Cynthia Serrano: ‘Creating Solutions’ at the Fort Worth Convention Center

While women outnumber male business event organizers, only a minority of women hold executive positions at the facilities that host their events. In our continuing series about female leadership at event facilities, we ask Cynthia Serrano to share her perspective as the general manager of the Fort Worth Convention Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

Author: Jennifer Dienst       

An aerial view of the Fort Worth Convention Center

The Fort Worth Convention Center has a major expansion in the works. Plans for the multiphase project call for 97,000 square feet of new exhibition space, a new 60,000-square-foot ballroom, and a new on-site hotel, among other additions and enhancements.

The business events industry, at large, is comprised of women — 77 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But some spaces are quite the opposite, particularly facility management, where just 21 percent are women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. We’re spotlighting women who have worked their way up to the top spots at convention centers around the world, and up next is Cynthia Serrano, general manager of Fort Worth Convention Center.

When it comes to leadership in the events industry, there is quite a bit of gender disparity, especially in facility management. Why do you think that is, and what needs to change in the industry to close that gap?

From my perspective it’s about tenure and limited opportunity. Leadership in this industry is dominated by people who are passionate about events, so they stay 20 to 30 years doing what they love.

A photo of Cynthia Serrano

“There are people on our teams who want the break to expand their hands-on knowledge and experience. Let’s give it to them.” — Cynthia Serrano, general manager, Fort Worth Convention Center

We need to create opportunities for growth and learning. There are people on our teams who want the break to expand their hands-on knowledge and experience. Let’s give it to them. Implement a short-term program in house, exposing future leaders to next level meetings or projects. Invite a diverse group of people to the table. Open up team discussions to gain a broader perspective and be a part of the creative solution. There are knowledge jewels and nuggets in collaborative settings.

In addition to your skills and capabilities, to what would you attribute your success in a male-dominated sector of the business events industry? What attracted you to this side of the business?

Sticking with it and putting in the work. Asking to be a part of a particular project that I thought would give me insight into the next five to 10 years of my venue. Requesting to do research on a process that I knew would be useful at the next level. It hasn’t been easy, but I earned my position. With focus and initiative, there is no limit to what we can achieve.

Having been in both sales and operations, my tendency is to lean towards the operational aspect of the business. I enjoy figuring out solutions collaboratively with a team. Creating solutions for our customers is what makes this fun.

What is the biggest challenge convention facilities are facing right now? What do you see as your biggest opportunity?

With current labor issues, maintaining the needed staffing levels is our biggest challenge. With the convention business pushing full steam, in addition to added sporting events, short-staffed events teams are constantly challenged with tight turnovers while maintaining our high-level customer experience.

My biggest opportunity is to be a part of redefining downtown Fort Worth, the 12th-largest city in the U.S. As we commence the convention center’s expansion project, I have a front-row seat and an amplified voice in the designing, programming, and planning of this transformational change.

Our cover story in our March/April 2022 issue highlights how the design and functionality of convention facilities is changing because of the pandemic and the evolving needs of groups. From your perspective, what do you predict will change at your facility, as well as at convention centers as a whole? 

How people meet has changed. Customers have been exposed to new concepts of space and room configurations. They want to meet in non-meeting spaces. They want to meet on multi-use furniture in small pods. As facility managers we will need to be innovative and flexible with ideas and flexible in our approach to exceeding the vision of our customers.

Jennifer N. Dienst is senior editor at Convene.

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