Cover Story - January 2018


Funworld celebrates the impact of female leaders in the attractions industry

by Prasana William

The June night in 1934 when Cordelia Knott first served 65-cent fried chicken dinners on her good wedding china might not have seemed like the birthday of an attraction. But now, more than 70 years later, her crunchy delicacy feeds 1.5 million diners a year at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California. Her husband, Walter Knott, built the park’s first rides to entertain guests waiting to dine at his wife’s restaurant.

When does a business become an attraction? The mark moves depending on a number of factors, but one stands clear: when it draws a crowd. And Mrs. Knott drew the crowd.

The stories of women fill the history of the global attractions industry—and continue to shape its future. Over the next year, Funworld will explore the impact these leaders have had around the globe. In this issue, we set the stage. Interviewees from theme parks, family entertainment centers, museums, water parks, and the manufacturer and supplier community answer our questions about what it means to be a woman in the attractions industry and how they’ve built successful careers.

A Difficult Reality, A Hopeful Future

The experiences these women share in the coming pages range far and wide, but issues around work/life balance, networking, pay equality, and the glass ceiling bubble up across the board. Most are positive about the current state of the industry. “More men, for quite some time, have been very supportive in seeing that women get an equal shot,” says Gina Romano, vice president, sales and marketing, the Americas and Canada, for Martin & Vleminickx. “As more women get involved in our industry, contrary to popular myth, we do try to help each other out. The scope of work women could get into and succeed has expanded.”

Romano was the first female chair of the IAAPA Board of Directors. She shares that title with only one other woman: Jane Cooper, president and COO of Herschend Family Entertainment. “I have always considered myself a businessperson rather than a businesswoman,” says Cooper. “I have learned an incredible amount from both men and women. I foster any talented individual who is willing to put in the time, energy, and dedication required to succeed.”

Connections to mentors like Cooper and groundbreakers like Romano are essential influences on the success of any young person’s career, but especially women. Dana Britton, director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University’s School of Management and Labor Relations, has spent much time interviewing female leaders on the boards of large corporations. “Women don’t have the same kinds of networks that men have. Men are much more likely to have interacted with other men and be comfortable with other men,” she says of the challenge women face in reaching the leadership level. She means networks forged on the golf course or outside of work, places women aren’t always able to access due to family obligations or implications of impropriety. “[Leadership roles are] positions in which the responsibilities are not all that well defined, so the people in those roles tend to look for people that look like them,” says Britton. “They assume that if they can do the job, someone else like them would also be able to do the job.”

Connections: A Start

How are women overcoming barriers to leadership? The solutions are as myriad as the challenges, but one method resonated across respondents and was echoed by Britton’s research. “You just have to understand how the networks work,” she says. “You have to be seen by the people who make the decisions, and they have to be comfortable with you. You have to start thinking of networking as part of your job.”

“Over the years, I have witnessed an increase in mentorship and networking by more men toward the women. There is an understanding that we are working toward a shared goal of safe attractions. There is true camaraderie,” says Laura Woodburn, director of attractions and the guest experience at Hersheypark, and 2016 IAAPA Outstanding Service Award honoree. “Now I see strong female leaders mentoring and helping the next generation of women (and men) to become strong leaders themselves.”

Mentors take the time to advise younger colleagues, but women need sponsors, too. A sponsor actively advocates for advancement, connecting others with the very executives they need to be seen by. A 2010 Harvard Business Review report found “women who are qualified to lead simply don’t have the powerful backing necessary to inspire, propel, and protect them through the perilous straits of upper management. Women lack, in a word, sponsorship.” The report also found men are 46 percent more likely to have a sponsor than women, “a gender gap … that manifests itself most markedly at the very top.” Sponsorship involves risk, but is one way male colleagues can support qualified leaders and pays off with a healthy pipeline of valuable employees.

