Opening Doors for Women: International Women’s Day

At the Destinations International Annual Conference last year, my friend and mentor Christine “Shimo” Shimasaki was inducted into their Hall of Fame for her industry contributions.

Shimo has been a longtime DMO executive and successful businesswoman, and the reception was filled with people grateful to know her. I heard story after story not only about her brilliance, but how generous she is — giving freely of her time to help others.

I worked for Shimo at the San Diego Tourism Authority (known back then as ConVis), where she gave me my first Vice President role and trusted me with responsibilities much larger than I thought I was ready for. She pushed me to grow, while always having my back. And 20 years later, I’m humbled that she is still always available for me.

Around the same time, I started prepping to moderate a panel of honorees for the San Diego Women in Tourism and Hospitality annual conference, and I heard a common theme.

These powerful women — heads of hotels, elected officials, industry executives — attribute so much of their success to someone who offered their time and advice when needed.

Beyond these stories of mentorship too were stories of true sponsorship: when people of power and influence intentionally opened doors of opportunity for them.

A June 2021 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article explains the difference between mentorship and sponsorship this way: mentorship involves direct support of a protégé, while sponsorship…uses connections to lift up those who might otherwise go unnoticed.

My friend and former MPI Chairwoman Bonnie Carlson did this for me at a recent industry event. A career DMO executive, she seemed to know every destination leader at the crowded reception, and she took me around for hours, introducing me to anyone she could. That is sponsorship.

There is a powerful difference between lending advice when asked, and making an introduction, bringing someone into a meeting, or endorsing someone for an opportunity. These intentional acts are what we need to help others get noticed, to give them access when it’s an insider’s game.

For any of us who have benefited from a mentor or sponsor, let’s pay it forward. How can we help someone else meet the right person or get positioned for that next role? 

The June 2021 HBR article continues: “Understanding the difference between sponsorship and mentorship is key to ensuring that women and members of historically marginalized communities (HMCs) are fully supported in their careers.”

Let’s move from just being available to being intentional, and let’s really help others rise on this International Women’s Day and beyond.

Written by

Annette Gregg

Annette Gregg



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