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Women Are Making a Difference in the Hospitality Industry

MARK CHESNUT | TravelPulse.Com

Troy Warren #travel-all #business-all


Women’s History Month is a time to reflect on the contributions, progress and challenges of women around the world.

In the hospitality industry, it’s also a time to recognize how female professionals are faring in a field long dominated by men.

The good news is that there has been progress.

According to the 2020 Women in Hospitality Industry Leadership Report from the American Hotel & Lodging Foundation, women have taken more leadership roles. Seven women were promoted to CEO in 2018/2019, a 20 percent increase from the previous report. But there’s still room for improvement: overall, women held only 12 percent of hospitality industry leadership positions, according to the report.

There are reasons to be optimistic, according to Pilar Arizmendi, vice president of sales and marketing at Palladium Hotel Group.

“Women now have the opportunity to become leaders in a historically male-dominated industry,” she said. “Companies are putting more and more emphasis on gaining and retaining female talent for leadership positions.”


Pilar Arizmendi, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Palladium Hotel Group (Photo via Palladium Hotel Group)

Michelle Woodley, president of Preferred Hotel Group, agreed.

“There are certainly more opportunities in the 21st century than we saw in the last one,” she said. “Many more women have made their mark in the industry across the globe as hotel owners, general managers and in other senior executive roles. I started my career in the early 1990s and across a portfolio of 32 international hotels, there were only two female General Managers, and on our executive team I was the only one.”

Times certainly have changed since Woodley first joined the industry — and the company where she serves as president is an excellent example. “At Preferred Hotel Group. Inc. over 40 percent of our executive team are women,” she said, ticking off a long list of positions ranging from CEO and president to chief marketing officer and chief communications officer. “For us, this has been a natural evolution, with the most qualified individuals chosen to fill these positions.”


Michelle Woodley, President of Preferred Hotel Group (Photo via Preferred Hotels & Resorts)

The Logic of Diversity 

A diverse workforce is especially important in an industry like hospitality, according to Dianna Vaughan, senior vice president of brand management for the Americas at Hilton.

“As a business of people serving people, we need our leaders to represent the consumers and communities that we serve,” she said. “Having more women in leadership positions offers an important, diverse perspective that helps us create offerings at our hotels that resonate with our guests.”


Dianna Vaughn, Senior Vice President of Brand Management for the Americas at Hilton (Photo via Hilton)

Noting that Hilton has its own Women’s Team Member Resource Group, Vaughan — who’s spent more than 25 years with the company — described her approach to ensuring diversity.

“In my role, I work closely with our owners and brand partners to ensure we deliver Hilton’s brand of hospitality across the Americas, not only in existing hotels, but also in our growing portfolio,” she said. “I’ve seen increasing success for women delving into hotel ownership and am proud of the work Hilton has done to create opportunities for women to get involved on the development side.”

Challenges and Opportunities

Women are doing better than ever in the hospitality industry. But there are still challenges. What does that mean for the future? “I view ‘better’ and ‘more challenging’ as opposite sides of the same coin,” Vaughan said. “Today, there is more visibility [about] the need for transparent conversations about gender equality, and women in leadership positions serve as inspiring role models for what can be accomplished. By that same token, there is a sense that women have achieved what we set out to do. While we have come far, we still have a long way to go to achieve true equality.”

Arizmendi agreed that while progress has been impressive, there’s still more to do. “In an industry led mostly by men, a major challenge is leveling the playing field and showing representation and equality across the board,” she said. “With that said, recent studies about women in the workplace show women are making progress in the C-suite from 17 percent to 21 percent over the last five years. Working with a company who understands the unique qualities that a woman’s perspective brings to the brand is essential.”

Tips for Success

Arizmendi has some words of wisdom for any woman starting a career in the hospitality industry. “My advice is to always be your most authentic self,” She said. “Lead by example and inspire others to always give their best. Don’t be shy or afraid to ask for the opportunity to take on a specific role or project.”

Vaughan concurred about the need to stay centered. “My advice for anyone is not to look to advance, but to look to be true to your own principles and spirit,” she said. “Some of the principles that I try to follow include passionately preparing, honestly evaluating and being open to learning and listening. In doing so, I’m able to glean all of the data and inspiration that allows me to be the best version of myself. I have found in doing so, this path has led to more unsolicited advancement than I could have ever dreamed of.”

The bottom line, according to Woodley, is that the industry is a people business. “Hospitality is the act of hosting strangers and guests in an open, friendly, and warm manner. If you are not willing to be the ultimate host in all that you do, think again,” she said. This advice is for everyone – not just women.”