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Adrea Gibbs is Managing Director of Planet Aqua Group. For more than 30 years, she has worked on industry projects all over the world for companies like Disney, Ramoji Film City, and Attractiepark Slagharen. She is a regular presenter at IAAPA Expos and currently sits on the IAAPA Board of Directors.


 
 

Thoughts on Women in the Industry


What is the most pressing issue facing women in the workplace today, and how can the attractions industry influence positive change?
Balance. Many women are very quiet about the workload they carry. We will often take on a disproportionately large amount of responsibility to prove capability. I have both seen and been an active participant in this time and time again. No one else offers to pitch in, so we raise our hands and step up, even when it is in no way, shape, or form practical—but we feel, somehow, it is our responsibility. And this isn’t exclusive to the workplace. The pattern holds true when it comes to family, friends, school groups, organizations … you name it.

We need to be better at evaluating our workloads and communicating more effectively with our supervisors. The industry could affect positive change through leadership understanding not only the scope of work being conducted, but the volume of time, effort, and resources individuals are devoting to the tasks at hand … and recognizing those in the room with the aptitude to pitch in whenever needed. That dependability can be a crutch for those asking, an easy solution, even when it isn’t always in everyone’s best interest. Sometimes “no” should be the acceptable and respected answer.

How have you seen the industry evolve in regard to gender roles?
By sheer virtue of more attractions in the marketplace creating greater opportunity, the need for talented professionals allows for such evolution. The advent of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) programs focusing on girls and young women has expanded that reach considerably.

Our industry requires a constant influx of new ideas, streamlined processes, and revitalization. Be it ticketing systems, communications, show elements, ride development, our industry is ripe for seeing a new generation of designers, builders, and creators. If authentic talent is sought without overlaying biased distraction based on gender stereotypes, the entire industry becomes elevated because the best and the brightest stand out on their merits.

How have you built your network of women in the industry?

As odd as it may sound, I would have to say through natural selection. Over the years, I have found myself connected with so many amazing women during various stages of my work, and often there is a genuine—and sometimes unexpected—connection. They come from every which way: specific projects or events, personal and professional introductions, conferences, workshops, hearing someone speak who ignites a spark or being approached by someone who was at one of my presentations.

IAAPA has been pivotal in providing a platform for meeting industry women. Knowing there are incredible women out there who are both knowledgeable and willing to share their gleaned insight and experience, open to bouncing around ideas and thoughts, “been there, done that,” or simply provide an opportunity to bend an ear with a like-minded individual, is a valuable commodity. Hopefully, the future will bring more opportunities through IAAPA to bring us together.

What is one piece of advice you’d like to convey to women starting their attractions careers?
Play to your strengths, but challenge your weaknesses. If you first and foremost understand the culture of the organization in which you are working, making sure it aligns with your own beliefs and values, you can discover ways to leverage your skillset and learn new ones at the same time. To take that a step further to evolve your career, you will need to take risks that will often require facing your weaknesses head on. Some of the most difficult experiences in my life have resulted in providing exceptional lessons, even if that lesson was only “don’t ever do that again.”
 

Creating Careers of Distinction


How do you invest in yourself as a leader?
Through being action-oriented, equally unafraid to make a tough decision as grab a mop to clean up a wet spot. I have always been taught to not ask someone else to do anything you wouldn’t try to do yourself. For me, it is not a philosophy—it is a practice. And I have that expectation for me leadership team, as well. They always like to point out, particularly when we embark on something unexpected, that I wasn’t kidding when it came to the clause at the end of their offer letters under the job description, “Other duties as assigned.” Character is more quickly revealed at the end of a shovel than it is at a conference table.
 
What is your most cherished work principle?
Positivity. I know that drives some people nuts, but it is far from having a “pollyanna” attitude about things; it goes much deeper. It is about looking at any given situation and recognizing how to progress toward the best result. It isn’t easy and often requires quick, creative evaluation and the ability to be flexible, but deliberate through the course. I have found my approach to being positive can be highly influential on both productivity and attitude. When things are not going as planned—which in our business is probably more often than not the reality—staying focused on the goal (or moving target as the case may be) can keep others centered. And it doesn’t hurt to be able to pepper some humor into the work along the way, either.
 
What do you consider your most significant career accomplishment?
Seeing those with whom I have worked realize their own potential. For example, when I was working for Ramoji Film City in India, I was “gifted” with 100 performers with the express direction of creating some Disney-calibre shows. What I quickly discovered was many of these individuals had no formal training whatsoever, but they more than made up for it with their enthusiasm and willingness to try anything. The night we debuted “The Spirit of Ramoji,” which featured four production numbers and three specialty acts, was one of the proudest moments of my life, because I saw the tangible result of hard work, creativity, and faith.

I have kept in touch with some of those performers, many of whom have gone on to have successful careers in the arts and entertainment. I am honored to have been a small part of seeing them discover their dreams. I feel like I have done what I am meant to do when that happens.
 
What has had the greatest impact on your career?
It’s the collective opportunity I have had to work all over the world and leaving me indelibly influenced by those with whom I have interacted. The cultural awareness, appreciation, and respect I have fostered through these experiences ranging from the breadth of the United States to amazing countries around the globe, have become integrated into my very soul. Each and every person who has touched my life in even the smallest of ways has left an impression that shapes my very thoughts and practices on a daily basis. For that, I am ever grateful as it influences how I approach my work on all levels.
 
What has been the greatest challenge of your career?
I think I could say that most of my work, particularly in the last 20 some-odd years, has been a challenge, but, to be fair, I seem to seek out those unique opportunities. Or maybe they find me. In either case, I like to take on things others might steer clear of for any number of reasons. I like to work outside my comfort zone, under pressure, with few or limited resources, although, admittedly, that was not the original intent.  These kinds of experiences have taught me resilience. Sometimes our failures, our losses, are our greatest character builders.

What was the greatest piece of career advice you ever received?
Breathe.
 

The Future of the Industry

 
Why did you join and choose to stay in the attractions business?
For anyone who knows me, they would likely say it is simply because there are no boundaries. I push myself on all levels, so attractions and entertainment require me to be nimble, informed, creative, passionate, and grounded—all at the same time. There is always a new opportunity if you are willing to recognize it … even in the strangest of places and circumstances.
 
What makes you most passionate about the industry?

The constant change. I like to see when the “new next thing” comes along and how people choose to jump—or not—on that bandwagon. Being able to both be a part of and see how others innovate—whether human, mechanical, or technology-based—is equally inspiring and exciting.
 
What is your vision for the industry in the next 20 years?
To see inclusiveness and accessibility for guests and employees be seamlessly integrated into our attractions. We can do much of that now, but it requires work, effort, thoughtfulness, and resources (although “resources” does not necessarily equate to monetization). Sometimes, those resources are discovered through simply having the willingness to dialogue with different groups and organizations, many of which would welcome the opportunity to share their experiences and insights from their prospective into all aspects of an operation. My honest belief is using this methodology, the experience for everyone—guests and employees—is heightened exponentially.

 
​​Know a professional we should talk to? E-mail Prasana William, IAAPA manager, digital content and strategy.

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