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September 15, 2022

Women in Leadership: Men’s Voices–Advocate, Ally, Apathetic, or Antagonistic?

By: Kathy Wagner

In my ninth Women in Leadership AZA National Conference session, I decided to focus on the opposite audience: men. I invited three to join my panel and encouraged the rest of the sex to participate as audience members. The result was a heartfelt, emotional, resourceful and productive sharing of experiences, anecdotes, and wisdom. 

I’d like to thank panelists Shannon Fitzgerald, SSA Chief Brand Officer; Jeff Vanek, Director of Human Resources, Hogle Zoo; Dan Marsh, Director of Education, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden; Cassandra Ray, Vice President Finance/CFO, Saint Louis Zoo; and Craig Hoover, Executive Vice President, AZA. 

Takeaways include:

Work-Life Balance and Equity

  • Not surprisingly, we’re torn between two passions: our work and our lives at home. It’s important to agree on boundaries and responsibilities at home and express appreciation for another’s work and support. Communication is critical at home as well as at work; don’t forget to ask your partner for help, thank them for support, and bring them into the conversation.
  • “Pay equity is a family issue; growing up in a single parent household, I saw how my mother struggled and it affected us all—it shaped me.” (Dan)

Models, Mentors, and Sponsors

  • Sometimes support can come from our own families; even growing up, the men or boys in our lives can be positive models and help women learn what they can and should expect from men in the workplace.
  • “My Dad taught me it was okay for me to be me; my brothers taught me how boys could support women; they were great models for me.” (Shannon)
  • “Sponsors and mentors are important to your success. My boss was my sponsor, so I was his legacy; I would be there when he left so my success was important to him—it’s important to have a succession plan.” (Cassandra)


  • It’s about people, not policy. Work with the system until you can change it, but always be working to change it. It’s not good enough to be “paid in sunsets”—a quote attributed to National Park employees.
  • “To start to build a culture of equity, I realize I needed to let go of myself.” “Pay attention without judgment.” (Jeff)
  • “It’s not about me, it’s about what we can do together.” (Cassandra)

Power and Privilege

  • Don’t make assumptions; the balance of power doesn’t need to be what we grew up with. Start by acknowledging your power and privilege and figure out how you can use it. Start with “guilt management”.
  • “Recognize your power and use it; I saw how we lost talented women because of what we imposed on them; our Zoo’s policies now support families, allowing employees to return to the same jobs after a year off.” (Dan)
  • “Use the lens you have. Think about how you can use your power—your position enters the room before you do.” (Craig)
  • “Don’t storm into the room; take time to have the conversation and pay attention without judgment.” (Jeff)

Canopy Strategic Partners’ work with women in leadership motivates and elevates the next generation of women leaders and includes dedicated conferences, networking events, and mentorship programs. We also facilitate opportunities for women in executive-level roles to connect with rising women leaders while they are still in the early stages of their careers.

You’ll be hearing more from us in the months to come, but we want you to be among the first of our friends and colleagues to hear the news: we’re building on our commitment to diversity and inclusion—including over ten years focused on gender diversity in our field—by advancing a ground-breaking initiative to gather quantitative data on the systemic challenges and barriers women and people of color face in their leadership journey. We’re especially proud to announce SSA Group as a partner in this work—thank you to Chief Brand Officer Shannon Fitzgerald and our friends at SSA.

Contact us if you’d like to become involved, and stay tuned for future events!  

View our photo album from the Women in Leadership AZA Session.

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