Raising the Bar

Barbara Purvis, President, Essex Hotel Management

Barbara Purvis

Who were some of your mentors or role models, male or female, and what were their most valuable lessons? I have had many role models—starting with my mother, who always kept her sense of humor and had a warm embrace for everyone she met. She taught me to treat people well, give back, and not to take life so seriously. Isn’t that what hospitality is all about? I have had great bosses—including my now long-term business partner, Jerry Eichelberger—who often showed more confidence in me than I had in myself. These people pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me that it was ok to fail. I’m also still learning from peers and especially young, talented women, both inside and outside the business. They often make me wish I could turn back the clock!

In your opinion, how is the lodging industry doing in terms of getting women into leadership positions? Progress has been very slow, particularly given how long we’ve been talking about this subject. Today, there is more focus and commitment, but talk is cheap and needs to be followed by real effort and material results. The all-too-common men-only panels on the stages at conferences still show how much work we have left to do, but we’re beginning to see more talented women take the helm and stage. It will be refreshing when we don’t have to talk about this issue anymore—then we’ll know we’ve made it.

What’s your outlook for the future with regards to diversity and inclusion within hospitality? We are just a microcosm of the entire society. We’re seeing progress, but it’s a low bar, especially regarding management, executive, and ownership levels. The brands are beginning to take the lead in developing the talent and to encourage investment in the business by women and minorities who have previously not had the opportunities. However, we still need to see more women and minorities in leadership positions.

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