Women at the Helm: Joyce Leveston, SVP of Convention Centers, Spectra
Joyce Leveston truly understands the transformative power of the convention industry. As a recent college graduate working as a telephone operator at the newly built San Diego Convention Center in 1989, she witnessed how the nascent venue was poised to transform what was then a sleepy military beach city into a highly desirable tourism and convention business destination. From then on she knew she was hooked.
“I will never forget how intrigued I was as I watched the venue being built from the ground up,” Leveston recollected. “I just wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and I willed myself into being a part of that magic.”
Her wish has been granted many times over. More than 30 years later, Leveston exemplifies a modern-day American success story, having worked her way up from running and producing event experiences at major convention centers including the SDCC, Miami Beach Convention Center, George R. Brown Convention Center and Walter E Washington Convention Center, to serving as general manager of Hynes Memorial Convention Center and Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, to her current executive role as senior vice president of convention centers for Spectra.
Besides being known for her keen attention to detail and a knack for growing strong client relationships, Leveston is undoubtedly a “people person” who enjoys seeking out top talent and mentoring future industry leaders.
TSNN had a chance to sit down with this force of nature to hear her thoughts about the disparity of women and women of color in venue leadership, how she successfully oversees almost four dozen U.S. convention facilities and why she believes changing ourselves is the key to transforming our industry into the more equitable, inclusive place it is capable of becoming.
Why do you think there aren’t more women and women of color in leadership positions in convention centers in North America?
We are certainly making strides when it comes to women leadership in the industry today. I was lucky enough to have women leaders in spaces I could see and relate to. With Carol Wallace, I was blessed enough to have a woman of color sit at the highest position in the organization, making decisions and truly being a groundbreaking leader in the industry. So representation does matter!
However, if I’m honest, that has not translated across the entire industry, and I intend to be someone who changes those odds for others in the pipeline. It is important that we push hard to have a seat at the table but also to make room for others to have a voice as well. Through education, support and trust, I believe we will see a rise in diversity in leadership for both women and people of color. First comes access, then comes representation.
What are the qualities that women bring to venue management that empower them to excel at their jobs?
In my opinion, women often offer empathy, compassion and a sense of order. We look at the glass half full, in a way that can be lacking in venue management. We often have a keen eye for balance that is needed when there are so many decisions being made swiftly. We can also offer a softer approach to the same ends, because we look at things from a different lens…there is more than one way to skin a cat and get results. I believe my superpower is my “authenticity” that people can see and relate to.
What are the biggest challenges of being a woman at the helm in a historically (and still predominantly) male-dominated industry?
Just being a woman and being expected to use my own voice often comes as a surprise to the men in the room and can be a challenge as well. To see that I actually have an opinion that is backed by experience, forward-thinking and grit! To be given a platform to be taken seriously when you’re the only woman in a room full of men can hit differently. It’s important to not be intimated for being the “only” in the space, but instead, find the obstruction that keeps the others out, and then move it.
Most of the people (with the exception of Carol Wallace) who have helped shape my career have been men, both white men and men of color, and I am extremely grateful for their leadership, guidance and support. We need more allies like them in the room, speaking up and laying the groundwork needed for continued progress.
You currently oversee 46 venues for Spectra. What is your secret to managing that many facilities and what have been your biggest and most recent successes that you’re most proud of?
I would say my secret sauce is “delegate and trust.” I lean on my team of professional regional VPs and deputy GMs to support the field. I believe my job is to give them the resources and support needed and then get out their way. If I am a good ambassador for the organization, if I stay connected to the field and the customers, and if I’m a good listener, then we are all successful.
Since coming back to the company, my greatest highlight has been how well we have come together and persevered through this pandemic. If COVID has taught us anything, we are all in this storm “together,” so the collaboration with not only my Spectra family but also with my industry friends and colleagues has simply been priceless.
What can the meetings and events industry—and the women in it—do to help create more gender (and racial) parity in convention center leadership?
We need to see one another, and I don’t mean in the way of “hey girl, how are you doing?” but in the way of “I know the perfect person for that opportunity.”
We need to make room for transferable skills and be open to training and trusting the skills that this new generation is going to lead with moving forward. Learn to “lean in” and support, guide, take a chance on learning something new in an innovative way. Things won’t change if we don’t change them ourselves.
As leaders, be equitable in your salary options and offerings. Don’t be afraid of technology and be flexible in your choices. Look for “soft skills” that you can build on. Learn to hire beyond the resume. We are more than what our resume [says about] us, so get to know the person because you may just find a future leader.