For Women’s History Month, we recognize women trailblazers in the hospitality and resort industries
Despite the advancement of women leadership in the hospitality industry, they still fall short in comparison to their male counterparts. According to the Castell Project, women now hold one leadership spot per 10.3 men in hotel company leadership.
March is Women’s History Month, a time to commemorate the contributions of remarkable women throughout history and celebrate women trailblazers who have challenged antiquated views in our modern society. It is important to recognize that women are more than their accomplishments and vocations; they are someone’s daughter, mother, wife, sister, friend, colleague and neighbor.
Today we take a glimpse into the lives of four women leaders heading Resorts World Las Vegas: Shannon McCallum, vice president of hotel operations; Lori Flahive-Calderon, executive director of community engagement; Kim Key, director of spa operations for Awana Spa and Wellness; and Nicole Brisson, executive chef of Brezza and Bar Zazu.
Shannon McCallum, vice president of hotel operations
Shannon McCallum, a Canadian native, has over 30 years of hospitality experience and a unique expertise in managing luxury properties and brands. This gives her a unique edge as vice president of hotel operations for Resorts World. In her work office, which I observed through our Zoom meeting, were several splashes of Resorts World red and a few special gifts she’s treasured, including an elephant figurine painted by her team that was part of a program the company participated in that raises money for elephant conservation called Elephant Parade.
Shannon’s a morning person who likes to wake up early to have plenty of time to get ready. “I tend to get up early in the morning, I make coffee, no one wants to talk to me before these two cups of coffee, not even my husband,” she jokes.
While driving to work, she skips the harrowing news segments to listen to pop music instead, setting a positive tone for her day. It enables her to come to work with a clear mind, especially since the nature of the hospitality and tourism industries is unpredictable at times, and changes day-to-day.
Beyond her daily work duties, Shannon’s also raising two stepdaughters with her husband. She says a significant barrier for women leaders in a round-the-clock business is balancing family and work responsibilities. However, she serves as a shining example for her daughters and female colleagues, proving women are more than capable of thriving in top-level leadership roles while also caring for their families.
“I think it’s even harder for women who have children because you always feel like you’re making a decision between your family and your work responsibilities,” says Shannon. “So as a leader of many female leaders, I always try to make that easier on them and say, ‘When you need to be at work, be at work, but when you need to be at home, be at home.’”
Lori Flahive-Calderon, executive director of community engagement
Lori Flahive-Calderon, Executive Director of Community Engagement, establishes partnerships with organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. While Lori and I chatted on a Zoom call, she shared a few of the most precious pieces in her work office, including posters from her work with several children in the Make-A-Wish Foundation program, one of which was a photo of Boris, who suffered from brain cancer, and recently passed away. She still keeps in touch with his family.
“We granted his wish of a staycation, spending quality time with his family, including hosting his 13th birthday party. For them to say that they look back on the time they spent with him here and that it’s been really helpful in their grieving process, it means a lot. So I keep these posters around my office because when I’m tired or there are days when I’m overscheduled, I can look at them and remember that we make a difference.”
Although Lori isn’t a coffee person, she makes a point to step out of her office each morning to drink water and interact with her team members. She says, “It’s really important to be not just accessible but approachable.”
Lori’s got three dogs, but she would have 300 if she could. Outside of work, she enjoys brunching with her gal pals and exercises regularly to stay healthy. Sometimes she takes yoga classes to decompress after a long work day. Yet, not everyone knows her family’s origins and how learning about them has impacted her perspective.
“I am not just Hispanic; I’m Native American, too. I’ve learned to embrace who I am. I didn’t find out about that [part of my heritage] until my dad learned that he was adopted a couple of years before he died. When I learned about my culture, it made me want to explore further, and it helped me look at diversity in a different way.”
When it comes to the challenges that women experience in upper management roles, she says, “You can be viewed as too emotional, or if you’re trying to kind of fit in, then not having any emotion. I think we all want to be put into positions because we deserve them. We want to be part of organizations that embrace us for who we are, so I think the first thing is you have to understand who you are and allow yourself to be that person.”
Kim Key, director of spa operations for Awana Spa and Wellness
Kim Key, Director of Spa Operations at Awana Spa and Wellness, was excited to join a resort unlike any other in Las Vegas, one she describes as forward-thinking and guest-focused. Through email, she outlined a typical day in her life.
