TORONTO — For the past four years, the Women in Tourism & Hospitality Summit, produced and powered by Kostuch Media Ltd. and Sequel Hotels & Resorts, has been the meeting place for those committed to advancing women in the tourism-and-hospitality industry. In addition to serving as an educational forum, where attendees can learn from some of the smartest minds in the industry, it’s also been the ideal place to get inspired, engaged and to network.
Held annually — typically in the fall — this year, in light of COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings, the popular Summit has pivoted to a Virtual Global Summit. “With the theme of “Breaking Barriers,” this year’s registration for the summit is free, in an effort to recognize the hardships being experienced by hospitality businesses everywhere,” says Rosanna Caira, co-founder of the WITH Summit and editor/publisher of Kostuch Media Ltd. “We also decided rather than hosting one full day, we’d spread the content over two days and give participants more choices of which sessions to attend.”
According to Caira, “When COVID-19 first hit, we weren’t sure how long it would last and whether it would impact us being able to host this year’s event, which was scheduled for October 14 at the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto.” But when government mandates made live events virtually impossible, she and partner Anne Larcade, co-founder of WITH and president of Sequel Hotels & Resorts, decided they would pivot to a virtual edition. “Though COVID-19 has impacted all of our businesses, we felt it was more important than ever to hold the event and to make it accessible to anyone who wanted to gain skills, learn and network at a time when cost cutting is the order of the day.”
“While COVID-19 has impacted businesses and people everywhere, women are particularly impacted by this pandemic,” says Caira. “So many women have lost their jobs, making this a she-recession.” Adds Larcade, “Diversity and inclusion are more important than ever but less than 1.5 per cent of executives in the hospitality industry are Black compared to five per cent across all industries, which shows our industries’ bias against colour,” says Larcade. She also adds, “firms with female CEOs and CFOs have been shown to be more profitable while only nine per cent of CFOs and 13 per cent of presidents are women. Now more than ever, it is our collective imperative to provide skills and networking to help advance women, in everything we do and every decision we make.”
Certainly, it’s hard to ignore the implications of COVID-19 on this year’s program, which kicks off with a State-of-the-Industry Thought-Leadership Panel that will examine how COVID-19 has affected the hospitality industry around the globe. The panel features Don Cleary, president of Marriott Hotels Canada; Janet Zuccarini, founder of Gusto 54 Restaurants; Julian Buffam, president of Newcastle Hotels & Resorts and Abigail Tan, CEO of St. Giles Hotels in the United Kingdom. The panel will examine the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality industry but also look forward to see what tomorrow’s hospitality world might look like, while unlocking the most salient trends of the day. Speakers will also examine how the tourism-and-hospitality industry will need to be re-imagined in the post-COVID-19 landscape to ensure great experiences in a safe and healthy manner.
A new feature on this year’s program is a Rapid-Fire session featuring four successful women who will share their secrets to breaking barriers. The quartet of women includes: Rhonelle Bruder, executive director, IRise; Christina Veira, mixologist and restaurant manager; Suzanne Barr, chef and food advocate, and Peggy Berg, Castell Project.
Two keynote speakers will round out the offerings on Day One: Margo Day, former vice-president of Microsoft Corp. who will talk about how today’s leaders are transforming businesses and making a difference in people’s lives personally and professionally, and Heather McCrory, CEO of Accor North and Central America who will share her journey from the laundry room to the boardroom.
Day One of the Summit will also see the presentation of the Katie Taylor Economic Empowerment Award, which is presented annually by Women in Tourism & Hospitality to a woman or man in the Tourism or Hospitality industry who embodies the qualities associated with Ms. Taylor, chair of the Royal Bank of Canada, and former president of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts. Taylor fervently believes that women should be able to take care of themselves financially and be deeply committed to promote women to positions of leadership. She’s also a firm believer that women and men need to support and mentor women in their communities and corporate cultures.
This year’s award is being presented to Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott International. Under Sorenson’s leadership, Marriott has made women’s advancement a top priority. Sorenson will be on hand virtually to accept the award at the Summit.
In learning that he had won this year’s award, Sorenson said, “We are honored to receive the Katie Taylor Economic Empowerment Award from Women in Tourism & Hospitality. Our culture of putting people first is the cornerstone of our women’s advancement initiatives. It’s at the core of everything we do, as we embrace what makes each associate unique. We are proud of the contributions women have made to Marriott’s success over our 93 years and equally proud that Marriott is a place of inclusive opportunity for all of our associates. Since the pioneering work of our co-founder Alice S. Marriott in 1927, we have continued to benefit from the leadership and talents of many women who have shaped our workplace and the growth of our company.” (See story “Arne Sorenson winner of Katie Taylor Award to be Presented at WITH Summit in Toronto).
Day Two of the Summit is being billed as “The Inspirational and Skills Building Day” and starts with a keynote address by Paula Stone Williams, an American pastoral counselor, who came out as a transgender woman in December 2012. Williams’ session is entitled “Persistence, Not Perfection.” She will help attendees see the problems and possibilities of achieving true gender equality. Next up on the schedule will be Dr. Patch Adams, a respected doctor, whose story of resilience and compassion sparked the eponymous movie with Robin Williams playing the lead.
A highlight of the day will be a Fireside Chat between Amrita Bhalla, from A.B. Consulting, and Vicki Saunders, founder of SHEeo. Saunders is a respected entrepreneur, award-winning mentor and advisor to the next generation of change-makers and a leading advocate for entrepreneurship as a way of creating positive transformation in the world. The session is billed as “You Can’t Just Add Women and Stir.”
An afternoon workshop by Dr. Ryan Todd, CEO of Headversity will close off the day by providing insights into resiliency. Dr Todd is a psychiatrist and recently converted technologist, founding the workplace mental health and resilience app, headversity. His work at headversity brought together a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, and educators to build an industry-redefining app that is setting the new standard for workplace mental health, working with some of North America’s largest and leading employers. He will be speaking about how this app allows organizations to put the mental health and performance of employees back into their hands.
Through the two days of the Summit, WITH’s co-founders hope the Summit will help identify future opportunities, provide skills for women to reduce the impact of the she-recession, and of course, help break the barriers holding women back from advancement and empowerment.
And, with the world in a state of turmoil, WITHORG advocates business and owners set performance benchmarks around advancement and best practices throughout the next year. “We must elevate the urgency to move the needle on diversity, inclusion and pay equity as a business case,” says Larcade. “This is not a nice to have, it’s a must have.”
Click here to view the full virtual WITH Summit agenda.