Women at the Helm: Joyce Leveston, SVP of Convention Centers, Spectra

October 8, 2021

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.


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.