She has been a leader in the campaign to prove the value of meetings during the economic downturn.

Gloria Bohan, Founder, President and CEO, Omega World Travel

Since launching Omega World Travel in 1972, Bohan has helped grow the organization into a billion-dollar international enterprise handling leisure travel, cruises, meetings and more. Today, it is one of the top woman- owned businesses in the U.S.

Bohan recalls how, as she launched her company, the banking industry was leery of providing lines of credit to a woman and how many assumed her husband, who also worked for the company, was actually the founder and CEO. But she says "after 40 years, as you prove yourself, people look at you differently." She singles out the importance of the Women's Enterprise National Council, which helps certify women-owned businesses, in expanding opportunities for professional women.

Hattie Hill, CEO, Hattie Hill Enterprises, Inc.

With more than 20 years of experience as a businesswoman, professional speaker and international management consultant, Hill is a highly regarded expert on global leadership, customer service and diversity within the tourism and meetings industry. She is chairman of the Dallas CVB's board of directors and serves on the boards for the MPI Foundation, the International Women's Forum-Dallas and the Wyndham International External Diversity Advisory, among others. Her most recent book is Smart Choices That Will Change Your Life.

Tamara Kennedy-Hill, CMP, Executive Director, Green Meetings Industry Council (GMIC)

A longtime advocate for sustainable meetings, Kennedy-Hill became executive director of GMIC in 2008 after previously serving as an active member and program chair for the organization. She has more than 15 years of experience in the industry, including as convention sales manager for Oregon's Travel Portland and Hilton Portland & Executive Tower.

High-Powered Hotel Execs

Niki Leondakis, President and COO, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants

Leondakis joined Kimpton in 1993 as director of restaurant operations and ascended to her current position in 2010. As president and COO, she manages operations for a fast-growing portfolio of 56 hotels and 53 restaurants around the U.S. She started Kimpton's popular Mentor Program, aiding in the development of advancing leaders. Previously, she oversaw restaurant operations for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.

Renee West, President and COO, Excalibur and Luxor

The first female president of a major resort on The Strip, West assumed her current role in 2005 and recently participated in Vegas' 2012 Women's Leadership Conference. She was previously president of Mandalay Bay and Thehotel. Remarking on the lack of women in senior leadership roles, West says, "Women typically don't self-promote and may rely on their work to speak for itself. As a result, early in their careers, I think many women feel they have to produce more for the same recognition as male counterparts." Of her own success, she notes, "Early on, I was lucky enough to have a strong male advocate that recognized my contributions and supported my advancement."

Barbara Bowden, General Manager, Peabody Orlando

Bowden began working the front desk at Buena Vista Palace Hotel in Florida in 1984 and landed a job as front desk supervisor at the Peabody Orlando two years later. Since February 2010, she's run the entire property, encompassing an extensive 1,641 guest rooms and 300,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space. It was under her leadership that Peabody Hotels launched its central reservations system in 2005.

Kathleen Cochran, General Manager, Bacara Resort & Spa

A 35-year veteran of the industry, Cochran worked for the Plaza Hotel in New York and Hotel del Coronado outside San Diego, and spent 24 years with Loews Hotels, before assuming her current position with the Santa Barbara, Calif., resort.

In the past, Cochran notes, "it was much harder for women to progress in their careers. I started in hospitality on the operational side. And while I was successful, women were not able to climb the ranks through operations back then. I had to first transition into sales (the other option was human resources), ultimately moving sideways in order to move up."

Meeting Planner Power Players

Julie Lindsey, Director of Corporate Events, Gap

In her role with the Fortune 500 clothing giant, Lindsey oversees about 400 events annually. She is known as a vocal proponent of sustainable meetings and serves an active role with the Green Meetings Industry Council. She began her career with a San Francisco DMO and prior to joining Gap spent eight years managing events for Oracle.

Kati Quigley, Director of Event Marketing, Microsoft

Managing a team of 22 event marketing managers, Quigley supervises about 50 annual flagship events, many of which draw several thousand attendees and such big names as Bill Gates and Bill Clinton. She began as an intern at Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau and spent 11 years as a director of various trade organizations in Washington, DC.

