International Women’s Day: Hospitality’s Top Female Hoteliers Dish on the Rise of Women in the Hotel Industry

Recent research from Cornell’s School of Business showed that women now make up 25.5 percent of senior managers across the hospitality and travel sectors. While female leadership is growing, hospitality remains a male dominated industry. We asked some of the industry’s leading female professionals, including Strategic Solution Partners’ COO Jacqueline Villamil, to provide personal insight and anecdotes about how the industry has changed, how women are making their own mark in hospitality, and what advice they can offer young women looking to follow in their footsteps.

Here’s what they had to say:

An uphill battle: Real-life challenges women have faced working in a hotel:

  • “When I first started I was “discriminated” against because of my age, as I was only 24 when I started in a management position. That said I was very fortunate to work for female and male bosses who offered strong support to women. – Jacqueline Villamil, COO, Strategic Solution Partners
  • “After my female boss left, I ended up working for a very challenging Director of Operations whom I had to work very hard to earn his respect, something I believe was because I was female. Two months after he was hired, he decided to document me, despite the fact that I was in good standing and had just gotten a great review. I wound up leaving after a year.” – Ginger Martin, General Manager, Le Meridien Dallas, The Stoneleigh
  • “When I started in the industry, there was an absence of mentorship and an environment of women not being supportive of other women. I found that difficult to overcome. But I did so by always being supportive of my bosses and being adaptive.” – Caroline MacDonald, VP Global Sales and Marketing, Rosewood Hotel Group

Slow but steady: Positive changes are happening in the industry

  • “It’s great to see more women in top executive positions today, and there are more female General Managers in hotels. There’s still a long way to go, but it’s on the upswing.” – Jacqueline Villamil, COO, Strategic Solution Partners
  • “I am seeing more leadership roles for women, and companies are conscious of their voice and conversation with their teams.  They are trying to make a difference through awareness.” – Pam Suhr, VP Sales and Marketing, Stanford Hotels
  • “Formal mentorship and advocacy programs are on the rise, something which will help the next generation of female leaders.  We are very fortunate within AccorHotels, as we have “RiiSE,” an international network of more than 14,000 members globally, which brings men and women together who are committed to the values of sharing knowledge, of solidarity and combatting stereotypes and embraces diversity and inclusion in the workplace.” – Michelle Gilman Jasen, Executive Director Hotel Sales and Marketing, AccorHotels
  • “Five years ago, I couldn’t count the number of female GM’s on one hand. Now I can’t count on two hands the number of females coming through the ranks! Hotels now take on a different place in people’s lives, meaning they have morphed from places to sleep to luxury and lifestyle brands. This evolution has instigated a change in the types of executives hotels employ, and means they need leaders who don’t only book rooms, but who can create experiences based on a deep understanding of their clients.” – Ginger Martin, General Manager, Le Meridien Dallas, The Stoneleigh

 Women supporting women: Advice for the up-and-comer

  • “Work hard, learn as much as you can and more, be professional, and shine above the rest without stepping on anyone else. Be a team player, focus on your current position and keep an eye on the position you want next.” – Jacqueline Villamil, COO, Strategic Solution Partners
  • “When discussing starting a career, I always tout the idea of finding advocates and mentors that you trust and then seeking out roles with the best leader.  Although title and job responsibilities can be very relevant, having the right leader and corresponding culture has played a more impactful role in the long-term career trajectory of most people that I know.” Michelle Gilman Jasen, Executive Director Hotel Sales and Marketing, AccorHotels
  • “Put on your heels and your lipstick and just go for it.” – Ginger Martin, General Manager, Le Meridien Dallas, The Stoneleigh
  • “Be factual without being righteous, listen as there is always something to learn, and do not shy away from the hard questions. Lean into them, do the work and ask for the next opportunity!” – Pam Suhr, VP Sales and Marketing, Stanford Hotels
  • “Be adaptable and be supportive.” – Caroline MacDonald, VP Global Sales and Marketing, Rosewood Hotel Group

A special thanks to all of the fabulous women featured here.

Today, we celebrate you and all you have achieved. Happy International Women’s Day!