Nearly three years ago, in December of 2016, Julie Keller Callaghan shared with me, “For many reasons, I think it is time to celebrate women—and our industry is in a unique position to do so, thanks to the many brilliant women who are a part of it who can offer insight and advice.” Her thoughts culminated in Wonder Women, a groundbreaking feature in the March 2017 issue of American Spa that tapped into the experience of a number of smart, savvy, female industry leaders—which ultimately led Keller Callaghan to create the Women in Wellness Awards and the very first Women in Wellness Leadership Conference, held in New York City in March of 2018.
Fast forward a year and half and two successful Women in Wellness Leadership Conferences later, and I’m recently back from the inaugural Women in Wellness West Coast event, which debuted in late October at The Waterfront Beach Resort. Keller Callaghan, Founder, American Spa’s Women in Wellness Leadership Conferences and Vice President, Content & Business Development, Questex Wellness Group, says she received “countless requests to bring our efforts to our sisters on the West Coast.”
“I wanted to create a unique event where attendees left with tangible tools for growing themselves professionally and personally. I think that was and is unique in our wellness space.”
Those efforts proved to be a major success—the turnout was incredible with some seriously stellar spa women in attendance, as well as on the agenda. I spoke with Keller Callaghan about Women in Wellness, and more. Here’s what she had to say.
In the Beginning
For years, I’d been thinking about wanting to do something to celebrate women in our industry. I’ve been inspired by the women in our space for a long time. Many have become mentors and friends, personally, professionally—and I’ve never felt so embraced and inspired by a single group. The Women in Wellness Awards launched in 2017. It’s a pretty rigorous application process, and usually it’s pretty hard to get engagement. I was shocked by how many applications I got—almost five hundred! What I had been feeing was really proven by the number of others in our industry who wanted to celebrate women.
Soon after that, the Trump election happened and the #MeToo movement exploded. I hated the way women were being portrayed in the press. Literally two months after the Women in Wellness launch, #MeToo started rolling. There was a synergy of things happening in the world. Politics aside, I hated the way women were being framed up, spoken about . . . I wanted to put something positive in the world.
Making a Real Mark
What was really important to me was to make something really different. I wanted to create a unique event where attendees left with tangible tools for growing themselves professionally and personally. I think that was and is unique in our wellness space. We didn’t bring in wellness speakers, we brought in financial, leadership—people who talked about taking care of yourself and promoting yourself from within. The first Women in Wellness Leadership Conference was really inspirational, and we had amazing turnout and feedback. What we heard was, ‘Don’t just do it in New York, bring it to the West Coast.’ So in March of 2018 we did one, then in 2019, we decided to do one on each coast.
The West Coast event wildly exceeded my expectations on so many levels. The speakers were amazing, the attendees [around 200] were so engaged, and so many big industry bellwethers came—for their own self improvement, but also to learn. I love New York, but I must admit that the California event had an awesome vibe. Everyone was open, honest, communicating, and having a lot of fun.
Highlights from the Women in Wellness West Coast
The first speaker, Jen Groover, really resonated with people. She gave us one of the most quoted phrases of the day: ‘Your ego is not your amigo!’ With the mindset of making change and supporting yourself and how to go about it in a positive way, she was an awesome way to get started and a cool way to kick things off. The Career Contessa, Lauren McGoodwin, followed. We went from inspirational big picture to someone who gave you the exact tools to further your career. The pace of the day was great.
For the first time, we had a Founders Panel. Kerstin Florian, Noel Asmar, and Rikki Kusy spoke to what it takes to launch and run a company in today’s wellness space. They represent three very different wellness companies, and they gave people an example of if you work hard, this is how you succeed. They each had a lot of the same challenges and solutions. It’s so important to show people no matter what you’re doing, being brave, taking risks, creating teams, putting your heart into things—it’s a great thing to watch.
We wanted to create a few workshops in the afternoon, and we created four very different sessions. It was great, every single session was full and everyone got something out of them. Michael Tompkins gave a talk about every step of his career and the women at each step, the archetypes they represented, and how they helped him. He and Tara Grodjesk conducted an interactive workshop about different archetypes and how we fit into them.
Diana Stobo, Founder of The Retreat Costa Rica, spoke to leading with the power of your emotions; Stacy Ike, TV host and actress, lectured on how to fight for your fairytale, ie, ‘how to overcome the limiting beliefs that might be standing in the way of your own happily ever after’; and author and nutritionist Ariane Resnick led an impassioned session, ‘Healing the Healers.’
A real highlight of the day was the Silent Disco. It was led by Lisa Fasullo, Founder and Director of the Center for Transformative Movement, and it was such a fun way to get everyone moving. After doing the conferences a few times, I realized that having back-to-back speakers and no movement is a lot to ask of attendees. I wanted to do something fun. Lisa brought the anticipated number of headsets, but we ran out! People really let loose.
One Really Special Woman of Wellness
Heather Mikesell, the Executive Editor at American Spa, spearheaded speaker recruitment for this event. She did a spectacular job. Heather’s an incredible human being, and she is so smart and so thoughtful—those speakers are entirely because of her research and devotion to the Women in Wellness movement. In addition to Heather, the entire American Spa Women in Wellness team, from editors to sales to operations, deserves recognition. The entire team is so passionate about it. You can see that in how it executes.
On the Future of Women in Wellness
Plans are being finalized for next year, and we hope to announce our plans soon. Nominations for the Women in Wellness Awards will open up in the spring, and the Women in Wellness Awards will be featured in our October 2020 issue. Plans are still being finalized for Women in Wellness 2020.
Mary Bemis is Founder & Editorial Director of InsidersGuidetoSpas.com. She is a pioneering spa journalist, most recently honored as one of the "Top 30 Influential Voices Transforming Wellness." She is an inaugural recipient of Folio's Top Women in Media Award, and was honored by ISPA with its distinguished ISPA Dedicated Contributor Award. In 1997, she launched American Spa magazine, and in 2007, Mary co-founded Organic Spa magazine. A pioneer in the sustainable spa and beauty worlds, Mary is co-curator of Cosmoprof North America's Discover Green Pavilion. She is a Global Wellness Day Advisor, and a co-founder of the Washington Spa Alliance.
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