Women’s Equality Day: 10 Female Leaders in the Hospitality Industry

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The hospitality industry has become one of the largest employers of women today. There are 53.7% of female employees in hospitality, working in hotels, restaurants, catering, and large-scale events.

More and more organizations are shifting their focus toward gender equality. 80% of hospitality companies have a coordinated diversity and inclusion strategy, while 28% have embedded it in their hiring process.

Gender equality is a topic to be particularly aware of in a sector with roughly 17 male CEOs per one female CEO, and the odds of a woman reaching an executive leadership level being 5.7 men per woman.

Hotel technology is giving access to more women to become CEO leaders, but we need to look at the situation as a whole. Women’s Equality Day is an excellent opportunity to look into the problems that women are facing in our sector in which we should work as an industry.

Leading Top-Level Women in the Hospitality Industry

Here at UpStay, we care deeply about women’s equality, seizing every opportunity to spread awareness of its importance and inspire others to follow the lead and make impactful changes.

In honor of Women’s Equality Day, we were fortunate enough to speak with some successful and inspiring female leaders in the hospitality industry from all over the world. We interviewed them on questions about women’s empowerment and equality in the workplace. Here’s what they had to say.

Adele Gutman, Hospitality Executive Coach & Team Performance Optimizer (Charleston, USA)

Adele Gutman is the Vice President of Education at HSMAI South Carolina Chapter, a board member at TIEWN, and the host of the Hospitality Reputation Podcast: Get Great Reviews. She helps hoteliers and business leaders gain recognition and reputation success by implementing her Five-Star Review System.

She has been honored as one of the Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Sales & Marketing by HSMAI and one of the USA Top 50 Influential Leaders in Hospitality 2021.

Adele got into hotel and restaurant management after seeing how serving people can empower them to live happier and healthier lives.

Over the last few years, she has seen many more female hotel general managers and corporate leaders, but she’d like to see more female CEOs and hotel owners. She says the best way to go is to include young women in the conversation and introduce them to female role models who’ve built their success from scratch.

Her business gives women an opportunity to realize their full potential by including them in problem-solving conversations to nurture their talent and cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset.

Adele’s advice to female rising stars in the sector is to seize every opportunity for improvement and go above and beyond to deliver excellence. She says self-assessment at the end of each day is the key to having an even more successful outcome the next day.

Carolina Mogames, Divisional Director of Sales at Belmond (Brazil)

Carolina Mogames is a Divisional Director of Sales at Belmond with over 20 years of experience in the tourism and hospitality industry’s commercial area. She has worked for major hotel chains and their independent counterparts and finds developing people in sales the most inspiring and rewarding experience.

Starting in Orlando, Florida, where she first worked with tourists and was learning how to exceed their expectations, Carolina found her passion for the hospitality industry. After moving to Brazil, she had the opportunity to work with great female leaders, such as Silvia Machado, Melissa Oliveira, and Andrea Natal.

Ever since she arrived at LVMH, she started seeing improvement in gender equality in the sector. One example is the EllesVMH program, which encourages the professional development of women in all positions and at every organizational level through various coaching and mentoring initiatives.

Being a successful female executive, Carolina empowers her female team members through development. Despite her hectic work schedule and traveling routine, she still finds time to take care of herself and engage in personal activities, inspiring women worldwide.

Her advice for women rising in the hospitality industry is to stay strong in their beliefs and the power within themselves, even though many times there’s a vast gender competition and a lot on their plates just for being women.

Cati Cardell Crespí, E-Commerce Manager at Hotels VIVA (Palma de Mallorca, Spain)

Cati Cardell Crespí is an E-commerce Manager at Hotels VIVA, also specialized in revenue management, online marketing, and social networks for hotels. She helps maximize hotel revenues through inventory management, pricing, and commercial distribution.

Working in a sector with a bright future and infinite professional possibilities, where you must ensure people have pleasurable vacations and business trips, is what inspired Cati to get into hospitality. The joy of helping people meet new cultures, places, and landscapes makes it worth it.

Still, she thinks there’s a long way to go to see improvement in gender equality on a global level, being the gender pay gap of 20% and part-time hiring the most notable obstacles.

