Today's Traveller Interviews

Preferred Hotels team leaders address critical issues on International Women’s Day ’22

On International Women’s Day, Today’s Traveller brings the spotlight on a global hotel company – Preferred Hotels & Resorts- leadership team, which is unique, in that 47% of its Senior Executive team leaders globally are women.

This includes several positions that are traditionally filled by men, specifically CEO, President, and Chief Revenue Officer, with 50% of its wider leadership team also being women.

This makes Preferred Hotels & Resorts a front runner when compared to the hospitality industry at large, where only 26% of senior leadership positions are currently occupied by women, despite making up 50% of the workforce. This makes a strong statement for better gender equality, diversity, and inclusion.

Preferred Hotels Leadership Team
Preferred Hotels Leadership Team
Says Lindsey Ueberroth, CEO, Preferred Hotels & Resorts says, “While excellence should not be distinguished by gender and while we are proud that the gender equilibrium within our leadership team serves as a best practice for others, we recognize that the hospitality industry at large has great progress to make before gender bias stops making regular headlines.”

She continued, “To create impactful momentum on a global scale, it is critical for fellow female executives to share success stories for how they have navigated bias within the industry as a way to champion other women in pursuing their career ambitions without potential prejudice as a hindrance.”

Female Thought Leaders at Preferred Hotels & Resorts speak on critical issues -#BreaktheBias- on International Women’s Day

To facilitate greater progress and in support of International Women’s Day on March 8, specifically, this year’s theme of #BreaktheBias, a group of diverse women from Preferred Hotels & Resorts’ global leadership team share their wide-ranging insight with women seeking to develop careers in hospitality.

Addressing these issues in a free-flowing Q&A are Michelle Woodley, President, Seema Roy, Area Managing Director – South Asia, Middle East & Africa; Boyana Simeonova, Vice President, Customer Relations and  Roberta Possenti, Vice President – Europe.

Q To level the playing field for women in hospitality, how can we move beyond recognizing bias to actively tackling it?

Michelle Woodley, President, Preferred Hotels & Resorts
Michelle Woodley, President, Preferred Hotels & Resorts

Michelle Woodley: Recognizing and acknowledging bias is the first step. Actively tackling it takes time and intention. Training and education are important and should take place through multiple platforms such as online learning, in-person discussions, and sharing experiences. 

Boyana Simeonova: It starts with ourselves. It takes a concerted effort to think differently and challenge the stereotypes that have been set in male-dominated environments.

It’s about providing space, opportunities, and security for women, enabling them to express themselves freely without the fear of prejudice and judgment.

Seema Roy: We need to make the topic of bias part of daily conversation versus only bringing it up while discussing Diversity & Inclusion. It needs to be at the core of company culture for it to be embraced fully.

Q.  What advice would you share with women that might be experiencing unconscious bias in the workplace?

  Seema Roy, Area Managing Director - South Asia, Middle East & Africa -  Preferred Hotels & Resorts
 Seema Roy, Area Managing Director – South Asia, Middle East & Africa – Preferred Hotels & Resorts

Michelle Woodley: Don’t be afraid to confront the issue head-on. You owe it to yourself to bring it to the attention of the individual that is displaying the bias. The person in question may not even be aware of it or understand why a certain comment or action is demonstrating a bias. The most important part of this is explaining the “why.” 

Boyana Simeonova: I grew up with a strong female role model – my single mother working as a doctor in Bulgaria, which was a communist country at the time. She instilled in me the confidence as a woman to tackle any challenges that I’ve faced during my career. My advice is to be confident and demonstrate to your colleagues your invaluable skills. They will recognize and respect you for it.

Seema Roy: As women, we play a crucial role in bringing about positive change to help level the playing field. This can be done by taking charge, making our voice heard, encouraging and supporting other women, and by embracing diversity. We need to recognize our own self-worth and play to our strengths.

