Three Powerhouse Women Who are Dedicated and Determined for Success
The resiliency of Shannon Fitzgerald, Tasha Jones and Elle Bruno is nothing short of inspiring
Female business leaders are vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts, but three area women are passionate about creating more advancement opportunities for women and overcoming gender inequities.
Women often find themselves talked over, passed over, pushed back and discriminated against, says Shannon Fitzgerald.
As the chief brand officer for SSA Group, a 53-year-old company founded by her father, Kevin McNicholas, Fitzgerald has “intentionally put my efforts and energy and drive and fight and commitment and responsibility into ensuring that SSA is a company of women, for women.”
SSA partners with 90 cultural attractions such as museums and zoos across the United States, operating their food, ticketing, admissions and retail services. Fitzgerald joined the company 15 years ago, planning to only stay one year and build her résumé, but she fell in love with the business.
Her father always put people first, treating employees like family. She follows the same model, but over the years has narrowed her emphasis.
“Once I had my first daughter as a working executive mom, and then a second daughter, I was like, ‘Game on. I’m going to ensure your future looks different, and you are going to live in a place where American businesswomen are equal,’” she says.
Fitzgerald has been influential in pushing for change and revising company policies. SSA employees are now granted paid 12-week parental leave.
It launched a female resource group, called EmpowHER, and created an IDEA + Belonging Department.
She’s also asked for a company commitment to put more women in financial oversight positions. “When you look at your COO, your CEO, your CFO—the top positions—they came from a track that involved financial oversight,” she says. Promoting women into other career tracks—human resources, sales or marketing—can reduce the number of viable executive leaders or narrows it down to men, she says.
Although SSA is a “company for tomorrow and sees the benefit of being a home for all,” cultural change can sometimes be an uphill battle, she says.
“Even when you have supportive men [in a company], they don’t have the same lived experience as women, and so inherently, they are going to have blind spots,” Fitzgerald says. “I am ensuring that I am creating the next generation of Colorado female leaders.”
Another woman who is an agent of change, Tasha Jones, works to align people, places and spaces “while trying to thread a diversity narrative” in the work being done.
After 18 years in the real estate industry, Jones launched LV Jones, a diversity marketing consulting company, in 2021. She partners with organizations to inspire their teams to not only contribute to the bottom line but also create a culture of belonging.
“Everything [I do] is rooted in what I grew into,” Jones says. As a first-generation college student, she participated in Upward Bound, a program that supports youths and provides opportunities to succeed in higher education pursuits. Te program left a lasting impression on her.
In her early career, if she was overlooked for a promotion or felt she wasn’t taken credibly, she took steps to understand how to navigate corporate dynamics. And she began to engage in the community, volunteering on numerous boards and serving as a mentor, for instance.
“I saw the reception to my value from these boards, and I started to stand taller and shifted that energy to the workplace,” Jones says. “I learned to align myself with anything that is about advancing youth in education and advancing women in business.”
When Elle Bruno sought funding from venture capitalists for a startup a few years ago, she heard comments about there being “too much estrogen” in the room and was asked how a woman could run a business while raising children.
Such attitudes might not be as readily expressed today, but gender inequities continue to exist. Tat’s why Bruno is outspoken about discrepancies in the venture capital community, especially involving female and under-represented founders.
“Less than 3 percent of all funding goes to female founders, a pretty staggering statistic,” she says.
In her previous position as managing director of TechStars Boulder, Bruno led and invested in groups of early-stage startups through the company’s accelerator program, with the majority being under-represented founders.
She has been an angel investor focusing on female-founded and co-founded startups. She also built syndicates of all-female investors, knowing that increasing the number of women writing the funding checks has a waterfall effect on the venture capital community since women tend to invest in women.
Elle joined the Tech and Disruptive Commerce group at JP Morgan which banks and supports early-stage venture backed start-ups in the region.
Cynthia Pasquale is a Denver writer.