At Hotels VIVA, there’s full professional equality between men and women. Everyone receives equal opportunities for continuous training and improvement and assumes responsibilities based on their dedication and contribution.

Cati says women in the hospitality industry must understand their ability to take control in a male-dominant sector. They should have adequate training, focus on clear objectives, adapt to the demands of the job, and understand the corporate culture.

Chieko Aoki, Founder, and CEO of Blue Tree Hotels (São Paulo, Brazil)

Chieko Aoki is the Founder and CEO of Blue Tree Hotels, a renowned chain of 23 hotels in Brazil. Considered the “first lady of the Brazilian hotel industry,” Ms. Aoki is an innovative entrepreneur who breaks the cultural barriers and empowers aspiring female executives.

Ms. Aoki found inspiration to start her hotel empire in three things: the industry’s growth and development opportunities, making people happier and meeting people from different cultures. She says hospitality promotes inclusion, friendship, and peace among people.

When she started out, there were very few women in the industry, mostly in low-level positions. She’s pleased to see many women in top-level positions these days reaching admirable results.

Her hotel chain offers group activities for connecting and empowering women with the aim of learning and exchanging experiences.

Ms. Aoki shared some advice for women rising in the sector, saying they should take advantage of their ability to empathize, listen, and take care of people. She says women are strong and should continue strengthening their humanity, humbleness, and compassion in their personal and professional lives.

Conchi Jerez, Hotel Partnership Manager of Sercotel Hotels (Spain)

Conchi Jerez is the Hotel Partnership Manager of Sercotel Hotels, with over 25 years of experience in reservations, sales, marketing, customer service, and business advisory services. She’s an expert in hospitality, quality, sales, and revenue management.

Traveling around the world and seeing how hotel guests always seemed happy is what motivated Conchi to study hospitality management.

She has witnessed many changes in gender equality over the years but thinks there’s still a long way to go in terms of equal pay and higher positions of responsibility. She believes that a solid way to empower women for success is to take steps to empower women for success, such as creating mixed teams and implementing teleworking to reconcile work and family life.

She advises female rising stars in the sector to do their job with enthusiasm, be organized, learn continuously, and lead collaborative teams that help them to be better. With daily work and a positive attitude, women can reach higher positions of responsibility.

Della Heiman, Founder, and CEO of della bowls, Co-Founder of The Doral Yard (Miami, Florida)

Della Heiman is the founder and CEO of della bowls and the co-founder of The Doral Yard, a community hub in Downtown Doral in Miami, Florida.

Learning more about the global food system’s harsh realities while traveling the world, Della was inspired to increase access to healthy, affordable food. That drive led her to start a business in the hospitality industry.

Her company has a strong culture of gender equality, fueled by equal opportunities for growth based on merit. It has strong female leaders and empowers all team members for success. She hopes the recent industry shifts will lead to higher wages and equal pay for women across the board.

As for some advice for female rising stars in the industry, she says women should be themselves because they have strong qualities. Some of those include collaborative energy, compassion, clear communication, resilience, the ability to juggle many balls in the air, and the courage to be vulnerable.

Elena Nabau, General Manager of Hotel Terra by Ona Hotels (Barcelona, Spain)

Elena Nabau is the General Manager of Hotel Terra by Ona Hotels, specializing in hotel pre-opening, opening, and day-to-day operations. She’s an expert in hotel management contracts, recruiting, training, and sales and marketing strategy development, with over 20 years of experience in lifestyle luxury hotel management.

Making other people’s dreams come true was the reason why Elena got into hospitality, where she now knows more female than male hotel general managers. That wasn’t the case when she started out, but she says there’s still a long way to go when it comes to corporate positions.

She believes professional success doesn’t depend on gender but rather on business policies. Unlike many women in the sector, she had the opportunity to work in companies with a culture of gender equality.

Her passion for the industry, perseverance and positive attitude toward changes have been the key qualities to position her at the top of her profession. Her top advice for women rising in the sector is to leverage those qualities and be meticulous, communicative, charismatic, and hard-working.