CVB Leaders

Tammy Blount, FCDME, President and CEO, Monterey County CVB

Blount previously led the expansion of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and served as CEO of the Tacoma (Wash.) Regional CVB and as chair of the Washington Tourism Alliance. She is currently on the board of directors for Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI).

Blount's perspective on the dearth of women in executive roles? "Perhaps it's that the C EO or senior management experience over the past few decades in hospitality and at DMOs has been male dominated, so when competing for senior-level positions, women are simply outnumbered." That said, she muses, "I like to think that in most cases the best person is chosen for the job based on his or her skill sets, experience and personal characteristics."

Caroline Beteta, President and CEO, Visit California

In her role as the first CEO hired to develop and lead the Golden State's DMO, Beteta has helped California bring in some $4 billion annually in tourism revenue, a significant turnaround from before the bureau was launched. Beteta's efforts also earned the attention of Brand USA, the marketing organization established to drive international visitation to the U.S., which tapped her as its interim CEO for a few months earlier this year. Beteta has additionally been active on boards including the National Council of State Travel Directors and Western States Tourism Policy Council.


Women at the Top

Outside the world of meetings, travel and hospitality, these five trailblazers inspire female leaders across all industries:

Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook

How does she do it? While managing operations for the world’s most popular social-networking site, Sandberg wrote a book, Lean In, about high-profile female execs in Silicon Valley, due out next year.

Fun story on the way to the top: Mark Zuckerberg met Sandberg at a Christmas party in 2007 held by former Yahoo COO and Guitar Hero CEO Dan Rosenweig. The two quickly began a professional courtship, meeting for dinners regularly over the course of six weeks and spending time at the World Economic Forum before Sandberg officially took the job. Sandberg’s husband, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg, once commented that the lead-up to her job acceptance was like dating.

Susan Wojcicki, Senior Vice President of Advertising, Google

How does she do it? In addition to being responsible for 96% of Google’s revenues, Wojcicki owns a flock of 16 chickens.

Fun story on the way to the top: In 1998, before Google became Google, Wojcicki rented out the garage at her home in Menlo Park, Calif., to the company’s cofounders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. All three have since moved to better digs.

Jill Abramson, Executive Editor, The New York Times

How does she do it? Soon after assuming her high-profile role (she’s the first female executive editor of the Gray Lady since the paper was founded in 1851), Abramson, a dog devotee, released The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout. The New York Times reviewed it as “a worthy addition to the crowded so-called dogoir genre.”

Fun story on the way to the top: Over the years, Abramson formed a close bond with New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, the first female White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. Today, Abramson still pings her friend when The New Yorker doesn’t feature a single female byline.

Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo

How does she do it? While raising PepsiCo’s revenues by 72% since joining the company in 2000, Nooyi has found time to serve on the board of several philanthropic organizations, including the World Economic Forum, International Rescue Committee and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Fun story on the way to the top: In her hometown of Madras, India, Nooyi played lead guitar in an all-woman rock band; she still plays at company gatherings.

Meg Whitman, CEO, Hewlett-Packard

How does she do it? Along with her husband Griffith Harsh IV, a Stanford neurosurgeon, Whitman founded a charitable organization that donated $125,000, primarily to the Environmental Defense Fund, after its first year.

Fun story on the way to the top: A little-known success on Whitman’s resume? Importing the UK television show Teletubbies into the U.S. while working as an executive at Hasbro.


Facts & Stats

Far from painting a black-and-white picture, facts and statistics about women in the workplace reveal both significant progress and a continued need for change.

• 44%: Increase in a U.S. woman’s paycheck from 1970 to 2007. Salary increase for an American man over the same period: 6%.

• 80%: What the average American woman earns compared to the average American working man

• 17.8%: Percentage of wives in 1987 who outearned their husbands (in households where both partners work). Percentage in 2010: 29.2%.

• 2024: The year in which the average American woman may outearn the average American man

• 3:2: Ratio of women to men who graduate from college

• 60%: U.S. master’s degrees that go to women

• Jan. 29, 2009: Date on which the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed, which strengthened protections against pay inequities based on gender. The act was named after the woman who famously sued Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company when she discovered she was earning far less than her male coworkers.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; “The Case for Girls,” Fast Company, December 2011/January 2012; Catalyst Inc.


Related Story: "Empowering Women 101: RISE Leadership Forum"