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Women in Leadership: Perspectives from Women of Sparks

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Women’s Equality Day is on August 26th, but for the majority of women, especially in business, every day is about achieving equality, being taken seriously and having a voice that’s heard. It’s a task that continues to seem challenging, given the disappointing statistic that in 2019, just 4.9% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 2% of S&P 500 CEOs are women. However, women are speaking up, and the call for women in leadership roles [from both men and women] is louder than ever. When it comes to the experiential industry—one that’s traditionally seen as being male-dominant—women are finally leading the charge and commanding respect.

“Today, we see as many women as men running events, producing events, leading their brand and agency teams and—best of all—finding their rightful place at the top of the org chart or in the c-suite where their many talents can be acknowledged and respected,” notes Event Marketer, who every year hold their annual Women in Events Week series (of which Sparks is the proud presenting sponsor), designed to empower women in the events industry.

This week, coming off of Women’s Equality Day, we’re sharing perspectives from women of Sparks on female leadership, the advice they would give to other women in the experiential/events industry, and the women who inspire them. Check it out our feature on women in leadership.

Drawing Inspiration from Powerful Women

As people, we’re likely to surround ourselves with others who share our perspectives, morals, and interests. And usually, the same dynamic goes for the workplace—especially for women. In fact, according to a recent study, a majority of women in leadership roles “tend to surround themselves with a network of other women who [are] not only successful but also well-connected.” But, as we know all too well, for many women, climbing up the professional ladder and building that network isn’t always an easy journey.

The first step for women looking to grow their circle of powerful women, not only in the experiential industry but in business as a whole: build relationships with women who inspire you and push you to be the best version of yourself that you can be. Here, the women of Sparks share perspectives on who they look up to, and how different women in leadership roles throughout their life and careers influence them, teach them, and show them how to use their voices in impactful ways:

Kelley Sauer, Account Director: Sparks was my first job out of college (!) and I stayed with the company for about five years before exploring other passions of mine. I don't think I understood the importance or value of female leadership until I no longer had it as a resource in my day-to-day work life. A great female leader coupled with a team of unabashedly fearless women who empower one another (and a special shout-out to the few men on our team) was one of the main reasons I made my way back to Sparks.

Stephanie Leone, Digital Designer: My first boss, first real internship, Tara-Marie Lynch was one of the best people I have ever worked for. On paper, she was already impressive—triple major in college, 3 theses, and top of her class. In person, she was even better. She was young but highly professional, you would have never known it was her first time working in marketing (and that all three of her majors had nothing to do with her new job). As a boss, she helped me to stretch and grow - she helped teach me how to juggle a lot at once, and how to do it successfully. Seeing what she achieved at an early point in my education helped me to push back on the teachers who told me no—and go onto getting a double minor and concentration in my major (not 3 majors but still pretty close)! She was always put together and as one of three women in a very male office, she owned the room and held their attention and respect. I learned to work fast and hard and to push myself, and how easy it can be for a woman to work in a predominantly male office and own it like a boss.

Natalie Benos, Designer: Two women in leadership have really stood out in my career and influenced me. Barbara Stanczak was a sculpture teacher I had in college. She is a very successful artist who pushed me to reach my full potential. My first few projects in the class she said “I would never make it in design if I keep making this type of work.” A little harsh, but she was right. I wasn’t focusing as much as I should and I buckled down and eventually created two pieces of work that earned her praise and lead me to an A+ at the end of the semester. The second woman who really pushed me was Joanne Putka-White. She was my Design Director at a previous job and was equally as harsh as Barbara, but for good reason. I was the only designer creating drawings for this one project we were on and I needed to do 20 (pretty big) hand drawings in a week. The total eventually added up to 25 because she added on 5 more over the weekend and I had to work till midnight that Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to get them all done for the client meeting on Monday. I hated her for doing that… but it is the best project I have ever worked on, and I am incredibly proud of this portfolio piece. Both of these women never let me take the easy route and though at the time it was challenging, I appreciate them for pushing me to be a better designer.

Meghan Costello, Account Director:
Delores B. Costello… Yes, my mother… She was a single mother of five, a born nurse and learned entrepreneur. Her lessons started with a chore list which rotated every week—there was no category for boys or girls on the list, everyone had their turn. I think “be proud but never satisfied” was a natural state of mind for my mother. When she had to work the night shift to make ends meet, that’s what she did, and when the ends didn’t meet, she went to nurse case management. In the late 1980’s, Delores started own case management company. The company started as two women working out of our dining room and eventually became a very successful company. I was incredibly fortunate to grow up in a house where we didn’t know anything but women’s equality. My mother didn’t talk about women’s equality she was just passionate about her children, helping her patients and growing the careers of other nursing professionals. She worked hard, did what needed to be done and didn’t let anything or anyone get in her way. I worked for my mother when I graduated college and she always encouraged me to passionate and about a career and to never stop learning.

