More than 200 women from across the hotel industry gathered in Chicago to share knowledge and hear from successful, dynamic female executives at ForWard: Women Advancing Hospitality, the inaugural conference for industry women hosted by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and sponsored by AAHOA and Today’s Hotelier magazine.
AHLA leaders say they launched ForWard in recognition of the importance of diversity and inclusion, as well as the central role of women in the hospitality business.
“As hoteliers, we all recognize that our success depends on the 8 million people who power our industry – and more than half of those employees are women,” said Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of AHLA. Lugar also noted that the vast majority of students enrolled in college hospitality programs are women, and that female consumers make the majority of purchasing decisions that drive demand for the industry.
Lugar says that’s why the hotel industry has made it a priority to advance women in hospitality and set them up for success. While the industry has seen progress – more women than ever are serving on boards of directors and in senior management positions, and six hotel companies were among Forbes’ Best Employers for Women 2018 – she says there is still more to be done.
“I’m excited to launch ForWard because it builds on the success of our industry’s efforts, and provides a forum for us to highlight and champion the next generation of our industry’s leaders and keep women moving forward,” said Lugar.
The 2-day conference covered a range of topics, including hospitality in the #MeToo era, insights into the Gen Z generation’s attitudes and expectations about the workforce, and career advancement.
Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code and a best-selling author, kicked off the conference with a message that women should focus on being brave rather than perfect.
“If you guide yourself by passion instead of fear, anything is possible,” said Saujani.
Tina Tchen, partner at Buckley Sandler and co-founder of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, shared her personal journey, which began as the child of Chinese immigrants, to landing in China on Air Force One with President Obama as a senior official in his Administration.
Carole Angel, director of government affairs for IHG, and Erica Gordon, vice president of government affairs at Hilton, exchanged stories about their career trajectories and experiences as lobbyists advocating on behalf of the industry. They agreed that women in power – whether elected officials, staff members, or lobbyists like themselves – excel at building bridges, being bipartisan, and seeking compromise.
Jagruti Panwala, Vice Chairwoman of AAHOA and president & CEO of Wealth Protection Strategies, tied the long-term strength of the hotel industry to women playing a bigger role.
“Doors have been shut for a long time, and we need to come together and push them down. Women are looking for a fair shake and an opportunity to advance and be rewarded for our talents. And I think we can do that – together moving forward.”