Women’s Appreciation Month: The Women of Smart City Networks

In continuing to highlight amazing women within our company, Smart City looked to a few of our amazing General Managers. Kyoko Sarchet-Hicks, Antoinette Ibarra, and Tami Perez, of Houston, Kansas City, and Santa Clara, respectively, hold pivotal roles as leaders within our organization. We sat down with these Women of Smart City Networks to explore their journeys, discuss experiences, and hear insights on Smart City Management.


Kyoko Sarchet-Hicks - Smart City Networks

To start, could you share your thoughts on Women’s Appreciation month and why it’s important to honor women’s contributions?

K: Personally, I believe it’s important to recognize and honor contributions women have made over the years, particularly in this industry like ours, where female representation is still not the norm. Walking into a room surrounded by males is still common for me, especially when discussing the I.T. and Networking industry. I’ve learned that more often than not, I am the one lady in the room.

That skips ahead to another I have about the portrayal and inclusion of women within our industry. Have you felt those dynamics change over time or do we still have a lot of work to do?

K: I will say I have seen the dynamics change. There are definitely efforts being made. However, the inclusion is still up to the organizations. I think when you really dive into it, you can see the numbers are still pretty low. We’re getting there though. I think when my son is older, or my future daughter (should I have one) is older, things will hopefully be different.

Your journey from customer service to general manager is impressive. Could you walk us through how you navigated this path?

K: Certainly. My journey with Smart City started in 2014. I started as a part time customer service representative at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Then within three months, I was promoted to full time customer service rep and then promoted to an event coordinator position. Then after that, I was promoted to customer service supervisor, then promoted a year later to the customer service manager. So I have held multiple hats when it comes to this organization and Smart City. Then after a brief hiatus, I returned to Smart City, where I ventured into unfamiliar territory as an operations manager with no networking experience, eventually assuming the role of General Manager.

Transitioning to networking from a customer service background sounds daunting. How did you navigate this change?

K: It was indeed a daunting shift. I embraced vulnerability, asking questions and seeking understanding despite feeling out of my depth. Surprisingly, my customer service experience provided a foundation for effective communication, facilitating my integration into the networking realm.

As one of the few female general managers, what unique perspectives do you bring to your role?

K: I bring a lot because I’ve done a lot. I’ve been an operations manager, I’ve been an event coordinator, I’ve been a customer service rep, I’ve been a technician, I’ve been out in the field installing. You name it, I’ve done it. Having walked various paths within the organization, I understand the challenges my team faces. I know it can be overwhelming at times so empathy and a hands-on approach enable me to support them effectively, especially during demanding periods.

Maintaining work-life balance in a demanding role is crucial. What strategies do you employ?

K: Breathing exercises and introspection help me manage stress. By identifying priorities and embracing the mantra of ‘some things can wait,’ I am able to navigate challenges while ensuring my personal well-being

Mentorship plays a vital role in professional development. How do you view its significance?

K: So, I think it’s very important. Mentorship fosters other women being able to see other women in certain roles, specifically leadership roles, within our industry. One of the most powerful things for me was seeing Alexus Gammage promoted to our NOC Manager. I hope that it shows our employees as well as other women that ‘hey if you have aspirations in the tech industry, they are absolutely possible.’

Looking ahead, what advice would you offer to aspiring female leaders?

K: Be unapologetically yourself. It will take some time to get there, but when you do, it will be beautiful.


Antoinette Ibarra - Smart City Networks

As we celebrate Women’s Appreciation Month, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what this occasion means to you personally. Why do you think it’s important for us to take the time to honor and appreciate women’s contributions, especially within our industry?

A: I think it’s important to recognize the journey women have been on to be where we are today and to do what we are able to today. To be seen as deserving equals.

Can you share a little about your career journey? What did the path to becoming General Manager of a center at Smart City look like for you?

A: I started with another company that managed this same Kansas City contract in 2017 as an Event Services Manager. I was with that company through the Pandemic. During the Pandemic I was still able to work full time from home. Over that duration, I realized how much I love this industry and the ability to be able to help people showcase what they do, educate others, and be able to help bring people together. After the Pandemic Smart City took over the contract and I was grateful to be able to transition over with them. I started as an Event Coordinator and moved into the role of General Manager about a year later. I love the ever-changing parts of this industry and how there is not one event that is the same as the last. It is exciting and I hope to grow with Smart City in the years to come.

