AHLA Leadership Program Aims to Propel Women in Hospitality ForWard

CHICAGO—At the Kimpton Gray Hotel in Chicago, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and the Castell Project hosted their inaugural women’s leadership event, ForWard: Women Advancing Hospitality, to foster thought leadership, education and open dialogue.

On the roster were female leaders from inside and outside of the hospitality industry, including Sarah Kauss, founder/CEO, S’well; Reshma Saujani, founder/CEO, Girls Who Code; and Tina Tchen, partner, Buckley Sandler LLP, who is spearheading the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.

“As hoteliers, we all recognize that our success depends on the eight million people who power our industry—and more than half of those employees are women,” said Katherine Lugar, president/CEO, AHLA. “The vast majority of students enrolled in college hospitality programs are women, and female consumers make the majority of purchasing decisions that drive demand for the industry. That’s why the hotel industry has made it a priority to advance women in hospitality and set them up for success.”

Peggy Berg, director of the Castell Project, also was closely involved in the programming and participated in a panel about women on the podium, which she cites as “a crucial part of advancing women in leadership.” In addition, the nonprofit provided statistics for the program.

ForWard is an AHLA program developed through the organization’s Women In Lodging (WIL) network, a committee for women in hospitality. The Castell Project and WIL have been resources for each other over the past two years. AHLEF is a sponsor of Castell Research.

“Companies with women in leadership perform better, so we can be proud and confident to ask for opportunities to move up,” said Berg. “Women light up the podium—as the ForWard presentations demonstrated. We all need to push for women on the podium to advance our careers and show the opportunity this industry offers to women. I also believe you absolutely can have a high-powered career in this industry and a family. Don’t hold yourself back; reach for the best and bring those resources to growing your children.”

Lugar noted that while the industry has seen progress with more women than ever serving on boards of directors and in senior management, there’s still more to be done.

“Launching ForWard was exciting because it builds on things the industry is already doing on gender and diversity issues, and provides a forum to highlight and champion the next generation of our industry’s leaders,” said Lugar.

Shining a light on the issues is one thing, but Lugar also encourages the hospitality industry to take action. “We…hope to see conversations like these continue,” said Lugar.

Lugar outlined a few ways hoteliers can get involved in propelling women forward:

Set the Tone

“Supporting women in the hotel industry starts at the top, in the C-suite. That’s certainly not unique to our industry, but something we hear time and again from our CEOs and AHLA Board members,” she said. “Senior industry leaders set the tone and establish the culture and organizational dynamics that put women in a position to succeed, and from there it flows down to the entire organization.”

Diversify Your Team

“It’s important for women to have a seat at every table, whether it’s in the boardroom, the senior management, or in staff meetings at individual properties,” Lugar said. “Companies with diversity of thought are more innovative and profitable.”

Find Strength in Differences

“Women and men think differently, approach problems differently, and prioritize different things,” Lugar said. “So, it’s good for business to include multiple perspectives wherever possible. Our CEOs will tell you that when women are at the table, their businesses are stronger.”

Support One Another

“Another big theme of the conference was women supporting women,” she added. “It’s important for us as women to support and encourage one another. That includes being advocates for other women, and acknowledging their talents and contributions to our collective success as an industry. That also means that for women who have climbed the professional ladder, it’s important to extend a hand to other women who are at an earlier stage of their careers, offering them mentorship, coaching and leadership opportunities. As an industry, we need to make a concerted effort to develop the next generation, and women who are already in leadership positions are especially important to those efforts.”