Read time 6 min —
Chances are you’ve heard the trending phrases “women empowering women” and “the future is female,” but what do those really mean? How do they apply to women in the workplace? And how can destination marketing organizations (DMOs) embrace, embody, and encourage female professional growth and leadership?
We must seek answers to these questions from the source: women. Though sometimes muted amongst the masses, women's voices are a powerful force and valuable addition to any work environment.
Sonia Fong, Carol Motley, and Amy Brown
We want to introduce three rockstar women in leadership roles at DMOs. We invite you to learn about their backgrounds, find out what motivates them, and read a quote that they say inspires them as leaders. Later, we’ll also hear their perspectives on the following topics:
- Barriers in female leadership
- How female leaders build resiliency
- Women supporting women
- Staying mindful of who’s at the table and who’s missing
In her words, Amy Brown “fell into this industry” when she graduated from Texas A&M University and took an internship with the local sports foundation, ultimately leading to her first career with a convention bureau. She’s been in the DMO space for 20 years, with the last 10 years as director of sales for Visit Austin. Brown is now senior vice president of sales and services at Visit Fort Worth.
When asked what inspired her to step up and become a leader in the DMO, she said it was always a desire to lead a team and grow her skills amongst her colleagues and team members.
Her most influential mentor has been Meg Winchester, president and CEO of Visit Spokane. They worked together at Visit Houston in what she said was “a really good learning environment and a rewarding and challenging experience.” Asked what she learned from Winchester about the factors that impact a woman’s ability to lead others in this industry, Brown said that being passionate and true to yourself is key if you wish to empower others.
Carol Motley went to the University of Virginia, where she majored in communications with hopes to become a news broadcaster. However, after a relative in the industry encouraged her to jump right in, Motley started at a hotel front desk position — and she's glad she did. “I have such a passion for this industry. I feel like I'm in paradise.” Five months ago, she took the position of senior vice president of sales and services at Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
What inspired Motley to take on this new role? She asked herself, “why not?” She knew she had the passion and skillset necessary, and she said she was fortunate to have incredible mentors along the way. “I would say four mentors helped me,” said Motley. “I had a mentor that allowed me to soar, a mentor who worked with me on my presentation skills, a mentor that got me into the industry, and a mentor that showed me what real leadership is.”
Motley said women are a positive impact on whatever industry they get into because they are bold and lead with empathy; they bring a resilience-driven perspective because they think broadly, globally, and diversely. “This is a very relationship-driven industry, and that's a strong skillset amongst most women,” said Motley. “We run our relationships at home, and that translates over into our workplace.”
Sonia Fong loves to travel, so she couldn't think of a better career than one in tourism. She worked at her uncle's restaurant throughout high school, which inspired her to go to Florida International University to major in hospitality management. She later pursued a Master of Business Administration. Recently, Fong took on the role of senior vice president of convention development at Louisville Tourism.
Fong was inspired to step up and become a leader in her DMO because someone told her that she couldn't do it, and she had to prove them wrong. She knew she had the passion needed to climb the ladder, grow in her role, and help others grow. She learned this from her mentor, Mark Vaughan, executive vice president and chief sales officer at Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. “He has been very instrumental in helping me reach where I need to be with a lot of encouragement and suggestions.”
In her experience growing her professional career, Fong said she believes “women helping women rise is the most important and positive impact that we can have.”
What Are Some Barriers to Female Leadership?
There are not enough women in leadership positions, such as CEOs or vice presidents. “I think women have a seat at the table, we just have to decide how to use it in its most effective way.”
Our self-doubt is our own biggest barrier. “I tell any woman not to let themselves, their families, or their children be a barrier. You can lead with a family.”
Support from leadership is often lacking, and compensation gaps exist. “I personally think support and compensation have been the biggest barriers, and those barriers are hard to ignore.”
How Do Female Leaders Build Resiliency?
Mentally and physically surround yourself with people who are supportive, find positive things in your life that can pick you up, and always work hard. “I think resiliency just comes from getting up out of bed and keeping at it.”
Mentorship and learning from your mistakes are key factors. “When you're not confident about something, you reach out and ask, ‘How did you do this?’ If you fail, ask ‘How can I do this better?’ Learn to show yourself grace.”
Relationships go a long way. “Getting involved with the industry and nurturing your network and professional development is extremely important. Networking is really your most valuable asset.”
How Can Women Support Women?
Find your tribe. “Find the people that challenge you, and surround yourself with those who can be honest, truthful friends, and mentors.”
Keep the conversation open and encouraging. “Always have an open forum. Women need to learn to build each other up and allow each other the opportunity to do that. Encourage women to go for it.”
Confidence and moral support go a long way. “I think by nature many of us lack confidence and encouragement — women need to plant the seed and be open-minded to other women.”
How Do You Stay Mindful of Who’s at the Table & Who’s Missing?
Be the voice of your entire team. “If you have the only seat at the table for your team, make sure that all of their voices are heard. Promote equity and use your voice to actively advocate for others.”
Challenge the table. “Open your eyes, look around, and ask yourself, ‘Where are the women, where are the people of color, and where are the LGBTQ+ individuals?’ Don't be afraid to challenge those that are at the table and ask them ‘Why does the table look this way?’”
Diversity is everything. “I believe diversity is power. The more diversity we have at the table, the better it will be. To me, diversity should be on top of mind for everything we do.”
Special content credit to 2Synergize’s Program Manager, Terri Roberts.