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"Invest In Women. Pay Women. Hire Women." Dawn Gallagher on Leadership + the Shirt that Stole HSMAI

Dawn Gallagher, Chief Commercial Officer, Crescent Hotels & Resorts, let her shirt do (some of) the talking recently in Orlando, as part of HSMAI's Commercial Strategy Week. As Chief Commercial Officer, Dawn oversees all sales, marketing, revenue, and digital strategies at Crescent Hotels & Resorts. An accomplished sales and marketing executive with extensive experience working with both branded and independent hotels, Dawn drew on her thirty+ year career, addressing the group in the session “A View from the Top,” where she also wore a provocative shirt "Invest In Women. Pay Women. Hire Women." This inspired us to ask a few more questions!

Dawn Gallagher Crescent Hotels
Dawn Gallagher in her now famous t-shirt

Let's start with, where is that awesome t-shirt from?

The T-Shirt comes from Kelsey Trainor, with portions of the proceeds of buying the T-shirt going to Everyone on the panel thought a strong focus on elevating women was an important takeaway. We didn’t know it would be on the heels of Roe v. Wade being overturned.

What does leadership mean to you?

So many things, to me leadership means:

  • To Inspire

  • To Motivate

  • To Teach

  • To Protect

  • To be a role model to follow

  • To be a good communicator and ensure buy-in from the entire team, even those that are quiet

  • To be humble and to always give credit where credit is due. Lift the team up and show the world who they are!

Lessons on leadership are learned daily, we can make mistakes, but we have the ability to correct the mistake, and acknowledge it so our team knows we are human. We need to ensure we are giving our team the tools necessary to excel and support when risks taken don’t pan out.

Dawn Gallagher Crescent Hotels & Resorts

How has your leadership style changed in the last three years?

With the contentious political climate over the past few years coupled with COVID and the strains it had on everyone in different ways, I found myself protecting my team more, giving grace more where things happened that weren’t indicative of the person, and letting them know I have their back and it is ok. A real focus on protecting the commercial teams. Protect them from being recruited, protect their time to ensure they had the ability to connect with customers and close the available business and at some point, get out of operation to drive more revenue which at the end of the day drives the success and employment of more people in each hotel.

With the pressures of COVID and divisive politics, we must give grace to those that act out in ways that are associated with the times we were living in. Mothers and Fathers had added pressures of working from home and also homeschooling their children, they didn’t need added pressure, they needed support and love and an outlet to talk to someone about their anxiety, and creating the right environment helped them be more successful.

Women are strong, we need to take care of each other, mentor each other and assist with a path wherever we can. Today meaningful places to work are more important than ever, don’t discount that if you are in a leadership role your contribution to the success of the culture whether visible or invisible. We all have a role to make the workplace as optimal as possible.

What are your top tips for women looking to build their leadership skills?

Act like the leader you want to be. Take the good from leaders and mentors you have followed and more importantly remember the bad leaders and make a point never to replicate their performance. There are great examples around us, take it all in and mold yourself into the best leader you can be.

What is the biggest mistake you've made in your career?

This is a hard question to answer, we all make little mistakes that allow us to remember we are human, and most importantly learning from those mistakes is the key to strengthening leadership characteristics moving forward. The biggest mistake I have made in my career was working for an uninspiring leader who took the easy road vs. the road less traveled with better rewards. I am a disrupter, I want to be part of the change for the better. When you realize you are with the wrong company, that doesn’t fit your ideals, it's time to move on. I stayed way too long with the daydreams that the situation would change, and it didn’t. I now look back on that time as I lead and use the experience as a guide to what I would do? Nothing that the previous leader did, just the opposite. Set high goals, open the road to all possibilities, no limits to what success looks like and I try to instill that to our commercial leaders as well.

You seem to have a lot of self-confidence, do you? If so, where does that come from?

It’s a good question, it may come from a broken family and a challenging life as a teen. At some point I knew the only person I could count on was myself, so I had better figure it out. Self-confidence comes from a strong marriage and a great partner who believes in me as well.

What advice can you give women to boost their own self-esteem?

Get all the voices out of your head except the one that is giving you positive advice. Sometimes we overthink things to a fault- be bold, remember your strengths, and lean on them hard for your success.

Sometimes we overthink things to a fault- be bold, remember your strengths, and lean on them hard for your success.

What is the biggest mistake you see others making?

Making career moves for money without a complete understanding of a possible future and how that would play out for them. In today’s world, money is important but if you are paid too much, there is always a reason, an underlying issue that has yet to be uncovered. Making too much money for a position really stumps further growth as well. I want everyone to be paid well for the job they do and but if the money is too good, there is always a reason why.

Wow, that is really interesting advice, as studies show there is still a gender pay gap, and that women are worse at negotiating. What warning signs, other than money, can women look for to avoid taking the wrong opportunity?

Good question and such a good point, thank you for bringing that up. Today the person you work for should believe in you, the strengths to the organization’s benefit. You will know this immediately when you interview for a job, does the leader appreciate your skills and strength? If not, pass! The organization you work for makes a difference! Most salary norms are online these days, if they are not meeting your requirements, move on! Shame on them.

What's your favorite personal story of resilience?

I was turned down for a promotion, a position I was equally matched for and when I was called to say that I didn’t get it I pressed and pressed as to why this other person got the job and I didn’t. The difference between the two of us was I was a disruptor and the person who got the position fit better in the boys club and knew how to keep the peace, not rock the boat. Maintaining the status quo is not me. After that experience, I had two choices, I could sulk, and feel sorry for myself, or I could make sure that when the opportunity presents itself again, that there was no match, I would be the only viable candidate. I knew that in order to get ahead, being evenly matched was not enough. I actively took on more responsibility, and more projects within the division to ensure the next time around, there wasn’t any competition.

For the first time in history, we have four generations working together. What trends do you see taking shape in the workforce today?

Technology, flexibility, and recognition are bigger components for the younger workforce vs. the Baby Boomer generation, who were accustomed to doing a job as that is what is required. The younger generation is focused on diversity, and equality initiatives and live by the mentality to work to live vs. the other generations who live to work. Neither is right or wrong, frankly, as a working mother my I have lived a life of overcommitment at all times, sometimes tilted personally and sometimes tilted professionally.

How do you approach generational shifts in the workforce?

You have to be flexible and give each person a voice in the organization. Titles to me don’t matter, everyone has a voice or should have a voice in the direction of the organization. Sometimes the suggestions to make changes sound uncomfortable at first, but how do we embrace each generation and their contributions evenly.

Dawn Gallagher Crescent Hotels & Resorts


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