Women in hospitality: What we wish we knew then
Women in hospitality: What we wish we knew then
12 JULY 2018 7:13 AM

Here are five tips leading women in hospitality want incoming women to know as they enter the industry.

How many times have you said to yourself, “I wish I knew then what I know now?”

It’s a common thought, but that makes it no less important. What do you wish you could go back in time and tell the younger version of you? With that thought in mind, the Castell Project asked 60 women in the hotel business, “What are five things you wish you had known when you started your career?”

It’s a timely question as our newest hotel school graduates start their careers while managers and leaders prepare them for work. Nationally, 67% of hospitality graduates are both millennials and female.

Women are treated differently both in and outside of the workplace—for better or worse. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but as a practical matter, women learn different responses than men. By both nature and nurture, as they start work, women need to develop their skills and behaviors to perform well as professionals.

Here is some advice from seasoned female professionals to women starting their careers—and to the supervisors who will assist them on their journeys.

1. Don’t be afraid to try something new and/or different.
You might never have done it before—well, there’s a first time for everything. You might not have 100 percent of the skills you will need—and that’s both acceptable and typical. If you have the core of the skills, you can learn the rest. You might get critiqued—and that can be a good thing. Learning from helpful criticism is one of top skills women need, and we often find it difficult to do. However, when you venture out of your comfort zone, you grow.

I asked Kim Bardoul, partner from The Highland Group, to talk about how she learned to emerge from her comfort zone early in her hospitality career by conquering her fear of public speaking.

“The first thing I worked on was how I convey information,” Bardoul said. “This has been beneficial to me throughout my career as I deal with clients. I realized what calmed my nerves the most was being prepared, an important tool in coming across with confidence. And by the way, it’s OK to show confidence, girls! Still to this day when I come off the stage, I ask at least two of my favorite people for their heartfelt critique. It’s important to realize that you have support out there. Also accepting and implementing good criticism can only improve your skills.

“I now embrace the opportunity to speak in public. Even though I’m still nervous, I use the nerves as energy and approachability. I have my own way of presenting, and it comes off well. If I had stayed in my comfort zone and stamped my foot and said, ‘I won’t do this,’ I would have missed a lot of opportunities for new business and credibility and, even more importantly, an opportunity to learn about myself.”

2. Dress for the job, not the date.
In spite of media overload about how to dress, the right answer is not obvious and not inexpensive. In addition, it can be hard to sort out feedback about clothes—approval and appreciation may or may not be on a professional level.

To dress correctly, you should feel good about yourself in your clothes. The right clothes will give you strength and confidence. Your look should make a statement about your high level of professionalism.

When I was starting my career—and dressing casually—my boss explained that I would get better results from clients and colleagues if I purchased and wore clothing appropriate for the professional level I wanted to attain. I remember being grouchy, so it couldn’t have been an easy conversation, but it made a world of difference.

3. Create your network of advocates, colleagues and mentors—starting today.
The men and women you work with today will be with you for the rest of your career. They will reappear as co-workers, bosses, employees, clients, vendors, referral sources and friends. Add to your network deliberately and often. When someone advocates for you, recognize them. Reach out to interesting people. Notice your network and nurture it.

Mary Stewart Lewis, Commercial Insurance, BB&T Huffaker Insurance Services, spoke about the importance of mentoring others.

“I had an African American assistant manager job shadowing me when I suddenly realized that there is as much in mentoring someone else as in finding a mentor for yourself,” Lewis said. “I was just trying to do the task when I saw that there was a bigger picture. I made a difference for someone facing even more complicated challenges than mine, and she helped me down the road. After that, I was more intentional about mentoring. If we step back and look at things with a bigger perspective, it makes a difference.”

4. Managers need to earn respect. It’s not automatic.
It is a challenge for young women to establish themselves in their first supervisory role. It requires showing confidence and competence to team members who may be male and may be older.

Often, new managers believe they will automatically be respected, be able to make an immediate impact and be able to advance their agendas as soon as they have the power title. Usually new managers are star individuals who are accustomed to achieving things based on their own personal actions. It takes some adjustment to realize that now “your” accomplishments don’t happen without the support and buy-in of your team.

I asked Eve Moore, VP of hotel operations at Legacy Ventures, to talk about her transition to a manager.

“When I started managing teams, I quickly realized that most people really want the same thing that I do: to be understood as an individual,” Moore said. “I studied my former bosses and others in leadership roles and intentionally created my initial leadership style by emulating the behaviors that were most positive and impactful—and by avoiding those behaviors that were negative or alienating.

“My style has become my own, but it is ever-evolving. The bottom line is that people have to believe they can trust you, that you are credible and that you have their backs before they will buy in to your vision and offer their discretionary effort. They need to know you understand their challenges and that you will stand side by side with them as they work through them. It’s critical that you are both competent and authentic—no fakes allowed. Giving your team credit for successes and taking personal blame for team mistakes shows them that you value and respect them. The best outcomes are realized once you’ve found mutual respect.”

Donna Rios, GM of the Radisson Hotel Seattle, gave a great example of a new hotel leader.

“We recently promoted a young woman from the ranks,” Rios said. “The young woman had a conversation with her team about why she put her hat in the basket to lead the team. She discussed what she saw as shortcomings and opportunities for the team. They bought into the idea that she could promote a better work environment because she helped them understand her capabilities and her intentions.”

5. Actively learn to promote yourself.
This is tricky because women are told that confidence is important, but confidence in women might be perceived as “pushy.”

Here are suggestions about how to thread that needle of self-promotion in comfortable ways from a panel of senior women:

  • Women who are successful have a voice. Make the effort to express a point of view.
  • Use social media to celebrate your good work in a more subtle way.
  • Promote your team. It often is more comfortable to celebrate the team’s success with your own rather than to simply take credit.
  • Act like you want recognition and promotion. Business is not the place to be self-deprecating or to duck your head until they ask twice.
  • Don’t apologize. Aggressively remove the words “I’m sorry” from your everyday vocabulary. These words are exclusively for when you really screw up. You rarely need them.
  • Control your brand, or others will define it for you. You tell people how you want to be seen by how you respond to them. For instance, when someone asks, “how are things going?” you can say, “great,” and tell them, in a sentence, about something you accomplished recently (spoke on a panel, completed a big project early, etc.).

Growing in business is a rewarding journey. We think you will find that it enhances the personal side of life as well as your career. Whatever challenge you face, you are not alone on your career path. When in doubt, or in need of a word of counsel, reach out and ask someone for perspective.

For the next generation of women in the hotel business, welcome! We are glad you found this industry.

Peggy Berg is director of the Castell Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing gender diversity within the hospitality industry. The group hosts annual advanced training programs designed to help women reach the next level of career advancement. The Castell Project also maintains and provides the WSH (Women Speakers in Hospitality) List for industry events and conducts surveys and studies to track industry gender advancement.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

No Comments

Comments that include blatant advertisements or links to products or company websites will be removed to avoid instances of spam. Also, comments that include profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, solicitations or advertising, or other similarly inappropriate or offensive comments or material will be removed from the site. You are fully responsible for the content you post. The opinions expressed in comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Please report any violations to our editorial staff.