The World Trade Center’s Emily Cantrell Is Helping to Expand Seattle’s Reach on the Global Stage

As director of the membership-networking organization, she connects business leaders who share common objectives in commerce

Emily Cantrell has built an impressive career helping area business organizations foster growth and economic opportunity and, more recently, has devoted time to promoting gun responsibility as a survivor of a horrific mass shooting.

Cantrell has served since 2017 as the director of the World Trade Center Seattle (WTCSE), a membership organization that is part of the World Trade Centers Association, the world’s largest international business-services network. At the WTCSE, which was is owned by the Port of Seattle and managed by Columbia Hospitality, Cantrell oversees efforts to grow and diversify the organization’s membership and sponsorships across a range of industries.

On another front, Cantrell in 2018 became a foundation board member of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which promotes gun responsibility, policy and programs across the state. Cantrell is a survivor of the October 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, among the deadliest in U.S. history with 58 people killed and some 400 injured while attending a country music festival.

Prior to taking on the leadership reigns at the World Trade Center Seattle, Cantrell served as director of communications and marketing for Seafair, an annual nonprofit festival that reaches more than 2 million people through 75 sanctioned summer events. Before that Cantrell served as a tourism manager for Visit Seattle, where she managed the nonprofit marketing group’s offices in China and South Korea, organizing the annual China Mission in addition to overseeing all public relations, communications, sales and marketing efforts for the initiative.

What are the most important characteristics of a good leader and what leadership traits are overrated? Soft skills should really be called required skills. Time management, communication, teamwork, creative thinking, conflict resolution ― these are several of the many necessary skills that leaders need to succeed. Many hard skills are teachable and quantifiable, whereas soft skills are not as easily taught. A combination of both hard and soft skills is vital in the workplace.

As a woman, what is the most significant barrier to becoming a leader? We are. Sometimes women get in their own way and won’t pursue an opportunity unless they feel they’re 110% qualified. Having the courage to apply for a promotion or simply make the ask can be the difference between complacency and success.

How can women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations? Once again, this comes back to having the courage and making the ask. We can’t expect higher-ups to be mind readers and know what we want for ourselves. We need to be vocal and, if we receive feedback that perhaps we aren’t ready for a certain position, ask what steps we can take to help us get to that next big role.

What key lessons did you learn from a woman who has inspired, mentored or sponsored you? Know your worth. Understand the value you bring to the table and don’t settle for anything less.

What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders? Surround yourself with other incredible women. The power of women helping women is undeniable.

When I was in middle school, my family moved from Germany to a small town in Washington. The area lacked diversity and most people in school had grown up together, so it was pretty clicky. Because of this, I found myself becoming friends with mostly guys instead of girls. I did have quite a few very close girlfriends, but it wasn’t until I started in my current position and helped launch our “Can We Talk?” series on gender equity that I realized the power of women helping women. Instead of trying to compete against each other, we should be doing our very best to lift each other up.

How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts? Work does not end when I leave the office. I try to say yes to as many invitations as I can for social events. You never know who you’re going to meet, or who you’ll already know, and can cultivate a relationship with. One of the best pieces of advice I received from one of our members, Arden Clise, was to have a plan. Whether you go to a networking event for 15 minutes or to meet two new people, go in with a plan and, more often than not, you’ll find yourself staying much longer than you originally intended.

What would you do differently in your career? Negotiated better. If you don’t know your self-worth, you are selling yourself short. There were a couple of times I was so eager for my next career move that I accepted an offer, even if I knew the salary was not in line with my qualifications or expectations. I realized very quickly how difficult it is to close this gap and how much easier it would have been had I negotiated properly when I had the opportunity.

Where will we find you on a Saturday afternoon? It depends on the weather and time of year, but the odds are pretty good for a brewery, winery, ballpark or beach.

We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire. 

Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.

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