Celebrating Women’s History Month With Explore St. Louis’s Kitty Ratcliffe and Mandalay Bay Resort’s Kathy Springstead

March 26, 2024

Celebrated every March, Women’s History Month is an opportune time to celebrate the female achievers of the trade show and corporate events industry. In this (first-CEN/third-TSNN) in a series of exclusive interviews with several outstanding female industry professionals, we had the pleasure of speaking with Kitty Ratcliffe, president of Explore St. Louis and Kathy Springstead, general manager, convention center operations for Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, to find out how their organizations are supporting women, whether they believe we are making progress when it comes to gender diversity in the C-suite and what they advise for the next generation of female leaders in our industry. 

Kathleen “Kitty” Ratcliffe, President, Explore St. Louis 

Current role: As president of Explore St. Louis, Ratcliffe is responsible for the sales and marketing of St. Louis as a destination for tourism and events, and the operations of the Cervantes Convention Center and The Dome at America’s Center Convention Complex. She is the only woman in the country running the operations of all three entities and has been doing so for more than 15 years.

An award-winning industry leader: As a past international chairwoman of Meeting Professionals International (MPI), Ratcliffe is a recipient of the association’s International Supplier of the Year Award, and in June 2023, received its Industry Leader Award. In April of this year, she will receive the Titan 10 Award as one of the top 100 CEOs and C-level executives in St. Louis demonstrating exceptional leadership, vision and passion.

A lifetime of achievement: In 2022, Ratcliffe received a Lifetime Achievement Award from PCMA and has served on the organization’s board and chaired its annual convention, Convening Leaders. She has received the Destinations International’s Leadership in Environmentally Responsible Tourism award and in 2019, was inducted into its Hall of Fame for significant contributions to tourism and shaping the future of destination marketing. And these are just a few of the many accolades she has earned over the course of her storied career!

What advice would you give to the next generations of female leaders in the events industry?

Charlotte Bronte, author of Jane Eyre, who kept her identity as a female a secret in order to get her novel published, is credited with the famous quote, “Look twice before you leap.” The meaning is often misunderstood – many think she is cautioning against taking a leap, but that’s not what she said. She said to leap, but just gauge the distance first. This is exactly what Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, the story of her solo hike on the Pacific Coast Trail, conveyed when she wrote, “We are all at risk of something. Of ending up exactly where we began, of failing to imagine and find and know and actualize who we could be. The only difference is the distance of the leap.”   

Even in the 21st century, young men and women are often raised differently. Young men may assume the next step up is rightfully theirs, even if they aren’t prepared for it, while many young women may need encouragement to step outside their comfort zone and strive for a new path, a higher trajectory. As female leaders, we mustn’t squander our opportunity to positively impact the lives and careers of young women. We should encourage them to calculate the distance, and then take their leap.    

Do you believe our industry has made enough progress in enabling women to reach the C-suite?

There is no doubt that there has been progress with women reaching the C-suite in our industry. When I started my career many years ago, the number of women in senior leadership roles at DMOs, convention centers and stadiums, hotel companies and airlines, decorator and production companies, were few and far between. Women owned and ran catering companies, but not hotels. Those times, thankfully, are gone. But have we made enough progress? I would say not yet.   

The great Northern Irish writer, C.S. Lewis, once described a business entity as “A close corporation of jolly, untidy, lazy, good-for-nothing humorous old men, who have been electing their own successors ever since the world began and who intend to go on with it.” I am not saying that this quote describes the men in our industry – most of the people who mentored me early in my career are men. I was encouraged and taught by men, and many gave me opportunities to learn, grow and ascend. Men like Jack Walsh and Wayne Chappell, who I worked for in St. Louis and in Baltimore, respectively, on my way up. Men like Russell Anderson, who invited me to spend two days with his team in Louisville learning my craft when I started out in the business. And men like Mike Gamble and David Kliman, who encouraged me to pursue opportunities I might not otherwise have. I use the C.S. Lewis quote to reflect that people in the highest levels of an organization have a hand in choosing their successors, and that if the only people who are close to the top are men, then it’s more likely that a man will get the nod. Women have to be present. They have to participate. That’s on us. As more women crowd around the CEO at the top, the choice of a successor has more diversity. 

Kathy Springstead, General Manager, Convention Center Operations, Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Delano Las Vegas and Luxor Las Vegas

Current role: As general manager of convention center operations for Mandalay Bay, Delano and Luxor, Springstead oversees vendor relationships for all three hotels and convention center operations for the newly remodeled Mandalay Bay Convention Center. As the U.S.’s fifth largest convention center, the 2.1 million square foot venue hosts some of Las Vegas’ most premier trade shows and corporate events, including IMEX, Surfaces and PPAI. 

Backstory: Springstead has held a variety of roles at MGM Resorts throughout her 20-year tenure with the company, starting out in leadership roles within food and beverage operations before transitioning over to her current leadership position. She graduated from UNLV with a BS in hospitality management and also holds an associate in culinary arts degree from the Culinary Institute of America. 

Serving her industry: She is a member of the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) and serves as an exhibit and trade show representative on the Clark County Board of Fire Code Appeals. 

What are you most proud of in terms of how your organization supports women?

The evolution I’ve seen within my organization and within the industry overall throughout my 30+ year career has been incredible, as it relates to the support and growth of women. MGM Resorts has developed a very comprehensive support system for women – and families – with the understanding that we all have lives outside of work that impact how we show up every day. One of our core pillars is to “Focus on What Matters,” and you can see that in so much of what we do.

When I started in this industry, you could have a family or you could have a career, but you couldn’t have both. Now you can, and we’ve set up systems and opportunities that allow women (and men) to do this with confidence and success. For example, there are many leaders at all levels of our organization who are single parents and managing families while also advancing in their careers. That would have been incredibly difficult, if not impossible, 15 or 20 years ago. The expectation was you were always in the building and if you weren’t there, your job wasn’t getting done. Thankfully, our company has embraced a more flexible culture and has provided us with the tools we need to get our jobs done not only onsite, but also remotely when needed.  

Throughout my 20 years with MGM Resorts, I’ve seen so many examples of how the company has embraced working parents with the philosophy that the better we can be for our loved ones, the better we can be at work. From fantastic health care benefits and adoption assistance to employee network groups and tuition reimbursement, we are committed to promoting self-growth for our employees, professionally and personally.  

In addition to supporting our employees, we are also very active in seeking out and hiring diverse suppliers. Through our extensive Supplier Diversity Mentorship Program, we work to certify diverse entrepreneurs, which includes a significant number of women-owned businesses.  

What advice would you give to the next generations of female leaders in the events industry?

Because of the complexity of the industry, one of my biggest pieces of advice to any emerging leaders within our space is to develop cross-functional relationships early on in your career. A successful event or trade show requires dozens, and in many cases, hundreds of external vendors and internal company disciplines – that all converge in the same place, at the same time. By building those relationships early on, you can open lines of communication with new and existing partners to ensure all runs smoothly when you’re in the moment. 

Additionally, I’d encourage anyone entering the industry to just have fun! Our jobs are to not only create productive events, but also memorable experiences, which is such an amazing opportunity when you boil it down. Find simple ways to incorporate fun and positivity into your work and encourage your teams to do the same, regardless of how challenging some days may feel.


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