Women In Leadership: ‘Hospitourism’ Roundtable

Businesses of all sizes and industries call the Meadowlands home and—thanks to its geographic location and world-class venues—it has become a hotbed for tourism and hospitality, an industry which has been dubbed ‘hospitourism’ by the area’s destination marketing organization Meadowlands Liberty Convention & Visitors Bureau.

In hospitourism—where leadership roles are still male-dominated—one thing that’s clear is that the women in power are unstoppable. Especially here in the Meadowlands. We recently sat down with some of the industry’s women business leaders to share their thoughts on areas of opportunity, advice for emerging leaders and more.

Name: Lea Anne Welsh
Organization: AVE by Korman Communities
Position: COO, Korman Communities; President, AVE

Where do you think the biggest opportunity is for women in the region today?
There are opportunities in every industry – real estate, healthcare, education, financial services – for women who show up and work hard and have a positive attitude. Things are not always going to go your way, but you have to be willing to work through challenges.

The conversation around women’s empowerment has swelled recently given the current political climate and movements such as #metoo. What is one piece of advice you’d give to women growing into leadership roles during this time?
No one is going to give you anything; you need to take control of your actions and behaviors and create a path for your success by working hard every day. Know that you will face challenges and obstacles, but perseverance and grit will be critical to your success – it was critical to my success.

What traits do you think a strong leader must possess to be successful?
Grit. A positive attitude. The ability to be honest and have a direct conversation with your team.

Name: Barbara Feit
Organization: AVE by Korman Communities
Position: Business Development Manager

What is a significant challenge that you’ve faced in your career that turned out to be the greatest thing to happen to you?
I worked in the fitness industry for over twenty years and when I found myself out of work, I had a choice: stay where I was comfortable, even though opportunities were limited or take my skill set to an entirely new industry where I would have to learn from the ground up. I chose the latter, and I’ve never been happier.

As a female leader that ‘grew’ in a very male-dominated industry, what do you think was the most significant barrier in your career? I feel strongly that you just need to be yourself, and try not to focus on “I’m the only woman,” but rather “We’re all on the same team,” so of course you belong.

What are some strategies you’ve learned that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?
Be comfortable with failure – it’s the fastest path to success. Laugh at yourself. Be honest, and treat others the way you want to be treated.

Name: Andrea Lokshin
Organization: Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment
Position: Vice President, Sales & Marketing

Where do you think the biggest opportunity is for women in the region today?
The region as a whole is providing lots of opportunities for women to advance and succeed in more ways than ever before. The Meadowlands specifically is changing and expanding before our eyes. Over the past year alone, I have seen an influx of new events as well as new companies setting up their businesses. The one main thing they all have in common is that they view the region as a prime location that attracts tons of people who have lots of disposable income. Being associated and helping to lead these businesses and events is a great opportunity for women to help make a difference.

The conversation around women’s empowerment has swelled recently given the current political climate and movements such as #metoo. What is one piece of advice you’d give to women growing into leadership roles during this time?
Leaders need to lead and set the tone for the organization. As challenging as some situations can be, don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in and speak your mind and do it in a way that is professional and respected.

What traits do you think a strong leader must possess to be successful?
A strong leader must be responsible and accountable for the business objectives of the organization or the particular entity that they are managing, be able to stand up for what they believe in with factual information and make difficult decisions. They need to guide and coach their team and help them resolve conflicts or issues. They should also be a good role model where they practice what they preach and lead by example.

Name: Sally Altman
Organization: The Holiday Inn, Hasbrouck Heights-Meadowlands
Position: Director of Sales and Marketing

Where do you think the biggest opportunity is for women in the region today?
I see many engineering and senior level management opportunities for women in the region. I don’t believe these opportunities are to meet company metrics. I believe companies are finding the right people for the right jobs—male or female—and by doing so, it shows the newer-in- position employees that there are opportunities for growth for everyone in the organization.

The conversation around women’s empowerment has swelled recently given the current political climate and movements such as #metoo. What is one piece of advice you’d give to women growing into leadership roles during this time?
Always advocate for yourself and hold true to your beliefs. You are in charge of your own destiny.

What traits do you think a strong leader must possess to be successful?
Be willing to take risks and work hard. Never lose sight of your long-term vision and goals. Surround yourself with a successful team and listen to what they have to say. Always thank your team for their efforts. Building and sustaining relationships is also a critical trait.

Name: Karen Davis-Farage
Organization: RPM Raceway
Position: President, Co-Owner

Where do you think the biggest opportunity is for women in the region today?
Everywhere. There’s an incredible opportunity within our region for women who have identified what their skill set is, what they want in their career and the kinds of roles that they want to go after.

More specifically, when looking at the current landscape, with American Dream coming, the jobs, roles and opportunities that will be created is the most significant opportunity. It’s going to be a destination. All of the different retail, restaurant and destination/amusement companies that are coming to the region, not to mention, the infrastructure, hotels, tourism, group events—all of that will foster an unbelievable opportunity for the Meadowlands and the region as a whole.

If I were a woman today in search of an opportunity, I would feel extremely lucky and positive about the opportunities here.

The conversation around women’s empowerment has swelled recently given the current political climate and movements such as #metoo. What is one piece of advice you’d give to women growing into leadership roles during this time?

The most important piece of advice is to be very sound on what your personal core values are. Be unwavering on what your beliefs are and know yourself well enough to have the confidence in what you have achieved and the optimism of what you can bring to a leadership role so that people will follow you.

