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Right On, Sister

(January 2017) posted on Tue Jan 31, 2017

New initiative aims at getting more women in hospitality’s C-suites.

By Mary Scoviak

At last year’s New York University International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, Arne Sorenson, Marriott Intl.’s president and ceo, and Christopher Nassetta, Hilton’s president and ceo, took the discussion on key trends in the hospitality industry in an unexpected direction. Sure, they talked numbers, millennials, tech, supply/demand and labor shortages. But they broke with the status quo subject lineup when they both cited diversity as a critical challenge. Sorenson pointed out that, while hotels themselves may have highly diverse entry-level staffs, the panels at NYU’s Investment Conference—like the corporate C-suites of most hotel companies—show how little that inclusiveness extends to executive offices from the property level to the headquarters. Added Nassetta, “We have a massively diverse customer base. If we don’t make diversity in the workforce a priority at all levels, we will fail to serve our customers. It’s imperative to create that culture from the ground up.”

Yes, it is imperative. And, it’s a real boon to hear leaders like these stand up and say there’s a problem and we need to fix it. But, it’s not just their problem. It’s everyone’s. It’s also up to each one of us to get up and do something. Peggy Berg, founder of The Highland Group, an Atlanta-based hospitality investment and advisory firm, and a group of like-minded industry leaders are doing just that. Their newly launched Castell Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating the careers of women professionals in the hospitality industry.

“Have you noticed how few women there are in the upper ranks of the hospitality industry, and how many terrific women work in the industry?” asked Berg. “Too many women hit the glass ceiling too often and too quickly. We want to provide women with the information, skills and networks to help women shatter that. The industry’s public face has to change if we want millennials to choose this industry as employees or customers.”

The group will debut its first Castell Leadership Program May 1 – 3. The one-year sequence includes an individual career plan, Checkpiont 360 assessment, workshop, executive coaching Five-Will (Women in Lodging Leadership Network) “cohort” sessions and membership in WILL. Castell “is actively seeking sponsors and champions” to enable high-potential women to participate in the program.

Working with Georgia State University as its academic partner, the Castell Project will actively conduct research to track progress in the industry and to evolve the project’s future programming. You can get your voice heard by participating in on an online survey.

Programs this like build proactively on other noteworthy initiatives to equalize opportunities for all of those in the design industry. As Cheryl Durst, executive vice president and ceo of the International Interior Design Assn. (IIDA) pointed out in her keynote for Boutique Design New York 2016, for IIDA, the topic of diversity started simply with “looking around the room.” “In a multiplicity of settings, from chapter events and activities, to continuing education programs, to the headquarters of our partners in furniture manufacturing, textiles and flooring, to our very own board of directors—diversity, or the lack thereof, was clearly evident. We started with a simple question, “Why?” she said.

“As we considered the many facets of the issue, we realized that much more research was required to determine who was missing from the design profession, and ultimately, we worked our way toward what IIDA will do about it,” she added. “Then we looked at how and when we will accomplish our diversity goals. That’s what led to our decision during our 19th annual Industry Roundtable, held earlier this year, to form the interior design industry’s first-ever Diversity Council. (The executive summary detailing the council’s policy statement and outlining its planned strategic initiatives is available by emailing

And, then, there is NEWH’s $4.5 million-plus career boosting scholarship program and networking events that have forged the careers of thousands of women working in his industry. It’s hard to believe that NEWH was founded in 1984 in Los Angeles by a group of women who shared a common bond in their work. Los Angeles had become a leader in the design of interior spaces for hotels, motels, resorts, restaurants, cruise ships and other commercial properties that catered to the traveler, and these women worked in areas relating to hospitality design. Some were designers, some did purchasing of FF&E for these properties, while others were involved in manufacturing or distributing furnishings or supplies developed to meet the special needs of these enterprises.

According to the official release on NEWH’s founding, “There was a common feeling among many women working in the hospitality field at that time, that although some women had ‘made it’ professionally, women in general were not fully accepted. Dorrit St. John, then President of Purchase Services Limited suggested to Susan Spalding, then with S. Harris, and Shelia Lohmiller of Lohmiller Associates, that they get together and discuss what they could do to change the status quo. As the three women talked they developed the idea that those who had established careers could lend their support and share their experiences with some of the younger women just entering the field. This idea of women helping women then formed the basis for the establishment of the organization.”

In August, 1984 they brought together ten women who met at the Velvet Turtle restaurant in West Los Angeles. The additional women, and their affiliations at the time, included:

Frances Farwell, Frances Farwell Sources
Karen Hirsch, Republic Furniture
Carol Judd, Barry Design
Claire Koch, Design Interpretation
Judy Rosen, Republic Furniture
Vicky Soffe, Keeler Foods
Liz Westley, Foodservice Equipment Representative
Glenda Wong Yee, Hilton Equipment Corporation

These women formed the nucleus of the organization, and planned the first official meeting of NEWH which was held in November, 1984 at the Cheesecake Factory in Marina del Rey, California, with 44 women in attendance.

“The goal of NEWH then, as now, is to promote a high standard of achievement for women in hospitality and related fields,” says Lohmiller, now NEWH’s executive director. “As the organization became better established, the original idea of networking and mentoring grew to include awarding scholarships to young women studying to enter the industry.” Visit NEWH’s website to see what you can do.

In the meantime, start your own leadership program for women in your firm—both through mentoring and support for workshops, continuing education or degree programs to help further their careers. Send them to industry events to connect, learn and expand their skills. Talk to them about their goals; then send them out into your community to pass that message along to young people still choosing their career paths. It’s up to you to create change. Start now.



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