VIDEO: Stand Up, Stand Out

Annual WITH Summit continues to move the needle on gender equality


TORONTO — Nearly 300 hospitality industry professionals gathered May 27 for the third-annual Women in Tourism and Hospitality Summit, produced by Kostuch Media Ltd. and Sequel Hotels & Resorts. Held at the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto, the event invited women — and men — to stand up and stand out on the issues of gender equality and pay equity in the hotel and foodservice sectors.

“Now more than ever, we have an opportunity — a tremendous opportunity — to advance progress for women in pursuit of gender equity,” said Anne Larcade, co-founder of WITHorg in her opening address. “The actual outcomes from today are critical, however, in making those changes.”

This year’s theme — Stand Up, Stand Out — inspired women to make inroads in their tourism and hospitality careers. A theme that has long been championed by WITHorg’s honorary chair, Katie Taylor, who noted that although the number of female CEOs in Canada has tripled — because it went from one to three — “clearly there is still work to be done.”

“We must push to get ourselves and women into CEO roles,” she added, asking what needs to change for the structure of work for the advancement of women?

“These are heady days for women,” said Rosanna Caira, WITHorg co-founder. “Since we gathered three years ago at the Park Hyatt, much has changed. We’ve seen continued discussion on gender equity, wage parity and the importance of diversity on boards. I’m happy to say that awareness of women’s issues is at an all-time high. Clearly, an increasing number of women are standing up and standing out. They’re standing out by shaking things up, by breaking down gender barriers and moving into top positions. They’re also challenging stereotypes — both of women and men — and perceptions of what it means to be a woman.”

The day-long conference and workshop hybrid offered delegates the opportunity to share ideas, network and empower women to move the needle on gender equality in the hospitality and tourism sectors.

“Women are doing their part,” said Caira. “They’ve been earning more bachelor degrees than men for decades. They’re asking for promotions and negotiating salaries at about the same rates as men. Companies need to take more decisive action — it’s about setting targets to hold leaders accountable for results. It requires closing gender gaps, especially early in the pipeline when women are most often overlooked. And they need to be taking bolder steps to create this inclusive workplace.”

The summit’s keynote speakers included Joanne Lipman, TV commentator and author of That’s What She Said, who offered a roadmap to gender equality and advice to help women and men alike in their roles as thought leaders to achieve a roadmap for success. “We already know this stuff,” she said. “Women already know this — we need men in the room to hear this.”

Social entrepreneur Barb Stegemann demonstrated that anything is possible if you take ownership, recounting her journey on the road to establishing her perfume company, The 7 Virtues. “Everything you need will appear if you’re present,” said Stegemann in her luncheon keynote address. “If you’re judging yourself, you’re going to miss everything in front of you.”

Tourism & Hospitality: What’s Next? — A Global View

A panel of thought leaders took the stage to discuss leading trends in the tourism and hospitality industry, including innovation, design and the impact of Airbnb and offered insight into where the industry is going and how we can get there. The panellists were Laura Pallotta, VP Sales & Distribution, Marriott Hotels of Canada; Sheena Rogers-Pfeiffer, founder and chief strategist, Anstice Communications; and Vito Curalli, executive director of Sales, Canada, Latin America and International, Hilton.

The topic of loyalty programs was a hot button, with much discussion around the importance of a loyalty program that brings members the types of rewards they want, when they want them.

“That’s where the real battle is,” said Curalli, speaking on the topic of ‘earn and burn.’ “It’s no longer just about checking into the hotel and getting your 20,000 points — it’s really about what can you do with [those points]… making sure that we connect the dots with consumers outside of the hotel experience.”

Moving Foodservice into the Future

The morning workshop “Moving Foodservice into the Future” featured a panel including Missy Hui, chef, Eakander; Jennifer Huether, master sommelier; Lorraine Trotter, dean, Centre for Hospitality & Culinary Arts, George Brown College (GBC); and Joan Monfaredi, executive chef/owner of TWO13 Kosher Food Design Inc.

Panellists agreed that in culinary programs and at the entry-level in foodservice operations, there is relatively balanced gender representation, but this appears to change after employees have been in the workforce for a few years — especially in restaurant kitchens.

Trotter highlighted the lack of data available regarding women staying in culinary jobs and restaurant kitchens and that GBC plans to try and rectify that.

The panellists also highlighted the need for change within the industry if we hope to keep women in foodservice careers and attract staff in an environment where there are more openings than applicants.

As Trotter noted, at GBC, the number of placements available in the industry outweighs the number of students by a three-to-one ratio. And, those who don’t change will continue to struggle to recruit staff.

Monfaredi pointed out that it is up to those in the industry to create better work environments in order to make foodservice an attractive career path.

Getting Out of Your Own Way

In her workshop, “Getting Out of Your Own Way,” Victoria Turner, founder of Your Power Outlet, urged women and men to stop holding themselves back from achieving their goals and desires.