I’m a big believer in always coming to a role prepared. Always coming to the table with not only problems, but solutions, is a way to add value to an organization.

At this time, where all eyes are on women as leaders, be smart enough to surround yourself with the right people, listen loudly and exude confidence. This will enable you to continue to evolve into successful leadership roles.

What traits do you think a strong leader must possess to be successful?

Traits can make or break a person in a leadership role. I have six or seven core traits that I think contribute to being a strong leader:

1. Passion and enthusiasm: When you approach what you do with passion and enthusiasm, people believe in you and follow those beliefs.

2. Honesty: There’s nothing more important than having integrity in what you say. If you’re not honest, they know it. If you are, people will put forth the effort and embody the same values that you have.

3. Focus: It’s very easy to bounce a lot of balls in the air, but you have to be incredibly organized when you’re dealing with so many different scenarios and decisions that need to be made. Setting goals and objectives, defining strategies and checking and rechecking things help you keep your focus.

4. Decisiveness: It’s tough when you have to make decisions that not everyone will agree with them. It’s tough when to decide the last decision and collaborative decision making is important but you have to draw a line in the sand and make the final decision.

5. Accountability: It’s critical that leaders make their teams accountable to empower them. Your team members may not make a decision the same way you would or do a particular task the same way, but you grow an organization by empowering people to do their jobs and understand that they are accountable for their actions.

6. Communication skills: Communication is not just done what is said but how we say it and our body language. Being cognizant of all three is important in understanding how our message is received. We can use this understanding to inspire and exude confidence in others. People listen in different ways and listening is more important than speaking. When I say a leader is a great communicator, what I mean is not they are not just a great speaker but a great listener as well.

Name: Robin Cuneo
Position: Executive Director
Organization: Meadowlands Exposition Center

Is the outlook for women leaders different now than it was when you started in your career 40 years ago?
While it might be assumed that women have come a long way, progress toward workplace parity has been a long and rocky road. Compared to 20 or 30 years ago it is now much easier for women to obtain leadership roles and 40 years ago when I began my career stereotypes existed and limited the nature and type of jobs you could have. There was a phase called the “glass ceiling” which described the barrier that prevented women from rising to the top of their profession. Mainly because of family and children which was considered to be a death sentence for a career.

However, I have two grown successful children and that never stopped me from climbing the ladder. In fact, just the contrary. My family inspires me the most. It was important for me to show them that a woman can be a mother and have a successful career. Balance is key. I am also inspired by the people I work with. They are a great team of highly motivated individuals. I admire their dedication and passion daily to create a great event experience.

What traits do you think a strong leader must possess to be successful?

Some traits that I believe are important for success are emotional intelligence, persistence, confidence, integrity, being assertive, developing a thick skin and always keeping a sense of humor. I believe leadership is about confidence and decisiveness. It’s not a title. It’s being yourself. I don’t always have all the answers but I always trust my instincts and surround myself with good people.

What is some advice you can share with young women entering a male-dominated profession? What are some strategies you’ve learned that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?

Because you have to work harder in a male-dominated industry, women must deliver results each day and every second of the day without attitude to earn respect. This is not something you can demand without experiencing the daily highs and lows from the ground up in all facets of the industry. Great leaders draw from their own experiences and it is difficult to be a coach if you have never been a player.

Also don’t be afraid to speak up, don’t be someone you are not. Find your personal voice and define your personal brand and style of work. Always ask questions and understand your strengths and weaknesses.

As for strategies in the industry, hospitality is about relationships. So, you need to stay personal. People have real emotions and needs. You want to get the best out of them. Create a team environment. Hopefully you want to inspire people to be great. And of course, you need to value people. Leadership isn’t management. It is moving people to a common goal. I feel women who lead in a facilitative way are accepted both by men and women.

It is important for women to help a new generation connect with one another so we can bring more women into leadership positions and advance the change we need. I would like to see women empower one another rather than compete with one another. We need to link up and join women’s business groups, online networks and social organizations for continued and future support.

Name: Judith Ross
Position: Vice President
Organization: Meadowlands Regional Chamber/Meadowlands Liberty Convention & Visitors Bureau

What traits do you think a strong leader must possess to be successful?
A strong leader must have empathy to see more than one side of a situation, be a good listener and really hear what people are saying—and surround themselves with great people.

What is a significant challenge that you’ve faced in your career that turned out to be the greatest thing to happen to you?
I don’t know that I can point to one particular challenge because there have been a number of times when I had to overcome certain setbacks. But I truly believe that things happen for a reason and ultimately we end up exactly where we are supposed to be.

Has there been a particular person that has inspired you throughout your career? My Mom. She was a professional leader in her own right and has always taught me that with determination and perseverance, you can accomplish anything you set out to do. I try to instill that same motivation in my daughter as well.

What are some strategies you’ve learned that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?
Learn as much as you can, always volunteer to help. Think about what your company needs and offer to take that role on.

Colby Jones is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in New York City and Hong Kong.

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Meadowlands Magazine

Meadowlands Magazine

Meadowlands Magazine, the official publication of the Meadowlands Chamber and its affiliate organizations, has proudly served the business community of the Meadowlands region for over 40 years. We are among largest business magazine in New Jersey (second by circulation) and offer prime visibility opportunities for businesses to connect with potential customers.

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