She starts each morning with a five-minute routine that includes drinking water, stretching, and breathing exercises, preparing her mind and body for the day. “It is amazing [what taking] just a couple of minutes to center [yourself] will do for your day,” writes Kim. “It also prepares me to then wake my teenage daughters and start the dash to get everyone ready and out the door.”
Her first priority when she arrives at work is to walk through the spa and touch base with her team. “I love having the spa full of guests; it is such a beautiful space, and I try to soak it in when it is still so serene.”
She reviews bookings after checking in to ensure that everything is prepared for the day. Everything else that follows differs from day to day. It’s a balancing act between focusing on team members, guest services, and creating innovative strategies.
Kim’s office is decorated with family photos, gifts from colleagues, product samples and snacks. Speaking of snacks, she keeps a bottomless bowl of assorted mints in her office for her team members to enjoy throughout the day. She also keeps a hidden chocolate stash that she shares on occasion. “I love that it gives them a reason to come into my office,” adds Kim.
When she’s not working, she spends quality time with her family and plays volleyball. “‘Unwinding’ at the end of the day usually means dinner and volleyball five nights per week, as both my daughters play. Luckily, I love volleyball and love watching them play even more, so it truly is fun for me.”
She finds that her greatest challenge as a woman in this industry is juggling her responsibilities as a single mom and a spa director.
“In my heart, I want to give each 110 percent, but that is not good math. I learned to be honest with myself and allow the balance to be fluid,” says Kim. “Allowing that fluctuation and being honest with my family and my team is important. We have to allow that balance to teeter and not hold ourselves to rigid expectations.”
Nicole Brisson, executive chef of Brezza and Bar Zazu
Brezza, a coastal Italian eatery, is the first restaurant Nicole Brisson, Executive Chef of Brezza and Bar Zazu, opened with her name on the marquee. Unlike previous positions, when she worked under the umbrella of a world-renowned celebrity chef. “This was a huge step, not only as a female chef, but for the local Las Vegas culinary community’s evolution overall,” she writes via email.
Most mornings, Chef Nicole wakes up to the sound of her phone ringing with work-related calls before her alarm sounds off. She then checks her emails, answers any urgent messages, and takes her medication.
“I have an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s disease, so I take my first round of medications prior to getting ready for work.”
Hashimoto’s Disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid gland, causing several symptoms, such as fatigue, muscle weakness, joint pain and other ailments.
Chef Nicole often takes conference calls or virtual meetings while doing her makeup. She then talks with vendors and updates her corporate partners. Before starting other activities, including daily meetings, she checks in with the front-of-house and kitchen teams to ensure they are adequately staffed. Before opening to serve the dinner crowd, the staff shares a family meal followed by pre-shifts.
She keeps a neatly organized home office, but she rarely uses it. Instead, she sets up a remote office with her laptop in a quiet spot at the restaurant and sips on her daily dandelion tea, which aids inflammation.
Chef Nicole explains what she thinks is one of the most significant barriers to women’s leadership today.
“I was one of the youngest female executive chefs on the Strip in my early twenties. I remember this same question making me feel insecure at the time. It took mentoring more young women and speaking at local colleges to realize what an accomplishment this was,” says Chef Nicole. “For the longest time, I just wanted it to be about my work and not have anything to do with me being a woman. I guess the answer is that WE, as women, often get in our own way because we are hypercritical of ourselves.”
She adds. “Now that I’m in my forties, it’s been amazing to see the community of women here in Las Vegas continuing to support each other in so many ways. Beyond that, the support of all the male chefs in Vegas, are [among] the first to check on me, including Chis Decker, Brian Howard, Justin Kingsley Hall, and James Trees, to name a few.”
After a long day at work, if the weather permits, she loves to sit in silence in her backyard and smoke a cigar. She’s cultivated great relationships with several companies while working on the Strip. Her go-to brands are Alec Bradley, La Palina and Rocky Patels.
“This is a career that definitely chooses you, and I love what I do because no two days are ever alike,” says Chef Nicole. “I’m always problem-solving or getting thrown some kind of curve ball. I very much enjoy being the ‘fixer.’”