Women in the Industry - August 2018


Mentoring for Mastery

Ocean Park Hong Kong’s Suzanne Gendron on the power of good guidance and hard work in a male-dominated field

Suzanne Gendron describes the catalyst of her career as “a passion for keeping fishes.” Add 40 years, quite a few more critters, and the role of Ocean Park Hong Kong executive director, Zoological Operations, Conservation and Education, and you could say her passion has evolved. 

Gendron will join a panel of women of influence for “Women in the Industry: A Roundtable Discussion” at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2018. Funworld spoke with her about her career in a male-dominated industry, the future, and more.

FW: When you started your career in the industry, women were not traditionally found working in marine biology. How did you grow your career despite this?

Suzanne Gendron: When I was hired, I was the first woman in the aquarium department [at SeaWorld California]. During the interview they asked me if that would be a problem, and I, of course, said no. There were a few challenges along the way, but perseverance was important. I wouldn’t give up. It was when I was promoted into management that I really knew I was in the right place. Along the way to prepare, I took myself to conferences to learn and begin networking. I volunteered for special jobs, and I read books, visited aquariums, and spent time diving. I was asked to go to Indonesia to help open an aquarium in north Jakarta. I was only asked because my mentor Jerry Goldsmith had encouraged me to apply for a management position in another aquarium in order to get experience. I had no interest to leave SeaWorld, but he felt I should gain that experience. I ended up staying five years in Jakarta, and from there, 20 years ago, I came to Ocean Park.

Growing your career takes 75 percent you working hard, taking advantage of opportunities, and making those opportunities, but it is also 25 percent luck and who you know. For me, it was my mentors. They encouraged me when things looked bleak. They were hard on me to make me strong. I didn’t have a woman to be my mentor at that time, but in today’s attraction business, there are a number of great women. We must do our own work, but it helps to have that experienced mentor who asks the hard questions and encourages you.

FW: How have you seen the industry evolve in terms of gender parity?

SG: It certainly has changed in the past 40 years! In the animal care field, more women are working as animal care staff, veterinarians, and aquarists than ever before. I am seeing more women directors, but we need to ensure women in top management reflect the gender balance in the industry. We are getting there. 

FW: You’ll be speaking on IAAPA’s Women in the Industry panel at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2018. What do you hope the audience takes away from this session?

SG: Work hard, work well. Don’t be too easily offended. There are differences in how women manage, so work and embrace your strengths and try always to be fair.

For more thoughts from Suzanne Gendron, check out the IAAPA Women in Leadership Project at www.IAAPA.org/WomenLeaders.