Heather Barnes is Director, Aquatic Presentations and Live Programs at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois. A frequent IAAPA committee member, she hosted the IAAPA webinar "Lean In: Taking a Look at Gender Achievement in the Attractions Industry,"in 2017. "I have been extremely fortunate to work with exceptional women in a variety of leadership roles," she says. "[The webinar] provided an excellent opportunity to expand IAAPA members’ network of women leaders and showcase some of the best and brightest female leaders in the industry."


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?
Women have made tremendous progress in the workplace on a variety of fronts and we need to continue to build on these successes. One of the biggest issues I think women struggle with today is lack of women in CEO positions. In 2015, only about 5 percent of women served as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. This is a critical gap that impacts women mentoring programs, women in positions to advocate for equal pay, etc.

In the IAAPA Hall of Fame only two women are represented. Getting more women in visible leadership roles in our industry, and recognizing the significant contributions women have made over time, is important to address. It is also important to think about how we can celebrate achievements of a more diverse population overall at IAAPA, and within our own organizations.

How have you seen the industry evolve in regard to gender roles?
Currently, 60 percent of world’s university graduates are women. I think this will continue to influence an increase of women in senior leadership roles.

What is one piece of advice you’d like to convey to women starting their attractions careers? Ask questions of your leaders about how to get involved and move up in the industry early in your career. Network, seek leaders you admire, and ask for some time to get to know them or volunteer on a project with them. 

Creating Careers of Distinction

How do you invest in yourself as a leader?
I read as much as I can on leadership. When I attend conferences I go the extra mile to put myself out there to meet others I admire and learn from them. When I return, I make it a point to follow up with new contacts. In addition, I am intentional about sharing leadership tools to develop others.

What is your most cherished work principle?

Work hard, play hard.

What do you consider your most significant career accomplishment?

Helping organizations apply improvisation as a tool to enhance overall guest experiences and spark inspiration. 

What has had the greatest impact on your career?

Attending graduate school had more of an impact on my career than I initially thought. It taught me how to analyze and apply theories and business models to different industries. I have also worked for some incredible female leaders that have supported risk taking, successes, failures and opportunities to grow our industry, and grow as individuals. 

What has been the greatest challenge of your career?

Implementing budget reductions that impact the team, the guest experience, and organization’s culture. There are times you are expected to implement a plan you may not personally agree with and that is challenging. Setting aside your own personal belief system to move an organization forward is a hard, yet important skill.

What was the greatest piece of career advice you ever received?
Do what makes you happy.  That is sometimes tricky to stick to because there are challenges in every role.  Doing what I love keeps me motivated, engaged, and eager to learn more and evolve.

The Future of the Industry

Why did you join and choose to stay in the attractions business?
I love the combination of creativity, project management, leadership, and inspiring others.

What makes you most passionate about the industry?
The goal to have fun and create moving, memorable experiences of a lifetime for guests.

What is your vision for the industry in the next 20 years?
More women, and a more diverse population overall will be represented in the IAAPA Hall of Fame! And, more women CEOs in the attractions industry. 
​​Know a professional we should talk to? E-mail Prasana William, IAAPA manager, digital content and strategy.


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