Leadership Excellence on International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day. Now more than ever, it seems necessary to act to forge a better working world that is more inclusive and equal. Here, our experts share their thoughts on top qualities displayed by female leaders.

“Women tend to be much more passionate and compassionate and are stronger communicators and often great mentors. We celebrate when other women are acknowledged and successful. We deal with conflicts or potential conflicts by applying a combination of patience, fair play, empathy, and respect. This often translates psychologically on the receiving end into a sense of personal bonding and security.”—Sylvie Hennessy

“The best female leaders I’ve worked with were supportive, trustworthy, had integrity, and communicated in a positive manner with their teams.”—Christi Cano

“Women tend to be good listeners, empathetic, and patient. They value a love-based model of human interaction. Beyond being appropriate for working in a spa setting, these traits are being demanded by the millennial generation, setting women up for success in a new business paradigm.”—Gaye Steinke

“I think it is important leaders have experience in what the team does every day to gain their respect. They need to set the direction and be decisive. Demonstrating work ethic, professionalism, and commitment to the business is critical in order to expect it from the team. Employees need to feel safe, supported, and empowered to make decisions and be given opportunities to head up projects on their own. You can’t make everyone happy, but you can do your best to create a happy, dynamic environment that people want to come to every day.”—Annet King

“A manager who only ‘manages’ takes a top-down approach to guiding staff. Leaders, however, offer open lines of communication with staff, encourage them, offer constructive criticism, and are positive with how they direct others. Additionally, the best leaders lead by example.”—Lydia Sarfati

“I have found so many of the female leaders on our team to be hypervigilant about offering to help another team member. This is very much a trait we look for in hiring, as it doesn’t matter what title you may have, at the end of the day, we genuinely want to help each other succeed in our various roles.”—Shannon McLinden

“I believe that female leaders are compassionate, thoughtful multitaskers. And this also means being a good listener. Our clients and our staff will always alert us when something isn’t quite right if we are listening. This connection allows us to make effective changes and keep our business on track.”—Noel Asmar

Still, one of the consistent errors female spa leaders make, according to our experts, is not developing a much-needed eye for business. “Women in the spa workforce don't always understand the bottom line,” says Wendy Nierel Bosalavage. “There is more to running a spa than just providing good treatments. Good business acumen is critical.”

As Susan Harmsworth points out, a lot of women in spa come from a therapy or fitness background and haven’t necessarily learned vital management skills. To address this issue at her company, ESPA offers spa director courses to help the transition from a therapist to a manager to a group role. “I would say that a common mistake is to underestimate how difficult it is to make a spa profitable due to lack of knowledge about profitability, costs, and yield management, for example,” she says.

Ada Polla says she also believes that many women in our industry are hindered and possibly intimidated by what they perceive as their lack of business knowledge. She, like many of our experts, believes the solution is education. “Understanding the business side of spa is key,” she says. “Making decisions based on both human factors and financial constraints makes us stronger. Being scared of the numbers is still something I see in many women. Getting past that and embracing the financial metrics of our industry and individual businesses is key to our continued success and growth.”


Meet the Experts

Noel Asmar  CEO and Creative Director, Noel Asmar Group of Companies

Mary Bemis Founder and Editorial Director, InsidersGuidetoSpas.com

Wendy Nierel Bosalavage President, LIV unLtd

Christi Cano Founder and President, Innovative Spa Productions

Susie Ellis Chairman and CEO, Global Wellness Summit; Chairman and CEO, Global Wellness Institute

Tara Grodjesk President, TARA Spa Therapy; Emeritus Founding Board Member, Green Spa Network

Susan Harmsworth Founder and Chairman, ESPA

Sylvie Hennessy Cofounder, Co-owner, and Executive Vice President, Pevonia International

Annet King Vice President of Global Education, Elemis

Shannon McLinden Founder and President, FarmHouse Fresh

Ada Polla CEO, Alchimie Forever 

Lydia Sarfati Founder and CEO, Repêchage 

Gaye Steinke General Manager, Spa Anjali at The Westin Riverfront and Allegria Spa at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek (CO)