WITHorg Summit Tackles Issues of Gender Equality in the Tourism and Hospitality Industries

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Photography by Margaret Mulligan

TORONTO — The second-annual Women in Tourism and Hospitality (WITHorg) summit, the first of its kind in Canada, was held June 25 at the Four Seasons Hotel, Toronto. More than 260 industry professionals — double the number from last year’s event — gathered for the day-long conference and workshop hybrid to share ideas, network and empower women to move the needle on gender equality in the hospitality and tourism sectors.

Created by Kostuch Media Ltd. and Sequel Hotels & Resorts, WITHorg offered a roster of industry powerhouse speakers — of both genders — from the foodservice and hospitality industries.

“When we speak up, we hold others accountable to change,” said Rosanna Caira, editor/publisher, Kostuch Media Ltd. and co-founder, WITHorg during the opening address.

Following a welcome message from WITHorg’s Honorary Chair Kathleen Taylor, Chair, Royal Bank of Canada and former president and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, keynote speaker Johanna Maska took the stage to share her experiences of never taking no for an answer. Maska, CEO of Global Situation Room Inc. — a public relations firm with offices in Washington and Los Angeles — recounted how rephrasing the question until you get a yes can lead to success. This “audacity of tenacity” approach landed Maska on the campaign team for former U.S. president Barak Obama, where she negotiated on his behalf around the world. She also addressed the fact that in the workplace, “Women, in many cases, have to be “heroes” to get recognized.”

Next, Maska joined Don Cleary, president and CEO of Marriott Hotels of Canada, Juanita Dickson, president of Gusto 54 Restaurant Group and Reetu Gupta, Chief Operating Officer of the Easton’s Group of Hotels and The Gupta Group to discuss what drives a leader’s behaviour. The panel outlined how driving success in today’s business environment requires a new set of skills and a whole new mindset. The group also offered tips on how their companies are igniting change in areas such as gender parity, sexual harassment and pay equity. Cleary noted that only about 25 per cent of Marriott’s GMs in Canada are women. “We have to constantly be asking ourselves why and [implement] programs to move the dial,” he told the crowd.

The morning breakout sessions featured five empowering choices, including how to engage millennials to lead and disrupt; how a resilient leader can help women climb the professional ladder; achieving mental health and wellness in the workplace; creating accountability for gender equality; and financial tips for successful wealth health.

The luncheon keynote speaker, Marie Henein, shared her insights and life journey as one of Canada’s Top 25 most influential lawyers. As senior partner at Henein Hutchison, LLP — one of the country’s top-10 litigation boutique firms, Henein addressed the #MeToo movement and what has to happen next in order to facilitate real change. “Institutional reform is required,” she said. “Otherwise, how is it allowed to go on and create a change?” She also stressed that women need to be reminded that they don’t need to do it all.

The Katie Taylor Economic Empowerment Award was presented to Johanne Bélanger, president and CEO of Tourism Toronto, following lunch. The award recognizes outstanding accomplishments — both in the winner’s own career and in furthering the cause of women in the workplace.

Following the presentation of the award attendees were once again presented with five breakout-session choices including how to build your personal brand; how to negotiate for yourself and achieve positive outcomes; a high-level session on blockchain, cryptocurrencies and artificial intelligence; an timely and important discussion on mental health in the workplace; and a panel on how to foster an environment of respect, equity and zero tolerance in the front- and back-of-house.

The final panel of the day, moderated by Rosanna Caira, editor/publisher, Kostuch Media Ltd. and co-founder, WITHorg, discussed what leadership qualities work in today’s professional climate for women climbing the corporate ladder. LeadHERs panellists included Susie Grynol, president and CEO of the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC), Lucie Guillemette, executive VP and CCO of Air Canada, Anne Larcade, president and CEO of Sequel Hotels & Resorts and co-founder of WITHorg and Katie Taylor, chair of RBC and honorary chair of WITHorg. The group discussed topics ranging from how to move the needle on wage parity, to a zero-tolerance harassment policy to how to end human trafficking. Taylor stressed the need to set aggressive and ambitious measurements and goals around diversity and inclusion.

The day closed with an inspiring keynote from Shelmina Abji, who recounted the challenges she faced in her life and career and shared how keeping a positive outlook helped her achieve success. “The power with which you show up impacts all your interactions and outcomes. When you feel powerful, you inspire everyone you interact with to also own their power.”

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