Julie Keller Callaghan and Heather Mikesell worked together for fifteen years before taking a leap to launch their own brand. Passionate advocates for the advancement of women, the two recently held the inaugural Well Defined Women in Leadership Summit. Here, they share how it all began, and what the future holds. (Hint: You’ll have more opportunities to gather together on both coasts.)
Tell us how the Women in Leadership Summit came to be—why this summit, and why now?
Julie: As women in wellness ourselves, Heather and I have always been very passionate about supporting women in the wellness space and addressing the challenges and opportunities available for them. We worked together at American Spa magazine for more than 15 years, and some of the initiatives we launched included a Women in Wellness Awards program and several events for women—we even won an ISPA Innovate Award in 2018 for our work with women in leadership. When we launched our new company, Well Defined, we wanted to make sure that we continued to support women as part of our business ethos. After all, we are two women in wellness and can relate to the challenges and opportunities on a very personal level. I’m thrilled with the strides women continue to make in the world and in our industry, but there is so much room to improve when it comes to equity in entrepreneurship and executive opportunities, salaries, mentorship, and more. Additionally, I’m thrilled that our industry seems to be rebounding post-COVID, but women were particularly hard hit by the pandemic, so it felt like the perfect time to bring women and their advocates together to connect, network, and learn. Plus, there is such value to simply bringing a group of smart, talented, ambitious, and curious women together in person to network, talk, and share community, and we definitely saw that happen.
“We’ll get where we want to go faster if we all work together to get there; it’s essential that women work together to support other women . . . “
What is the mission and purpose behind the Summit?
Heather: Our mission is always to support and encourage women to grow and succeed in their careers, from asking to be paid what they’re worth to finding better work-life balance. The summit is designed to inspire women to take risks—pursue that leadership role, invite more women into the conversation, and pursue their own entrepreneurial dreams—while sharing the challenges we all face. Ultimately, it is lift women up, as we all learn from each other.
How does it differ from your original concept, the Women in Wellness conference?
Julie: This time around, it felt very personal for us because this was our first event under the Well Defined umbrella. In the past, we have covered topics like entrepreneurship, mentorship, leading with integrity, and new business development. We launched our company with all of this and more in mind, so our event truly felt like the culmination of what we have learned in our careers. Also, one of the reasons we founded Well Defined is that we felt like there is so much to share when it comes to wellness—along with travel and spa, we cover beauty, fitness, mindfulness, financial wellness, travel, workplace wellness, generation wellness, and more. We were thrilled to see so many of our travel and spa friends, but we were also excited to expand our reach and have attendees that included wellness travel agents, wellness real estate agents, financial wellness experts, life coaches, functional medicine professionals, and more, which was another point of difference for the event.
What were the biggest takeaways from the Summit?
Heather: I believe one of the biggest takeaways is that we’ll get where we want to go faster if we all work together to get there, and by that, I mean it’s essential that women work together to support other women. It’s not only rewarding from a personal standpoint but also essential to achieving true equality. Another key takeaway was the importance of the people with whom we surround ourselves. As Dr. Zoe Shaw shared, our relationships play a major role in contributing to our success in work and life. And finally, we need to take care of ourselves. Although most of the attendees work in the industry and understand how to prioritize health and wellness, that doesn’t mean we’re all practicing what we preach. Overwhelm is real, and it affects us all. Never before have the boundaries between work and life been so blurred. While we can thank the pandemic and our digital technology for that, it’s an issue that isn’t going away. We all need to learn to create better boundaries that allow us to live healthier and happier lives.
What resonated most with attendees?
Julie: All of our speakers were incredible. The two that most resonated with me were Kimberly Snyder, who talked about flow. I loved how she said when people ask her about how she balances everything in her life, the answer is that she doesn’t. Total balance is almost impossible, but going with the flow has allowed her to have a much more fulfilling life. I feel that every day, and I think most of our attendees do too. I also adored Dr. Zoe Shaw, who talked about social intelligence and the wellness entrepreneur. Her real-world examples of communication and relationship building really hit home for me. I loved this quote of hers—”Your business is here to serve your life, your life is not here to serve your business. Don’t get it twisted.”
What was the highlight of the Summit for each of you?
Julie: For me, it was so empowering to see our Well Defined brand grow and to launch our first event. As a small startup, we really did dive in and do everything to make this happen with a small, passionate team. I’m so grateful to have founded this brand with Heather and our other partner, Kerry Gumas. This event cemented the fact that when you pursue your passion and work with honorable, like-minded people with passion, knowledge, and integrity, anything is possible. Also, I just loved being able to hug so many of my wellness industry friends after so long apart. There truly is so much to be said about the power of personal connection. I was also inspired by the attendance of a few wonderful men who were there to offer their support and to truly listen to some of the challenges women face.
Heather: Honestly, it was being reunited and spending time with so many friends and colleagues. It was such a wonderful reminder how supportive the women (and men) in this industry are and how fortunate I am to have such incredible partners. I must say, the ecstatic dance party at the end of the night was also a highlight!
If you had to do one thing over again, what would that be?
Julie: I think we underestimated how much our attendees missed seeing each other in person and simply wanted to hug, talk, catch up, and network. I think we will build more time in for that the next time around. Our speakers were wonderful, and we will continue to bring together incredible experts, but the human connection, which was the first in two years for many, was a true standout.
Can you give us a sneak peek into next year’s Summit?
Julie: We loved this event and were so grateful for the gorgeous Live Love Spa venue where it took place. We plan to have another Well Defined Women in Leadership Summit in March of 2023 in the same location—LLS HQ in Tustin, California. The feedback was amazing, and we are also looking at doing another leadership conference, for both men and women, in the fall of 2022 on the East Coast. There is so much value in bringing women and their supporters together in a safe and inspiring space space, and we always want to do that. But we also want to include all the members in our wellness community in an event that supports leadership development, networking, mentorship, and more, and we can’t wait to bring our brothers and sisters in wellness together. We are also going to be announcing a Well Defined Workplace Wellness Conference for HR decision makers in the spring of 2023.
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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