Challenges Beyond the Broken Glass Ceiling

“There has not been as much progress as one would hope,” says Pamela Landwirth, about the attractions industry’s growth on gender roles, in particular. “A huge step forward in the overall evolution was made in 2006 when Meg Crofton became president of Walt Disney World, the first female president in its then 35-year history. However, unfortunately, that did not open the floodgates throughout the industry.”

Landwirth is herself a sign of progress, though. As president and CEO of Give Kids The World, a charity resort in Kissimmee, Florida, she recently became the second woman inducted into the IAAPA Hall of Fame. She was added with Henri Landwirth in 2017 for their work founding and fostering the nonprofit. 

Women are still feeling the pressure of work/life balance among other challenges (see next section), but are hopeful.

“I believe our industry values women in the workplace and diversity in general. I have always found the industry to recognize hard work, dedication, and quality, regardless of gender,” says Denise Beckson, director of operations and human resources at Morey’s Piers, and recipient of the 2012 IAAPA Meritorious Service Award. “We must continue to find ways to emphasize the rewarding careers we offer while developing systems and practices that allow for our colleagues to meet and fulfill their personal goals.”

1801_WONDER_WOMEN_STARS_LFTThe “Messy Middle”:
A Woman’s Path to Leadership

Understanding how women close in on the C-suite provides a relevant foundation for examining the challenges they could face when they get there. Though career paths are unique to the individuals, in her conversations, Rutgers University’s Dana Britton says a woman’s work history often passes through three phases:

1. Meritocracy:Often at the beginning of a career, women work hard, believing someone
will notice and promote them.

2. The “Messy Middle”:The challenge in this advanced phase is less defined expectations.
“The targets are no longer as explicit, and that part of your career is about making connections
and becoming the kind of person who is visible and who leaders trust,” says Britton.

3. Leadership:When a woman breaks through to the level of executive.

“The challenges change over the course of a woman’s career, and the glass ceiling of leadership has partly to do with the lack of clarity for promotion and advancement in that middle portion,” adds Britton.



Though their responses reflect unique histories, it’s clear these women have one thing in common: a passion for the business of fun …



What is the most pressing issue facing women in the workplace today, and how can the attractions industry influence positive change?



1801_WW_BARNES Women have made tremendous progress in the workplace on a variety of fronts, and we need to continue to build on these successes. Getting more women in visible leadership roles in our industry and recognizing the significant contributions women have made over time are important [issues] 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.

Heather Barnes
Director of Aquatic Presentations and Live Programs, Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Illinois
Read Heather's full interview.


1801_WW_BUHRIt’s an overall understanding that women operate differently from men, and we need to find ways to accommodate both genders so we can enhance our strengths. The attractions industry can help this by understanding where these strengths lie in their organizations, and offer flexible environments to bring them out.

Christine Buhr
President, Shaker Family Fun Centre, Calgary, Canada
Read Christine's full interview.


1801_WW_DANIELSMen and women alike are all looking for work/life balance. Our jobs are not nine to five. We work weekends; we work holidays. This industry understands the importance of family, maybe better than most. So, to the extent that we can continue to offer employees a level of flexibility and encourage them to go on vacation and recharge their batteries, and give them time off when a child or an aging parent is ill, I think we send the right message. It is important for all businesses, not just the attractions industry, to foster a workplace that values family.

Sandra Daniels
Vice President, Communications, Six Flags Entertainment Corporation, Grand Prairie, Texas
Read Sandra's full interview.


1801_WW_BURROWSThe most pressing issue facing women in the workplace is equal pay for men and women. The attractions industry can assist by encouraging transparency, encouraging open and honest dialogue, and promoting legislation and industries who support and enforce equal pay.

Kathy Burrows
Former Public Relations Manager, Hershey Entertainment Resorts, Hershey, Pennsylvania
Read Kathy's full interview.


1801_WW_GIBBSBalance. 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.

Adrea Gibbs
Managing Director, Planet Aqua Group, Au Sable Forks, New York
Read Adrea's full interview.