Q. In your opinion, how does gender equality positively impact economic and sustainable development globally?

Michelle Woodley: By having a well-balanced senior team of both women and men, we encourage diverse perspectives in important areas of collaboration, communication, and management style, helping us to overcome barriers and make well-rounded decisions. It has been proven that all environments with greater gender quality have more cohesion and connection, leading to a valuable mix of perspectives, which greatly benefits society as a whole. 

Boyana Simeonova: Gender equality provides different perspectives and ultimately better success in any business endeavor. Globally it contributes to more balanced living conditions and development.

Seema Roy: Gender diversity and equality allow us to create a balanced and holistic environment. It helps boost productivity, increase organizational effectiveness, and growth.

Q. How can we address the gender pay gap and what advice would you give to women in our industry seeking to level up in this regard?

Roberta Possenti, Vice President - Europe    Preferred Hotels & Resorts
Roberta Possenti, Vice President – Europe Preferred Hotels & Resorts

Michelle Woodley: Be proactive – no one is going to do this for you. Do your homework and understand the competitive landscape. If you are a manager and have influence over the pay scale of others, be sure you are being fair and equitable.

Boyana Simeonova: Skills, performance, and contribution should be awarded at market value. My advice for anyone unhappy with their pay is to know your worth and be prepared to ask for it.

Roberta Possenti: Challenge the system and communicate with your peers. Leverage your connections and seek support and guidance to further your well-deserved success.

Q. At Preferred, 47% of senior leaders are women, but in most companies, women are under-represented, what advice in terms of small steps would you give to brands and other female leaders seeking to create more inclusive representative leadership teams?

Michelle Woodley: For internal promotion and advancement of women in the workplace, I strongly encourage participation in development programs. At Preferred, we currently have two women participating in the Ethnic Future Leaders Program of WiHTL Diversity in Hospitality Travel & Leisure.  We also have two senior executives, including myself, participating in a reverse mentees program, which has been incredibly valuable in understanding the biases that others face.

Boyana Simeonova, Vice President, Customer Relations, Preferred Hotels & Resorts
Boyana Simeonova, Vice President, Customer Relations, Preferred Hotels & Resorts

Roberta Possenti: Believe that change is possible. Mentor and train your top management to think differently and be more aware of their team. For example, inviting the team for evening drinks may be appropriate for some, but not for mothers needing to go home and take care of the kids. This ‘inclusive’ activity can therefore become quite a bias, defeating the purpose. Leaders must evaluate the consequences of their actions and find ways of being inclusive of all. It’s also fundamental to provide flexibility to women in their career path, find solutions to fit their needs, and keep them active in the workplace.

Seema Roy: I am proud that Preferred has so many women in senior leadership positions. For brands to be fully committed to alleviating gender gap issues, diversity and inclusion must be a strategic priority and part of company culture. A few basic tips to be considered include diverse hiring at all levels in the company, providing mentorship and training opportunities, striving to provide equal pay for equal work, staying committed, and working towards the retention of women in the workforce.

Q. What advice would you share with women beginning their careers in the hospitality industry?

Michelle Woodley: My advice is the same for everyone, not just for women. Make every day count – reflect on your successes and failures often, ask for feedback, and contribute new ideas to every meeting. Always remember when you are entering the hospitality industry, whether you are going down the path of operations, finance, marketing, or management, that hospitality is the act of hosting guests in an open, friendly, and warm manner. If you are not willing to be the ultimate host in all that you do, think again.

Roberta Possenti: Take a seat at the table. Listen. Express your views. You’re not there by chance, you’ve earned it. Build connections with peers that can support and mentor you in your career path.

Seema Roy: What has helped me navigate through my journey all these years is clarity of thought, and the adaptability and willingness to learn and grow at every stage. Be authentic, positive, and resilient. Stay true to your individuality and to your role. Proactively find a mentor, they can help you adapt to the new culture quickly and be an enabler for your professional and personal development.

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