As 1 of 4 female General Managers at Smart City, what unique perspectives or experiences do you bring to the role?

A: I think having diversity in general brings perspective, whether it is sex, race, religion, nationality etc. The more perspective we have, the more successful we can be.

And finally, as we look towards the future, what advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

A: Advocate for yourself, always look forward and to remember, the woman on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.


Tami Perez - Smart City Networks

As we celebrate Women’s Appreciation Month, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what this occasion means to you personally.

T: I believe this is Women’s opportunity to celebrate all the women who have advocated Equality, Diversity and Inclusion before me, and still to come in the future. It is a time of encouragement and reflection on progress made in gender equality while acknowledging the ongoing challenges we still face worldwide. 

Why do you think it’s important for us to take the time to honor and appreciate women’s contributions, especially within our industry?

T: Celebrating Women’s History raises awareness to the issues women still face today. Even with our progress, women still earn less on average than men, while carrying the majority of household and childcare responsibilities. Women still face sexual harassment, trafficking, and even harmful beauty standards. We are underrepresented in leadership and politics.

Can you share a little about your career journey?

T: I have always been in the Event Industry and during the Pandemic I lost my business. So I knew with the great reset I would have to find a new career opportunity. I did some research on reinventing myself and signed up for IT Courses. It was a hope and a prayer that I could get a position in IT management. But my previous customer service skills came in handy. During my Smart City interview, I was told “We can teach you IT, we can’t teach you hospitality or customer service.” But I had that covered and here we are.  

What roadblocks or obstacles did you have to overcome?  

T: The biggest obstacle was being new, female, and having a lack of IT experience.

As 1 of 4 female General Managers at Smart City, what unique perspectives or experiences do you bring to the role?

T: Ironically, most of the people planning events & trade shows are women. So I am able to communicate effectively in the event perspective and detail. Having the experience working in events, I can identify with the planners on their level.

Can you share a memorable achievement or successful event story from your time as a General Manager?

T: I remember when I was first starting out and we had an event where I was still working on understanding all the technical processes. There were issues that arose that created large challenges for our team and the event itself. It was a tough learning curve. It was a calamity. But fast-forward to now, and I’m very careful with how I approach events and I know exactly how to handle them. So even though it was an uphill climb, with practice and patience, everything worked out.

How do you prioritize work-life balance as a manager for a large convention center, and what strategies do you find effective in maintaining this balance?

T: Better work-life balance starts with managers, but the journey toward achieving it must occur at the individual level. As workers and leaders, it’s crucial for us to cultivate broader professional identities that embrace family, community, and activities beyond work. By valuing our leisure time, we can more effectively separate our work selves from our personal selves. For me, free time is an opportunity for rest, recharge, and the pursuit of new skills and interests, some of which also benefit my work role.

What role do you think mentorship plays in fostering the professional development and advancement of women in our industry, and have you had any significant women mentors throughout your career?

T: The guidance mentees receive from a more experienced professional can help women in the early stages of their careers build upon their skills and gain confidence in their fields. Mentors can also help young women set goals, expand their professional networks, and ultimately grow in their careers.

Given your experience, what initiatives or changes do you think are necessary within our industry to further promote gender equality and empower women to succeed in leadership roles?

T: First and foremost, we must focus on growing representation in leadership roles by actively seeking out and supporting qualified female candidates. Implementing formal and informal mentorship programs can provide guidance and support for women aspiring to leadership positions. Addressing the gender pay gap is crucial to ensure equitable compensation for all employees regardless of gender. Incorporating skills-based assessments in hiring and promotions can help mitigate biases and create equal opportunities for advancement. Additionally, fostering a work-life balance and offering flexibility in work arrangements can attract and retain talented women in leadership roles. All of these and more can help remove barriers and create a more level playing field for women in our industry.

And finally, as we look towards the future, what advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

T: Make decisions aligned with your values consistently, and don’t hesitate to work harder than those around you. Trust in the process, as things often exceed expectations. Confidence is key and you have to believe in yourself. Sometimes, 60% certainty is enough to take action, don’t wait for perfection. Avoid conforming to others’ standards of success. Authenticity builds strong relationships and businesses. Serve as a mentor and role model for other women, and remember that passion, performance, and persistence are essential. Embrace detours in life. There’s no one “right” path to success.

Thank you to Kyoko, Antoinette and Tam, and all the Women of Smart City Networks for their insightful interviews! For more Smart City Spotlights, check out our blog!

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