Diversity and Inclusion

C-Suite Female Executives Share Strategies for Leveling Up

gathering of women execs

Skift Take

At the 2023 SISO Executive Women's Forum, top event industry executives shared actionable steps, and surprising insights, about what it takes to get a seat at the table.

Over 90 women were part of the 2023 SISO Executive Women’s Forum, an impressive contrast to a few years ago, when very few women were present at the SISO CEO Summit.

Reflecting a positive change in the industry, the event featured a candid and inspiring panel discussion with Lisa Hannant, CEO of Clarion Events, Nancy Walsh, president of North America of Informa Markets, Yancy Weinrich, president of North America of CloserStill Media, and BJ Enright, president and CEO of Tradeshow Logic. It focused on helping the audience define strategies to move up the rungs in their careers.

Discovering Your Superpower

Karen Gifford, an executive and leadership coach and principal of Gifford Management, opened the event by asking the panel and the attendees to define their meaning of leveling up, which could be taking a seat at the C-suite, leaving for a new opportunity or even launching an entrepreneurial venture or a personal passion.

“The various options were especially encouraging for women who might have felt torn choosing to step away from their leadership trajectories — even for several years — to raise their families,” Gifford noted, stressing the tremendous responsibilities in women’s lives, including feeling pulled in both their personal and professional lives. 

These challenges and navigating organizational politics and frequently male-dominated environments were very familiar to the panelists. Walsh recalled a moment when she was no longer willing to listen to the daily football talk at her team’s meetings and urged them to find a common denominator. 

Authenticity is Key

Authenticity is vital to leveling up, said Gifford. “Be your authentic self and learn to handle life’s challenges with a more positive mindset and less stress by learning to enhance your mental fitness to boost performance, improve wellbeing, and strengthen relationships.”

For Enright, it also ensures her team’s success, even if not all members get along. “My job is to know what their superpower is,” she said. “I don’t necessarily want them to get along, but my job is to figure out how to make them stronger together. It’s in our diversity where the really good stuff comes out.”

The ability to collaborate with people with competing objectives is one of the top skills Enright seeks in senior-level team members. For Weinrich, some of the most desired qualities include financial acumen and emotional intelligence. In addition, Walsh named critical thinking, data skills, and the ability to holistically evaluate various options instead of making spontaneous decisions. She also urged attendees to learn from their bad bosses and “make a list of things you’ll never do as a boss.” 

Taking the Next Step Forward

Following the panel discussion, Gifford invited the participants to explore the “Level Up Your Leadership” wheel roadmap and see what keeps it inflated — or deflated — by taking a deeper dive into such key concepts are purpose, values, personal brand, fitness, and relationships, to name a few. Gifford asked a series of questions about each aspect of the wheel for the participants to consider during and after the workshop. This exercise helped them get a snapshot of their current state and identify the areas that need more attention. 

Participants also noted their takeaways from the discussion, turned them into actionable steps and created a support scaffolding by assigning an accountability partner and committing to sharing progress with them. 

Compiled from the entries by the panelists, “Shared Wisdom and Resources Guide” included books and tools such as:

  • “Creating the Future, Tactics for Disruptive Thinking” by Jeremy Gutsche, CEO of Trend Hunter
  • “FYI, For Your Improvement, A Development and Coaching Guide” by Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger
  • “The Five Temptations of a CEO” by Patrick Lencioni
  • “The Wisdom of the Enneagram” by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
  • “CEO Next Door” by Elena Botelho and Kim Powell
  • Mindtools for strategy and business management 
  • Harvard Business Executive Program

For Sheila LeMaster, senior vice president of strategic accounts group with Fern Expo and a 25-year industry veteran, the workshop and discussion offered a deeper understanding of her whys and a focus on leaving a legacy through impactful roles and mentoring. Her best advice? “Believe in yourself and never look back. Accept the decision that you made, deal with change, and move forward.”

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