1801_WW_OSOSKIEThe most pressing issue is the misconception that if an industry consists of predominantly male leadership, there isn’t a place for female leaders. The attractions industry needs to be an industry in which young women grow up aspiring to work. The industry is so diverse, which makes it an option for a full-time, fulfilling, and lifelong career for women, regardless of their skillsets.

Stacy Ososkie
Public Relations Manager, Knoebels Amusement Resort, Elysburg, Pennsylvania
Read Stacy's full interview.


1801_WW_STANDLEEWomen are still in a place of challenged upward mobility and equal pay. The attractions industry can help by continuing to promote talented women quickly. My experience is that women will take on challenges and find a way to get the job done.

Beth Standlee
CEO and Owner, Trainertainment, Fort Worth, Texas
Read Beth's full interview.


1801_WW_FROLEUnconscious bias. This is a social stereotype people form about certain groups of people outside of their own conscious awareness. We all have them, but women face a unique set of challenges in this area. One common stereotype is that men “take charge” and women “take care,” which can prevent women from moving up into leadership positions. As leaders, we need to recognize there is an unconscious bias. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Who are our “go-to” people at work? Is it a diverse group? Are you looking broadly and deeply for talent? Are women included in the informal activities and socializing that are also important for advancement? In the daily grind of the attractions industry, some of these questions can get lost.

Stacy Frole
Vice President, Investor Relations, Cedar Fair, Sandusky, Ohio
Read Stacy's full interview.


1801_WW_PERIALESI would say the most pressing issue is prejudice: the prejudices that both men and women alike have regarding women taking over fields of action that used to belong to men. Though, this has been changing dramatically in the past years. Today there are women with jobs that a couple of years ago we could not even think of.

Luciana Periales
CEO, Neverland, Argentina and Spain
Read Luciana's full interview.


1801_WW_ROMANOIt is still hard for most women to to balance the demands of family and promotion in business and professions. Parks and attractions, with all the training and people skills they provide to staff members, could include “Supporting Each Other On the Job” as part of their trainings. It’s something we might think everyone would want to do.

Gina Romano
Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Americas and Canada, Martin & Velminckx, Haines City, Florida
Read Gina's full interview.


1801_WONDER_WOMEN_STARS_LFTHow have you seen the industry evolve regarding gender roles?



1801_WW_MAMONFor the Philippines, women enjoy special privileges: they have equal opportunities and are not treated as a minority. We have had two woman presidents already. In Asia, this is evolving, too, as more women rise to become corporate leaders in our industry.

Cynthia Mamon
COO, Enchanted Kingdom, Santa Rosa, Philippines
Read Cynthia's full interview.


1801_WW_SCHAEFERI was always fortunate to have incredible mentors and partners as we grew our business. I made myself indispensable and really didn’t offer anyone a choice on needing me through hard work, effort, skill, and dedication. Great Wolf was built with so many incredible women working together.

Kim Schaefer
Head of Parks, Two Bit Circus, Los Angeles, California
Read Kim's full interview.


1801_WW_PLANTEThere is an acceptance of women in the industry, slowly but surely. I’ve witnessed its evolution over the past 20 years. In the beginning, as a woman dealing with maintenance and operations, people would often flat out ignore my recommendations and defer to my male colleague. It felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously and my knowledge was inferior to that of a man, as amusement maintenance is predominantly male dominated. I believe time has increased gender equality within the industry.

Melissa Plante
President, CLM Entertainment, Woonsocket, Rhode Island
Read Melissa's full interview.


1801_WW_DELANEYMore and more, women are confident of their own abilities. Those of us who made a mark used to be seen as “pushy” or “bossy.” We were because we needed to be heard or seen. Now strong women are appreciated.

Juliana Delaney
CEO, Continuum Attractions, York, England
Read Juliana's full interview.


1801_WW_THOMPSONThere are few women in senior positions, as the history of our industry has traditionally been male dominated. This is changing, however, and there are several women in senior positions. As with all industries, things are rapidly changing in this sense.