She first asked her audience to acknowledge what they’re avoiding in life that’s impacting their career or preventing them from living their best life — then asked why they’re avoiding it.

“You’re on autopilot,” Turner explained. “You’re allowing your natural responses to dictate your actions. Living on autopilot is literally like you’re in the passenger seat of your car, hoping everything your community — your parents — have equipped you with is going to get you where you want to go.”

Turner said she wants to help reframe this way of thinking — to help negate the little voice that makes people second guess themselves — so her audience can take confident action. She described taking confident action as “performing an action with a state of certainty that this is the best or most-effective choice for YOU.”

Turner said you first have to determine what your values are. What are the qualities that need to be present to live our best lives? “Whenever faced with a difficult decision, follow through with a confident action that’s in line with your values and trust that a values-based response will help lead you to your happier, more fulfilled life. These responses can help propel people into action when faced with an opportunity that otherwise might be ignored.”

Think like a Man; Lead Like a Woman

This well-attended session featured Joanne Trotta, managing partner and founder at Leaders Edge Inc. and Nancy Osborne, founder of I GOT THIS. Both women are not only motivational speakers but provide coaching and other career-development services to assist women with performing better in the workplace.

The panel discussion addressed how women have dealt with a predominately male-dominated industry while trying to move up the corporate ladder. Issues such as equal pay, inter-office communication between genders and also impediments to female leadership were all discussed.

“Women must embody who they are, not what they’re expected to be,” says Trotta. “[Knowing] what your personal power is and using your intuition is key.” She added that while there are significant differences between the way women and men approach issues and challenges, embracing your differences as a woman while understanding how men operate is important when navigating the corporate world.

Meanwhile, Osborne recounted tales from her days with the Canadian Forces and having to be “one of the guys” to get ahead. During the panel, she also told a story of being intimidated, or spoken down to, by a superior in front of an audience. Instead of shying away from her emotions, she put them on display and confronted the person using them. She also gave women the confidence to embrace their emotional instincts and to stick to their principles.

“Crying is not a weakness; you have to own your tears,” Osborne says. “There was a time [in the military] where there was little to no choice that you were one of the boys and if you weren’t you were chewed up and spit out. I realized I was more than that, but I also learned another language. It’s important to cross the divide but I learned to lead like a woman because I was a woman. It’s important to learn the other side though and work co-operatively.”

Resilience in Times of Change

Bree Ranieri, leadership coach and co-founder/partner at CoTalent, led an interactive workshop that encouraged participants to focus on how practical solutions can create a competitive advantage.

“I have had experience working in male-dominated industries — as an executive and also as a human-resources leader,” said Rainer. “So, a lot of the things discussed this morning are very near and dear to my heart. And the topic I’m here to talk to you about today, I’m extremely passionate about — and that’s about change and being resilient.”

The session addressed people’s perspective around change, how it impacts them as individuals personally and how they feel about it. Ranieri then offered practical strategies “to apply or resonate with the next time you’re facing a change.”

She said another factor that really impacts how we receive change, or how we work through change, whether it’s self-imposed or imposed on us. “I can tell you one thing — when changes are imposed on us, it can be paralyzing.”

She then offered four tips for dealing with change in our lives/career. The first one is grounding ourselves in the facts. “It isn’t uncommon for us to go to extreme emotions and maybe get a little out of touch with the reality of what’s going on.”

The second tip was to be mindful of our mindset and how that’s impacting the way we’re thinking about things. The third tip was around getting curious. “And the fourth [tip] is the most important one and it’s about finding purpose and meaning for ourselves in these changes — what is my higher purpose? What am I going to do to drive that?”

Following the morning breakout sessions, delegates gathered for the gala awards luncheon. Two awards were handed out at this year’s summit. The Katie Taylor Economic Empowerment Award was presented to Peggy Berg for her work with the Castell Project, while the inaugural Gender Equality Award was presented to Sodexo.

“I was introduced to Katie Taylor when I was just starting the Castell Project,” said Berg. “She gave me encouragement that made the Castell Project possible in a way that it wouldn’t have been otherwise. She lent me that confidence through her advocacy.”

Small Acts, Big Changes

During the afternoon workshop, “Small Acts, Big Changes,” Lauren Davey, Chief Human Resources Officer for Compass Group Canada Ltd. highlighted the recent initiatives she and her team have rolled out and the impact they’ve had on employees and company culture. One such initiative was launching the WOLF (Women of Leadership and Fun) Pack, which focused on helping women with branding, confidence and finding their authentic self. Others included note cards for recognizing and reinforcing good behaviours and launching a mental-health initiative.

“Find creative ways of making things live in the organization — that’s a key part of it,” Davey shared. “We try to incorporate the art of storytelling — a simple act that can actually lead to big changes. People want to feel connected. People want to feel a part of a community. So how do you do that and galvanize people through stories?”

