LODGING sat down with Best Western CMO Dorothy Dowling and Dr. Lalia Rach after Best Western’s second annual Women in Leadership Forum. Here’s more from that conversation.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing women in the hotel industry today?
Lalia Rach (LR): There might be situations where a female executive is the only woman in the room and sometimes I think that women give too much power to being the only one. I can only speak for myself, but sometimes I just needed to remember that I was invited to the table, regardless of my title and position. This helped me to act just like the other members of these organizations. Also, while there may be more men, don’t forget that there’s always a first time for them too! They are just as nervous, even though there are more of them. So even if you’re the only woman at the table—and I’m not saying that’s ok, being the only one, but that’s sometimes the reality—you should accept it.
So don’t let imposter syndrome get you?
LR: Yes; there are already impostors among the people already there. Trust me. That’s why they never take a breath when they’re talking because they don’t want you to ask them a serious question.
Dorothy Dowling (DD): I think that women often are their own greatest challenge in terms of mentally and physically preparing, and owning the situations. I do sit on a public board that was quite an enlightening experience for me. It was a very extensive selection process. I’d never been through something so rigorous before, but it’s the first board that I’ve ever sat on where there is an equal number of women and men at the table. And I will tell you the dynamics are very different and I thoroughly enjoy it because it’s a very inclusive environment between both the men and the women. So yes, I think parity will happen. I mean, California is the first to actually take the position that there has to be, and others will follow. Industries also need to start paying attention to the data that supports the actual business outcomes that are associated with more women in the industry.
But that data has been around for a long time. Why do you think it hasn’t made much of an affect yet?
DD: Well, I think it’s two things. I think that there is growing awareness, and I think that with ISS and some of the other organizations that are doing some of the benchmarking on the public company side, there is that reckoning that people have to pay attention. So I think that’s one thing, but I also think what is challenging is that, and it’s true that there aren’t enough women, which is really this whole element of making sure that you’re staffing up at all the right levels so that women are actually ready to take on some of those opportunities. And that’s where I think the gap still is, is that we’re not really taking a really scientific approach. The airlines are doing it very well today because they’ve got much more programmatic approaches to that. I think the hotel industry is there but not as fully there as some of the airlines.
What do you most hope the attendees at the Forum walk away with?
DD: There are a few things. First, I would like to see more women in development roles and taking on leadership roles in the industry because I fundamentally believe that that’s where the opportunities are. There’s a limited in any kind of hierarchal opportunity for women to advance, and development and leadership roles are extremely important to that hierarchy.
And I believe the middle market and the upper-middle market offer very, very healthy business. Hospitality provides very good livings for those who choose to go down this path. I hope that there’s going to be more women that are empowered through this Forum to starting thinking about things like, “How can I qualify for SBA loan?” or “What is the kind of investment would I need to really get into a business as a shareholder?”
Also, the fact that our industry requires people to be “on” 24/7 can be very hard. It’s also difficult that by design, a lot of people are tethered to actual, physical real estate, which, in turn, doesn’t allow for people to be virtual in some of the work they do. That type of environment creates a lot of challenges, especially for people—both men and women—who have families. And so I think that some of the stories that the women shared today about growing up at their families’ hotels showed attendees that it could be done. But that is a challenge for everyone—how do you balance all of those pieces of your life?
Overall though, I hope that women understand that they have an opportunity to achieve their goals in this industry.
LR: Also, Dorothy, you allowed attendees to see who you are. And while you’ve accomplished a lot, you’re also a lot like them. You let them see themselves in you. And so they leave here believing in themselves. I had a woman say to me, “Because of last year I applied to be a GM and I know I’m worth it.” That’s the best endorsement this event could have.
Read the first part of this conversation here.