Amanda Thompson OBE
Managing Director (CEO), Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Blackpool, England
Read Amanda's full interview.


1801_WW_WEBERLike many once “male-dominated” businesses, the attractions industry has evolved considerably but still has a way to go in terms of women in executive and senior leadership roles. Fortunately, the “good old boys” industry reputation has greatly diminished, and it is encouraging to see growing awareness and legitimate efforts toward addressing gender equality and leveling of the playing field. 

Bonnie Sherman Weber
President, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Hurricane Harbor, Los Angeles, California
Read Bonnie's full interview.


1801_WONDER_WOMEN_STARS_LFTHow have you built your network of women in the industry?



1801_WW_FROLEI have taken deliberate steps to invite other women to lunch, talk on the phone, or walk the park to get to know them better. I have also broadened my network of women outside the industry by joining a nonprofit board and other associations that include women I see as role models and potential mentors.

Stacy Frole
Vice President, Investor Relations, Cedar Fair, Sandusky, Ohio
Read Stacy's full interview.


1801_WW_SEAYI was fortunate to work with many women early on in my career, and mentors who positively impacted me include men and women. Networking in general is what allowed me to find my way to Premier Rides. Remain active in networking events—learning and listening are key. 

Sara Seay
Director, Marketing and Sales, Premier Rides, Baltimore, Maryland
Read Sara's full interview.


1801_WW_MONJARRASI have been very fortunate to collaborate for more than 20 years with a company that truly believes in women, and provides opportunities to prepared, willing, and creative people in the industry. The executive team at Grupo Experiencias Xcaret is 70 percent women working together in innovation and developing unique moments for visitors.

Elizabeth Lugo Monjarras
COO, Grupo Experiencias Xcaret, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Read Elizabeth's full interview.


1801_WONDER_WOMEN_STARS_LFTWhat makes you most passionate about the Attractions industry?



1801_WW_LANDWIRTHThis is an industry focused on what’s right in the world; bringing joy, providing an escape from the “real world,” and creating lifelong memories.

Pamela Landwirth
President and CEO, Give Kids The World, Kissimmee, Florida
Read Pamela's full interview.


1801_WW_MORANDOurs is the industry that provides an escape; an opportunity for families to smile, laugh, and create lasting memories. I watch my young daughters experience so much joy and laughter when we take them to a water park or FEC, and I just love that I get to work in an industry that makes those memories.

Tara Morandi
Vice President, Marketing, accesso
Read Tara's full interview.


1801_WW_WOODBURNMy biggest passions are learning and the relationships I have developed over the years. Ours is an industry that is entrepreneurial and curious to discover what our guests will want for entertainment.

Laura Woodburn
Director of Attractions and The Guest Experience, Hersheypark, Hershey, Pennsylvania
Read Laura's full interview.


1801_WW_HAUSFIELDI started my career with a passion for the industry because it was in my blood, but I had no idea how much my passion would grow once getting immersed. The people I have met along the way have become my extended family.

Chloe James Hausfeld
Director of Marketing and Business Development, Jack Rouse Associates (JRA), Cincinnati, Ohio
Read Chloe's full interview.

1801_WONDER_WOMEN_STARS_LFTWhat is your vision for the industry in the next 20 years?



1801_WW_COOPERTo continue to provide a great experience that puts a smile on our guests’ faces. As our world continues to become more complicated and disconnected, people still need a place to recharge, relax, and connect. I believe our role in the world can grow in importance and relevance if we offer a quality experience at a good value.

Jane Cooper
COO, Herschend Family Entertainment, Peachtree Corners, Georgia
Read Jane's full interview.


1801_WW_FROLETo see more women in leadership positions throughout all aspects of the organization. Recently, IAAPA recognized its 100th honoree to the IAAPA Hall of Fame, and only two of these honorees have been women. I hope to see this percentage increase over the next 20 years as we take a more intentional approach to mentoring and sponsoring women in the attractions industry.