Davey also spoke to the importance of being conscious of and finding a balance between what you’re doing and how you’re being. She explained that women tend to excel at the doing, but setting your intentions of how you’re going to be (for a meeting, for the day, et cetera) “will help you get to those longer-term goals and what you’re looking for, for sustainable behaviour.

Catapulting Your Career in Five Simple Steps

Women who were looking to build fulfilling careers and overcome obstacles in their work lives found a treasure chest of advice to apply in Amrita Bhalla’s workshop, Catapulting your Career in 5 Simple Steps.

The managing director of AB Consulting said in the workforce, women often need time to refocus and acquire new skills that will help them maximize their career potential. Five steps she recommended to help with this process are having emotional agility or the ability to adapt to any situation; having perseverance or continuing to make the effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties; remembering the “ask” or “thinking about asking, not just for the things that you want or need, but also asking for the things that you don’t understand;” overcoming fear of failure; and creating your own personal brand or recognizing where you draw your personal inspiration from.

Creating Success through Innovation, Access to Capital & Increased Profitability

Reetu Gupta, president and CEO of Easton Group of Hotels, led a panel featuring Tony Cohen, president and CEO of Global Edge Investments; Suraj Gupta; co-founder, president and CEO of Rouge Insight Capital; and Gunjan Kahlon, senior Director of Development at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.

Centered on innovation, investments and technology in the hospitality industry, the panellists discussed their experiences in bringing value to their guests while ensuring profitability is sustainable long-term.

Cohen discussed some of his most memorable deals — among them the development and sale of the Thompson Hotel in Toronto — and talked about strategic deals he’s made to create opportunities and profit.

“The important thing to remember is that it’s about doing the job properly, but using technology to assist [in getting that job done],” he said. “How you implement it though is also important because ultimately, you’re counting on your managers and owners to be able to use it successfully. The profits will come if you take care of your guests, so focusing on sustainability is important, too.”

The panel also looked at the risks associated with technology investments. At a time when guests are looking to be accommodated and hotels are looking for new and exciting tech and tools to do so, user-friendly platforms remain the number-1 concern for both sides.

“Digital disruption is happening in all areas, but especially in hotels,” said Kahlon. “There are changing expectations for the guest, so collaboration is key between all departments and the culture you have in place is key. We’ve worked hard at that, relaunching a new marketing campaign, new designs and [overhauled] our IT departments. We’ve also recently relaunched out loyalty program. You have to stay open-minded towards change.”

Recognizing that 15 per cent of venture capital firms have female CEOs or women in leadership, Gupta’s company provides a solution for great business ideas through peer-to-peer lending.

“Loans for women and minorities have been historically low and there has always been an unconscious bias towards these groups,” Gupta. “We know from the data that women have been fundamental in driving business and help build successful businesses.”

Kahlon also added that Wyndham will soon host a women’s development day to attract women into the hotel development sector. She says that 28 to 35 per cent of the hotel group’s properties are owned by women.

Following the breakout sessions, attendees took part in a Town Hall session addressing the Roadmap to Gender Equity: Beyond Best Practices, moderated by Carolyn Clark, formerly SVP, Talent & Culture, AccorHotels, NCA Region. Panellists included Peggy Berg, director of the Castell Project Inc. in Atlanta and Statia Elliot, director, School of Hospitality, Food & Tourism Management, University of Guelph.

Following last year’s WITHorg event, “we knew we would bring back measurable statistics on the current state of gender diversity within our industry, which will help to set a benchmark moving forward,” said Clark. “Our panel will be sharing some of the highlights of their recent research with you.”

Elliot led off results of research conducted by University of Guelph, addressing challenges women reported facing in the workplace. “When we asked women what their biggest challenges were to advancing, 36 per cent said organizational barriers and 27 per cent said personal challenges,” said Elliot. “But let me read you some of the open-ended responses. ‘Not able to relocate,’ ‘not willing to relocate until the kids have graduated,’ stability during children’s educational years’.”

Research from the Castell Group offered additional insights. “At hotel-industry conferences, which is where deals are done frequently in the U.S., there’s one woman in attendance to every four men,” said Berg. “So, one of the things that can help women move up and gain recognition — and actually build reputation in this industry — is to be one of those people that gets paid to go the hotel-investment conferences and build the network there, because that’s where the deals are. And the money is.”

Caira and Larcade closed out the day by recapping take-away’s from the myriad sessions and offering advice to the audience. “Understandably, today’s generation is tired of being viewed as less competent leaders,” said Caira. “Today’s young millennials don’t feel they should have to work harder than men to prove themselves. And you know what? They’re absolutely right. It’s time companies treat gender diversity like the business priority it is,” said Caira, pointing to some of the McKinsey Report’s suggestions on how to move the needle. “Close the gender gaps in hiring/promotion, set targets, reports and accountability. Ensure that hiring and promotions are fair, make senior leaders and managers champions of diversity, foster an inclusive and respectful culture, offer employees the possibility to fit work into their lives. And more than anything, provide a safe environment for women to succeed.” 

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