Jennifer Marano, Senior Manager, Business Development & Marketing: "Two women in leadership have inspired me within my career—both whom I still work with today! As an intern at the Philadelphia 76ers, Jenn Davenport took me under her wing and taught me the ins and outs of what a real job entails. She didn't just hold my hand, she encouraged and challenged me every single day. Of course, she taught me the basics, but she also helped me navigate my way through stressful situations that not only affected myself and Jenn, but also 20,000 fans! My work ethic today is largely based on my years working side-by-side with Jenn both on and off the basketball court! It is because of Jenn that I was introduced into the world of marketing and discovered my love of live events. Now 15+ years later, we get to work together again at Sparks and it's as if we never stopped! My current boss, Kristy Elisano, has both impacted and inspired my love for marketing and my career at Sparks. Kristy has taught me that in today's marketing world you need to be tough, confident and proactive. While I have always been proactive, I struggled with having confidence and rolling with the punches along the way. Kristy is someone who will not let you fail, but she will be brutally honest throughout the journey. It is because of Kristy's no-holds-barred approach that I push myself harder, have learned it's ok to embrace change and that I have the experience and her support to be confident in my work.

Breaking Boundaries in Female Leadership

As The Huffington Post notes, “the 2010 McKinsey report found that of those businesses who invested in women, nearly 60% had seen profits increase through the opening or expansion of markets.” So, the message is clear—now is the time for companies to embrace women as part of their leadership teams to be part of a world that not only embraces equality, but pushes for it. As an agency with a predominantly female leadership team, and a culture that fosters respect and support, Sparks is leading the conversation on women in the experiential industry—while also encouraging women to be there for one another and lift each other up.

Speaking to Event Marketer for a special Women in Events profile to engage in a dialogue about the state of women in events and more, women in leadership roles at Sparks share what they want other women to know about boosting their careers and how the landscape has changed for women in the experiential industry. Here’s an excerpt:

Robin Lickliter, Chief Experience Officer: I would encourage women to be confident and approach career growth head on. Recognition can come naturally, but often needs to be asked for. If you deserve a promotion, build your case and ask for it. Lead with experience and not emotion. Also recognize that you can’t do everything all the time, everywhere. Be your own superhero.

Jane Hawley, Senior Vice President: I have always encouraged young professionals to gain as much experience as possible, even outside of their specific job responsibilities. Instead of starting out working for a large brand or agency, working at a smaller agency or company that allows you to be exposed to more things and involved in different projects. The more experience you obtain over the years, the more you have to offer future employers. And never be afraid to take on something new. It is the only way we all learn and grow.

Kristy Elisano, Senior Vice President, Marketing:

The takeaways? Confidence, experience, and determination are key for women looking to push boundaries and carve out a place for themselves in the experiential world and business as a whole.

Become Your Own Superhero

“As long as there isn't a one-size-fits-all leadership style for success we can assume that fostering women's ambition, passion and confidence can help to break the glass ceiling and increase women's representation in leadership positions,” says Nina Angelovska in Forbes.

As more and more women continue to show support for one another and build each other up—especially in the events and experiential industry—it’s safe to say that things are looking up and the outlook for the future is looking markedly better when it comes to women in leadership. One important aspect? For Sparks’ Kelley Sauer, it’s time to stop looking at passion in women as a sign of weakness.

“I think women are often stuck between being too sensitive and too outspoken as well as passion being misinterpreted as ‘emotional,’” says Kelley. “It's really challenging to find a balance at the table. There is accountability on both sides; the conversation needs to shift from ‘wow, she got riled up in that meeting’ to ‘let me take a step back and see her point of view.’ Maybe we should stop talking about emotions and just empower each other whether you're a man or a woman. There's nothing wrong with being passionate, period.”

Time will continue to tell how the conversation shifts for women in leadership but the message is clear—support, respect, confidence, and determination are key for women who want to change perceptions and break the glass-ceiling—and we’re excited to be part of that journey.

Want more information on Sparks’ role in Women in Events Week? Click here to visit the program’s website. Additionally, take a look at all of the outstanding achievements by the leading women of Sparks here.