Dzidra Junior had a tentative start — as a temp in the sales department at the Las Vegas Hilton — to what has turned out to be a long and successful career in the hospitality and events industry. “I was a temp for about a week, maybe two weeks, and they just seemed to be very impressed with my work ethic,” Junior said. When a position became available at the end of the term of her temp position, as a clerk in the banquets department, she said, “I was thrust into this as a reward.”
Working as a banquet clerk piqued Junior’s interest in working in sales full-time, she said. “I would see the sales managers as they interacted with their convention groups, because I had to interact with the convention customers on the banquet checks. The sales managers were always dressed up, and I would see them out to dinner with the customers, and I thought, ‘Well, I like clothes. I like to talk to customers all the time, and I certainly love to eat. This is a great job.’”
While working in sales was not at all what she imagined it would be in her “simplistic thought process,” her choice to take this career path led her to numerous opportunities over the years — during her 20-plus years in the industry, she has worked at Mandalay Bay, Caesars Entertainment, The Mirage, and MGM Resorts International, where she spent nearly nine years working as director of global sales. Junior departed her longtime home of Las Vegas in January 2021 for the cooler climate of Estes Park, Colorado, where she now serves as vice president of business development for YMCA of the Rockies, a destination that features 270 cabins, 700 hotel lodge rooms, and family reunion cabins, as well as recreational and meeting space. Junior recently spoke with Convene about her career highlights, finding work-life balance after her big move, and how she thinks work will change post-pandemic.
On working with the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals (NCBMP) throughout her career, where now she serves as the 2021 president
I started in sales as a small meetings manager, then I worked my way up to being [responsible for] medium-sized meetings, then they introduced me to what at the time was the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners [NCBMP, since renamed the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals]. I had the opportunity to attend their conference, where I learned about the diversity of the multicultural market and brought back information from that conference that ultimately led to me getting another promotion and enhancing my market segment. And so I became the subject matter expert for the diversity market, as well as the other markets that I was working with. Because of that specific niche that I worked, [I was able to] springboard into the position at MGM Resorts International.
NCBMP for me, just over my career, has supported the business case for African American convention groups. NCBMP is an advocate for the African American travel segment sector that represents $109 billion. So, the organization for me has been a great resource for business development, creating relationships, and managing existing relationships, and it has been a great resource for industry trends within the African American market segment. And then NCBMP serves as a safe space for African Americans in hospitality to have authentic dialogue about working through adversity in corporate America.
On her choice to depart from MGM Resorts International during the pandemic
My son was approaching his senior year and getting ready to go off to college, so I had to start thinking about what my next step was — and I just knew that trajectory was going to be up. …Then COVID hit and it was like, Oh my gosh. What kind of opportunities can you have during a time where the market has crashed and is so volatile?
So, I was a little concerned to even move or to pursue other opportunities, but I knew that I needed to do something different, because I was continuing to do the same thing over and over again, and it doesn’t help with [feeling] productive. It’s not motivating. When COVID hit, I had the opportunity to be still, and to really home in on what it was that I really wanted. I knew I wanted change, I just wasn’t sure if that change was going to be: Am I going to just go to the gym and … spend time being more fit so I can compete in Ms. Olympia? That required me not having to eat cupcakes, and donuts, and all the food that I enjoy. Because the alternative was to go find another job, and it was like, “I can’t go find another job in this volatile climate. That’s not going to work. I have to do something.” And then the opportunity for a job came up. That was easier than training to become Ms. Olympia.
On speaking with a recruiter about a career change
She asked me if I was interested in finding a job, and I told her no, because the market was too volatile. But my servant heart [kicked in when] she said, “Well, do you have friends that are interested?” And then I was like, “Well, absolutely.” That’s how she got me on the phone. We talked and talked and talked, and I had shared with her my aspirations to grow and what areas those would be in. She ultimately ended up saying, “I think this job really would be a good fit for you, and I’d like you to take a look at it.” And she told me it was for a hotel chain, the hotel chain was YMCA of the Rockies, and I asked her to repeat that again, because I didn’t realize YMCAs have hotels. Like, What are you talking about?
On her move from Nevada to Colorado
I won’t say this is for everyone. But for me at this stage of my life, understanding that for the last 15 years, for sure, I had been on a hamster wheel — with travel, with entertaining weekly, with customers coming in at any given time on the weekend, with customer events in Vegas. Plus being a person that has a certain heart, I wanted to give back to the community, and I was involved with local nonprofit organizations. I had commitments with attending events locally, and then on top of that I love my family. Trying to squeeze my family into all of the work activities was exhausting. And so, coming to Colorado to be in this space — every year I take a vacation or a week to ski, because skiing for me is this environment of being in a place of solitude. Now it feels like vacation all the time just because of the surroundings.
I have tranquility of the environment I work in now. I don’t have to do the entertainment [side of work] in the evenings. I don’t necessarily have to go on a plane as often as I used to. I do still have to build relationships with individuals in the community, but it’s not nearly as intrusive as it was in Vegas. And while I don’t have family here, I have all this extra time on my hands to focus on self-care. And so all that did was validate to me that I’ve made the right decision personally and from a career perspective, because I absolutely love my job.
On changes in the industry due to COVID-19 that she believes will stick around post-pandemic
The hybrid workforce is one of the biggest changes. Everyone has been told that it is essential to have a hybrid workforce, because the hybrid workforce helps with work-life integration. It helps to increase productivity. Employees are happier. And in some instances, you could say it can save companies money — there’s a lower cost involved, depending on your corporation. … I think that the hybrid work schedule is just going to be a win, and I don’t think it’s something that’s going to go away. Because even with bringing back our team and hearing from individuals in the industry, just having conversations with people who are your friends, they’re being faced with going back to work. There are a lot of people who feel very strongly about how efficient they have been working from home, and they want to be able to have the flexibility of working from home or in the office.
The biggest lesson she’s learned in her career so far
Self-advocacy continues to be a muscle that I work to build, but it’s imperative to know what you want, and understand your strengths and values so when opportunities arise, you’re competent in pursuing the opportunity. Understanding the goals of your company to better align your strengths to opportunity that arises is crucial. It’s one thing to have mentors to help you navigate, but it’s another thing to be an advocate, and there’s no one that’s going to advocate for you better than you. And it’s something that one of my mentors said to me. He said, “Dzidra, you just don’t advocate enough for yourself.” And that was an aha moment for me.
Casey Gale is associate editor at Convene. This interview has been edited and condensed.