Hannah DeMaio, Director of Brand Strategy at Women Leading Travel & Hospitality, and Women in Retail Leadership Circle at NAPCO Media

Hannah DeMaio is the Director of Brand Strategy at Women Leading Travel & Hospitality and Women in Retail Leadership Circle at NAPCO Media. She launched the former with Jennifer DiPasquale to build a diverse and inclusive community of successful women in the travel and hospitality sector.

After realizing that diversity, equality, and inclusion were industry-wide issues, Hannah decided to get into the travel and hospitality industry to help her female colleagues grow and succeed.

Although her business is relatively new (founded in January of 2021), she has already seen improvement in gender equality, and she’s excited to help push the boundaries further.

Her membership-based association empowers female executive leaders in the industry through resources, support, and networking opportunities for personal and professional growth. With a mission to unite, inspire, and empower, it brings female leaders together to help them learn from each other and thrive. Hannah recommended reviewing the experience of other women in hospitality, like the ones featured here.

Hemma Varma, Head of Human Rights at Sustainable Hospitality Alliance (London, UK)

Hemma Varma is the Head of Human Rights at Sustainable Hospitality Alliance and a passionate sustainability and social impact professional. She’s an expert in developing programs and partnerships for addressing environmental, social, and governance issues in business.

Being fascinated by the thought of working while traveling, Hemma found the travel and tourism industry a natural fit for her.

She’s especially pleased with a gender equality shift in the sector, as she has seen many inspiring female leaders reach top-level positions. She says the industry promotes from within, supports female development, and offers flexible work for women with family or work commitments.

Hemma’s advice for women rising in the hospitality industry is to network because you never know where your next opportunity might come from. She says the key is to find a group or a female mentor to be your sounding board and provide a new perspective that helps you build confidence in your capabilities.

Lorraine Copes, Founder, and CEO of Be Inclusive Hospitality (London, UK)

Lorraine Copes is the founder and CEO of Be Inclusive Hospitality, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to drive education, build community, amplify voices, and accelerate racial equality in the hospitality sector. She’s a career and business coach with over 19 years of experience in procurement consulting.

Before entering the hospitality sector, Lorraine worked as a Food Forecast Analyst, putting her BSc in Logistics into practice. It was then when she found her passion for the sector, so she stayed and progressed.

She says more work needs to be done regarding gender equality, as men hold most top-level positions. Her business is all about taking steps to change that.

Lorraine’s company is mostly led by women, including over half of the advisory board. Her community often shines a spotlight on thriving women overcoming odds and ensures women’s voices take center stage in every conversation.

Lorraine has two pieces of advice for women in the sector: seek out a mentor and bring your authentic self to work. The former will impact your personal and professional development, while the latter will unlock opportunities with the right people throughout your career.

Final Words

The hospitality industry is constantly evolving, pushing the boundaries of gender equality and opening up more opportunities for women’s empowerment. A common topic for all women who joined this project is equal wages. The gender pay gap in the hospitality industry is 7.6%, compared to 8% when it was last measured. This is below 13.1% in the economy sector, and much lower than travel as a whole (21.3%), whereas leisure, stands at 10%. This data shows us that there is still a long way to go before the gap is finally closed, but we’re definitely on the right track.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every woman that contributed to this article for the time they invested in sharing their experiences with us. At UpStay, we are passionate about doing our part in raising awareness, just like the powerful female leaders we collaborated with. We hope you enjoyed reading about them and found their advice inspiring.

As a hotel tech startup, we are committed to innovation and strive to become a role model in the hospitality industry. That’s why our workplace is, and always will be, one that women can enjoy and that can help them maximize their potential.

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Maína is the Head of Business Development Americas at UpStay. She graduated in Hotel Management and in German language and completed an MBA in Digital Marketing and E-commerce. She is a professional from the hospitality industry with experience as Distribution Director of a Brazilian group of 30 hotels and the Americas Director of an international Sales & Marketing representation company.
Maína considers herself an excellent communicator. She is a native speaker of Portuguese and speaks 4 other languages: English, Spanish, French, and German.

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