No one set out to form an alliance.
About a year after the 2016 Presidential election, feeling the effects of the new normal, a small group of Broadway professionals gathered at Sardi’s to discuss the challenges and realities of being a woman working as a business professional within the industry.
Each accomplished in her field, the women were all mid-to-senior level, but longed for more formalized support. “There are mentorship programs and internship programs, and we felt there wasn't an organization that met our particular needs where we are,” says Katie Dalton, Executive Vice President of Audience Rewards.
Molly Barnett, press agent and co-owner of Grapevine PR; Dalton; Tracy Geltman, COO at Stacey Mindich Productions; Jennifer Isaacson, Executive Producer at WalkRunFly Productions; Kristen Rathbun, VP of Communications at SpotCo; Diana Salameh, Director of Marketing and Communications at Serino Coyne; and Beth Watson, VP Account Director at SpotCo, all agreed on the need for community and peer-to-peer support—what Salameh calls “friend-tors.” Though now known as the Broadway Women’s Alliance, the group and its initial steps were small.
“Our stated goal became: Women at a similar stage in our careers in this industry at a minimum should all know each other,” Dalton continues. “When I walk into a client meeting or when I walk into an opening night, we want to be friendly faces for one another.”
The results seemed immediate. “Having the ability to go to an industry event and know that there would be fellow BWA members there made me more confident and, therefore, more outspoken,” says Kayla Burgett, Senior Tour Marketing and Press Manager at Allied Global Marketing.
During those early meetings in 2017, no one knew what would come of these gatherings—they just knew that meeting up felt great. “It's electric,” says Danielle Karliner Naish, General Manager at RCI Theatricals, Inc., of the meet-ups. “The energy, enthusiasm and excitement is incredible.”
From Winter 2018 to spring 2019, these gatherings continued and, as hoped, grew exponentially. The directive was: come and bring a Broadway business woman you know. The founders kept a spreadsheet of contacts: women who had come, women they knew who should come. Turns out, some of the most necessary organizations start with a Google spreadsheet.
As the gatherings grew, the conversations evolved. These Broadway women discussed everything from salary negotiation to sexism in the workplace to navigating collaboration with other women in this safe, candid space.
“We've also heard a lot of feedback from members who worry that they may not be taken as seriously as their male peers,” says Dalton. “We have discussed observations from within our own offices, for example, seeing female employees get asked to perform certain administrative tasks that their male counterparts are not asked to do.”
But what’s different about BWA is the ability to talk through solutions and then implement them across multiple companies and work environments. “A benefit of being in the mid-career level that so many of us are, we have discussed advocating for others when we see that happen,” says Dalton.
BWA hasn’t only helped circumvent existing negatives, it’s fostered new positives. “I hired somebody to work on my team because I met them at the BWA,” says Salameh. “Audience Rewards began a longterm relationship with Grapevine PR after Molly [Barnett] and I met at an early BWA event, that has resulted in successful coverage for Audience Rewards that we had not experienced in the past,” adds Dalton.
“Meeting women that I've been messaging with for years and finally putting faces to names,” says Naish, “I've been personally able to make connections which have sparked conversation and partnership with vendors and collaborators in the industry, which, in turn, is good for business and us all.”
And BWA walks the walk when it comes to good business and collaboration. “Our logo, [the supervision of] our Slack channel, our publicist, every single element of it is done by our membership,” says Salameh.
Since formalizing as the BWA in January 2020, the organization balances its efforts between community and concrete skill-building. “We don't want to be a lecture series and we don't want to be monthly happy hours,” says Salameh.
Just before the shutdown, Geltman and SpotCo COO Aaliytha Stevens led a career and professional development event. While in April, BWA hosted a “Pulse Check” community Zoom event and a virtual program on financial wellness during the coronavirus crisis. The BWA also announced the creation of their first-ever scholarship. Upcoming May events include a Drink Talk Learn, where members share the things they’re passionate about in three-minute mini-presentations, and a Confidence-Building Workshop with Jenny Gaither of the Movemeant Foundation. (RSVP to one or both here.)
BWA is free and open to all female and female-identifying professionals with careers on the business side of Broadway, geared towards—but not limited to— mid-to-senior level women. For the Alliance, it’s about a new normal of working together.
“I was very struck at the end [of Hamilton] when Aaron Burr said the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me,” Salameh reflects. The BWA’s modus operandi is to make the Broadway world wide enough for every woman. “A generation of women were not able to believe that the world was truly wide enough for all of us. Every woman in this industry, every person, frankly, but if we're talking specifically about women, every woman in this industry is a star; they're all extraordinary and special and they bring something unique to the table. You could be a star on your own or when we all come together it becomes a galaxy and it shines so much brighter. Which one do you want to be? I know for sure that I want to be a part of a galaxy. That's so much more powerful than being a lone star.”