Women in hospitality navigate corporate leaders


Navigating the career ladder as a woman in hospitality can be challenging, but when companies do their part to include women in strategic conversations at different levels of leadership, it can make a difference.

In this second episode of a series four women focusing on women leadership roles in hospitality tell Hotel News Now what they think the industry could do to change perceptions of what the ‘most qualified person’ looks like and what individual companies can do to show their value gender diversity.

Guichardo first fell in love with the hospitality industry during her college years at the Nolan School of Hotel Administration, formerly known as the Hotel School, at Cornell University.

While she believed her real estate finance minor and hospitality degree from Cornell University would help her immediately understand the ins and outs of the industry when she first started working as a junior consultant at EY, that wasn’t quite the case.

“I fought because I felt I had to be perfect and ask for little help to prove I belonged in the role. There were moments when I thought the industry wasn’t for me,” she said.

Geraldine Guichardo is Global Head of Research for JLL Hotels & Hospitality Group and Head of Americas Hotels Research. (JLL)

It was only after completing her studies that she found the confidence to return to the industry and take on a role at JLL.

Guichardo credits Wendy Chan, who was then working at JLL; Head of US Capital Markets Research Lauro Ferroni; Global Hotels CEO Gilda Perez-Alvarado; and Head of Americas Research and Strategy Julia Georgules as “invaluable sponsors and mentors.”

At JLL, Guichardo manages both men and women, with men making up the lion’s share of her team. She feels very responsible for being a champion for the women on her team and those she coaches across the company, she said.

“One of the ways I can help create more opportunities for women is by excelling in my role and proving that women are capable of leading teams and adding value to the bottom line. I also serve on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee for the Americas Research Platform. In this role, I work very closely with other leading research companies to create DEI training programs, develop DEI strategies and, more importantly, implement actionable elements to further our DEI goals.”

To bring about change in the industry and help women on the path to leadership, she believes current leaders, typically men, need to broaden their perceptions of who is the “most qualified” person to get the job done.

“It allows them to be more open about who they shape during succession planning and who they invest in and eventually attract to the highest positions in the company,” she added.

Additionally, she said that organizing shadow boards or simply inviting middle-level women to listen at leadership meetings can help introduce them to valuable and strategic conversations. This, in turn, can help them navigate the career ladder and guide them in how best to position themselves for the next level.

Guichardo’s advice for women in the industry is that the challenges they face must not sap their drive, motivation and ambition.

“Keep being the best at your job, stay curious and communicate your story and how your role adds value to the entire industry,” she said. “The right opportunity at the right company will present itself and you will be more than prepared. At the same time, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. No leader in this industry has gotten to where it is now on its own.”

When Myers quit her job at an engineering and construction company, she came into contact with Gray Raines, the president of Raines, who helped her break into the hospitality industry.

The third party management company Raines was then preparing for growth and gave Myers the opportunity to step in and work directly with all aspects of the business – development, accounting, investments, etc.

Kristen Myers is Vice President of Investments at Raines. (Rain)

“My extensive exposure to the industry from day one has been a critical stepping stone in my career,” she said.

However, being new to the industry as a young woman was a challenge. Myers has spent most of her career on the development side, where during most of the construction work she was the only woman on site.

The respect of general contractors, architects, and vendors meant Myers often had to fight for her place at the table. Luckily, the relationships she built with Raines pushed her forward and helped her assert herself.

Myers said that Raines has a significant number of women in leadership positions and she believes the presence of women in the hospitality industry in general continues to increase each year. However, she found that most women in the industry live in similar silos.

“There doesn’t seem to be a way or common knowledge to understand other areas of the business,” she said. “I believe the industry could improve overall exposure/knowledge of all facets of business to touch construction, business development, investments and accounting.”

To raise awareness, she said it could be addressed more in general sessions at conferences, as well as at the corporate level through training and onboarding.

As a woman, Myers said it’s important to her not only to coach, but also to share her past experiences with peers. Her advice to other women is not to miss an opportunity to learn in this ever-changing environment.

“I’ve learned so much just by connecting and chatting with others in different aspects of the industry. Knowledge is key and in turn helps with decision making and confidence. The most important thing is to persevere. I can’t think of a better word or stress it enough. It takes courage and confidence to break the stigma to gain respect,” she said.

When she transitioned from a healthcare job to hospitality, Christenson said she realized her true calling was to provide a positive guest experience in the industry. She also embodied the qualities of a servant leader early in life, which helped her in her country leadership roles at an early age.

Ann Christenson is EVP – Chief Human Resources Officer at Aimbridge Hospitality. (Aimbridge Hospitality)

Looking back, she said, “When you’re young and you have all this energy, you think you learned everything in school, but the reality is life teaches you so much.”

Among the challenges Christenson faced early on was gaining credibility and respect from her superiors. To earn it, she showed them that she is a valuable, cooperative partner and not someone just demanding their respect.

Christenson said Aimbridge already had a women leadership program in place before she joined the company, and programs like the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s ForWard are critical in paving the way for women. The recent announcement of the AHLA and Castell project merge was a win, she said.

“So by having the right advocates, we’re going to change some of those things,” she said.

Aimbridge works with the AHLA and Castell brands to drive change within the organization and across the industry.

“We all do better when you’re surrounded by people who challenge you, who think differently,” she said. “Obviously I’m a big advocate for women, especially as we are affected by women leaving the workforce. If I don’t say anything and if I don’t push the issues, no one will. I think that’s kind of my calling.”

Christenson’s biggest takeaway for women is that they shouldn’t be afraid to speak their minds, even if they are controversial.

“People want everyone to participate. Everyone has something to contribute and never feels like what you have to contribute isn’t meaningful and worth sharing,” she said.

After studying tourism in Switzerland, Butler landed an internship at a hotel in Vail, Colorado on a J-1 student visa, where she received training in operations, banqueting, and food and beverage. After a few years there, this property asked her if she wanted to stay.

Butler eventually got a job at the Westin brand, where she would gradually move up the ranks about every two to three years.

“Westin really appreciated me, they always made sure of that [they gave] opportunities to grow,” she said.

Jing Butler is Associate Director of Sales at The Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa Avon, Vail Valley, Colorado. (Westins)

However, juggling parenting and career responsibilities has been a challenge for Butler. Achieving a certain position in her career made her feel like she was achieving big goals, which has been particularly challenging lately as some teams are still not fully staffed.

“I’ve seen a lot of women quit their jobs because they have to choose between family and work. That’s far too often; there has to be a big change,” she said. “I think it’s tremendous to give women more recognition and understanding of the challenge they are facing now, especially in schools, a shortage of teachers adds to the pressure [on parents].”

Thankfully, more and more positions are being outsourced, allowing moms to work from home. Butler said she knows several shop assistants who have told her that this is how they get through the pressure. Butler’s boss, for example, allows her team to be flexible with their working hours.

While not all women are fortunate enough to be able to work remotely, Butler believes there needs to be more awareness of helping parents achieve a better work-life balance.

Butler’s current all-female sales team at The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa has created a culture where any issue or challenge is addressed.

“I always tell my team: If I don’t know the problem, I can’t solve it,” she said.

As a leader, she also pays attention to mentoring women who may be more reserved or haven’t yet found their voice, for example by giving them the knowledge and tools to make confident decisions.

Ultimately, Butler said her advice to women is, “Be yourself and do what’s right; focus on your own path.”

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