Looking back at HerOwnership 2023 and its efforts to educate and empower women in the industry
For two days in early November, AAHOA held its second annual HerOwnership Conference & Retreat in Dallas, TX. Picking up where the inaugural event left off the year prior, the event was a sellout with nearly 300 official registrants signing up to take part in the packed schedule of keynote presentations, panel discussions, networking opportunities, a special Barbie-themed Pink Party, and more.
After two very special masterclasses during the event’s first morning – both of which were packed, demonstrating the value attendees recognized in the event’s many education opportunities – AAHOA President and CEO Laura Lee Blake kicked off the official proceedings by observing, “In this room, I see leaders, innovators, and trailblazers. You are shaping the landscape of this industry, and you are rewriting the narrative of what women in this industry can achieve.”
Though the education offerings spanned a wide range of topics, several key themes emerged throughout the two days, including self-empowerment, investing in – and with – each other, and the vital nature of helping other women in the industry break down barriers.
During one of the event’s first sessions, “Leading with Impact: Harnessing the Power of Executive Presence,” Rachel Humphrey, founder, Women in Hospitality Leadership Alliance, and Jagruti Panwala, AAHOA Past Chairwoman (2019-2020), sat down to discuss the importance of executive presence and how it’s a skill, not an inherent trait someone does or doesn’t have.
“When I go to conferences and my husband comes along,” Panwala said, “there are still instances where it’s assumed he’s the business owner and I’m just along for the ride, despite me being the business owner.”
While there remained a sense that much progress remains to be made, many panelists and speakers observed that things indeed are changing.
“I’m so impressed by the growth I’ve seen with regards to opportunities for women in this industry and with this association in particular,” said Dorraine Lallani, senior director, asset management, Westmont Hospitality Group. “The AAHOA I saw when I first got involved and the AAHOA I see now are drastically different.”
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The education offerings spanned a range of high-level topics, including the ins and outs of hotel ownership, methods for securing capital, succession planning best practices, breaking down barriers facing women in tech, the importance of legislative advocacy, and simplifying the path to hotel ownership for women.
One of the event’s highlights included an emotional and rousing keynote from Dr. Nissi Hamilton, CEO of Nissi’s Network, and survivor of human trafficking. Equal parts sobering reminder of the insidious impact of trafficking and powerful reminder of the collective strength shared by women in the industry.
In addition to the specialized content, big-picture industry topics were covered, including sky-high interest rates. “Ultimately, the market is still trending upward, and the interest rate isn’t going to drop,” said Maya Patel, a hotel broker with Newgen Advisory. “If you’re waiting for that to happen before buying, you will wait forever. If you can afford to buy now, buy now, hold, and sell later. It’s only going to be more expensive in the future.”
After a packed two days of education, networking, and more, attendees packed their bags and headed home, armed with a new set of tools to empower them to be the best versions of themselves and walk through the doors that other women in the industry are breaking down on a daily basis.
“My hope is you will all go back home and look at yourself in the mirror and say ‘Yes, I can. I got this. I will do this,’” said keynote speaker Dr. Ruby Dhalla, president and CEO of the Dhalla Group of Companies. “Then, in a few months, you’ll look in that same mirror and say, ‘I did this.’”
Summing up an oft-repeated sentiment shared throughout HerOwnership 2023, Rachel Humphrey perfectly encapsulated one of the event’s key goals thusly: “You’re here because you’re investing in yourself,” she said. “Don’t let that investment stop here. Continue the work when you get back home and come back next year with a great story to tell.”