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Key Notes from the BDNY Women Leaders' Breakfast and Panel Discussion

(November 2016) posted on Tue Nov 29, 2016

Session offered insights into industry issues and trends.

By Mary Scoviak

 We are all agents for change. That was the overarching takeaway from International Interior Design Associate (IIDA) ceo Cheryl Durst's keynote speech and our Women Leaders' panel discussion. No matter what the job title is, moving the needle on issues from big to small is a responsibility we all share--the buck stops at every door.

Here's the lowdown on how to make it work, from Durst and our other luminaries: Anda Andrei, principal, Anda Andrei Design; Heather Balsely, senior vice president, Americas brands, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG); Frances Kiradjian, founder, Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association (BLLA); Danette Opaczewski, director of development, Sydell Group; Jagruti Panwala, president/ceo, wealth protection strategies, AAHOA secretary 2016-2017, AAHOA female director at large Eastern Region; Margie Ruddick, owner, Margie Ruddick Landscape; Michelle Wildenhaus, principal, Studio Twist.

One case in point? Diversity in the workplace. As Durst pointed out, hospitality is the most diverse industry in the country, but that's still not reflected at the top. The conversation needs to move past the poster image and on to making a more direct effort to progress toward equity (not only for women and minorities but to erase bias surrounding age, educational background etc) face to face as well as via initiatives. "People need to see someone who looks like them--it opens up the idea of what's possible," she says.

Designers and operators alike also need to take responsibility for learning what clients want, not just by looking at the RFP but by taking the time to understand the brand profile as a guest. Andrei stressed the importance of designers making the trip to actually stay at a property. For both Balsely and Opaczewski, playing guinea pig when they travel is key. " I really 'got' what the hostel/hotel hybrid that is Freehand has to offer after I stayed there myself," said Opaczewski. "Details like the high beds in CitizenM helped me rethink what works in a small room," Balsely said.

It's a good time to be boutique. As Kiradjian points out, the sector has broader appeal and higher visibility than ever. Panwala supported that positive outlook and sees a lot of upside in the industry as a whole short term.

And, added Wildenhaus, it's also a good time to be--and stay--small. "it's more important to us to be able to focus on what we do well than to branch out."

For Ruddick, the key trend is that sustainability isn't an afterthought or an add on. Rather, clients are integrating it into the DNA of projects.



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