Women in Hospitality: Rich History, Bright Future
For years, hospitality industry experts and analysts have talked about the "glass ceiling" that has prevented women in the field from ascending to the upper ranks of supervisory and managerial positions. To an extent, the same conditions prevail in virtually every industry -- although women have come a long way in the workplace, men continue to hold most leadership roles. However, the unique culture and history that define the hospitality industry have made the prospect of change particularly challenging.
Although this pattern continues to hold true in the hospitality industry, the last several decades have been a period of remarkable change and growth for women in the field. In restaurants, hotels, catering firms, resorts, and many other venues, women are becoming much more visible in management roles and other key positions than ever before, and experts predict that the opportunities for women in the industry will only increase as businesses struggle to keep pace with growth and demand in the field.
A new generation of female supervisors, leaders, and executives
Women have long worked in positions of de facto leadership in the hospitality industry, such as supervising or managing a family-owned business, or assuming additional responsibilities in their boss's absence. However, it was not until 1980s that large numbers of women first began to be formally hired into leadership roles.
Since that time, the opportunities for women in the hospitality industry have begun to expand exponentially. Today, you can find successful women filling managerial roles at every level, ranging from floor supervisors to executive board members.
Although they are still significantly outnumbered by their male counterparts, these women have broken through the once-impenetrable "glass ceiling" and are now leading the way for a new generation of females who aspire to leadership positions in the hospitality industry.
Some inspiring success stories include:
- DENISE FUGO, President and founder of Sammy's Restaurants - Fugo began her foodservice career as a 15-year-old Burger King cashier and later held a series of waitressing jobs. Promotions were hard to come by, so she and her husband eventually decided to open their own nightclub. Later, the property morphed into an award-winning fine-dining restaurant. Eventually, the couple came to own 7 restaurants and nightclubs in the Chicago area. Now, she's an industry leader who is involved in the administration of the National Restaurant Association.
- MARY K. MAHONEY, President, Howard Johnson Division, Cendant Corp. - After a beginning in marketing, Mahoney entered the hospitality industry and gradually worked her way up the managerial ladder over the course of a 23-year career. Today, Mahoney leads the Howard Johnson brand. Enhancing the work/life balance for working mothers and recruiting women for managerial and executive roles have both been goals of her tenure.
- JULIA STEWART, President and Chief Organizational Officer, IHOP - As a high school student, Stewart worked as an IHOP server during summer breaks. Today, she is the president and COO of the company. After obtaining a bachelor's degree in management, she gradually worked up the chain of leadership in several foodservice roles, with stints at a number of well-known companies in the field, including Taco Bell, Black Angus, and Applebee's.
Tips for success from women who have reached the top
As is the case in virtually every industry, women are still under-represented in supervisory, managerial, and executive roles in the hospitality industry. However, the status quo is changing rapidly, creating many opportunities for women willing to put in the hard work that is necessary to make it to the top. Here are some hints for success from some of the most influential women in the industry:
- MARY MAHONEY: "I always advise other female professionals to look for companies where women are already in place in high level positions and for companies that offer internal mentoring programs."
- MARLA DAVIS, President of the Network of Executive Women in Hospitality: "Joining a professional association shows initiative and provides ambitious women with training and support, as well as networking and mentoring opportunities."
- MARY MANTLE, VP of sales and marketing for Park Plaza International: "One of the biggest challenges women face is how to be tough [in a male-dominated industry] without being difficult. There's skill in knowing how to state your opinion without being obstinate."
- JOY ROTHSCHILD, Senior VP of Human Resources, Omni Hotels: "I find that this is one industry where hard work, spirit, and energy trump degrees or where you sit on the pecking order. If you are willing to put in the time--which is easier said than done--you should have no obstacles. You do need to be willing to go where the opportunities are. The more flexible you are, the better."