Stacy Frole
Vice President, Investor Relations, Cedar Fair, Sandusky, Ohio
Read Stacy's full interview.


1801_WW_STUARTThe industry will grow and prosper. It will enrich the lives of millions of people around the world. It will train great professionals at all levels and teach great work ethic to successive generations of young people. It will grow a culture of inclusion and non-discrimination that will inform us, entertain us, inspire us, and educate us.

Mary Stuart
CEO, Luna Park Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
Read Mary's full interview.


1801_WONDER_WOMEN_STARS_LFTWhat is one piece of advice you’d like to convey to women starting their attractions careers?



1801_WW_BECKSONMake your own niche. Work hard at your job, but always look for the holes—the areas and items that don’t necessarily have a home—and make them yours. Don’t passively wait for assignments—take initiative and assign projects to yourself or ask if you can pursue a task in an area you want to learn more about. Be willing to learn, think outside of what your current role is, and think about where you want your career to go. Look for tasks and opportunities that will help you build the skills you may eventually need.

Denise Beckson
Director of Operations and Human Resources, Morey’s Piers, Wildwood, New Jersey
Read Denise's full interview.


1801_WW_WEAVERDon’t be shy. Get out there and experience this industry as much as possible. Attend trade shows. Take advantage of networking events. Shake hands, get to know people, and learn about their contributions to the industry. Visit parks and entertainment facilities regularly because with each visit, you learn something new that will help forward your career.

Lauren Wood Weaver
Marketing Director, Sally Corporation, Jacksonville, Florida
Read Lauren's full interview.


1801_WW_CHAVEZThe most important thing is to love what you do. You have to be proud of it and enjoy it every moment.

Cecilia Chavez
Executive Director, La Granja Villa Y Su Mundo Magico, Lima, Peru
Read Cecilia's full interview.


1801_WW_STUARTBe the best you can possibly be at whatever you are doing. Remember, women always have to outperform the index. Don’t worry about this—just get on with it, work hard, and don’t be too polite.

Mary Stuart
CEO, Luna Park Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
Read Mary's full interview.


1801_WW_LEEAttractions involve many different departments, therefore empathy and listening skills are important to understand other people’s concerns.

Vivian Lee
Executive Director, Business Development & Education, Ocean Park Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Read Vivian's full interview.


1801_WW_ROUNDI offer the following with an explanation: Be the person who understands how fortunate they are to be in a lifelong industry where you love what you do. To clarify, first, don’t think of yourself as a woman; you earned the position because you have qualities that make you a good employee, manager, and/or executive. Second, appreciate how lucky you are to do this every day; it will motivate you to focus on continual development and improvement. Third, and very important, be sincere. The attractions industry is a small world and, for many, a lifelong career; these are friends and colleagues you could have for a very long time.

Linda Round
Marketing & Business Development, Jack Rouse Associates (JRA), Cincinnati, Ohio
Read Linda's full interview.


1801_WW_HASHIMOTOThere are so many female movers and shakers in this industry. I think that there is no other industry where you can have this much fun working, and everyone just enjoys themselves. So, I think it’s best to start your career with the frame of mind to enjoy yourself, rather than being self-conscious of yourself as a woman.

Ai Hashimoto
Engineer, Engineering and Safety, Technical Department, Park Operations Division, Universal Studios Japan
Read Ai's full interview.



Learn more about these women and the impact they’ve had on the industry online at, and stay tuned for the “Wonder Women” regular feature in Funworld, starting in March.


Build Your Network with IAAPA

IAAPA offers a number of ways to connect with leaders across the industry. Start growing your network with these programs:

Join a Committee

A number of women in the industry credit their work on IAAPA committees with building their networks. Visit to learn how you can get involved in 2019.

Pitch a Webinar

Submit your idea for a 90-minute webinar on topics relevant to the industry. Putting together a panel or arranging speakers and engaging with webinar viewers can help you
connect with other likeminded professionals. Learn more at

Attend an Event

IAAPA holds networking and training events all over the world. Check out to find one near you.