Inspiring Women Leaders in Hotels (and How to Get More of Them in Boardroom)

“Educating young women is one of the best investments that any of us can make. If you couple education with a micro-loan infrastructure for women, I believe that we can change the future of the planet.”

Antonia Hock (Global Head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center) from an interview with Thrive Global

When Antonia Hock was taken on as Head of the Ritz Carlton Leadership Center, she knew she wanted to do even more than manage a renowned brand. She wanted to make the world a better place, one consulting project at a time. In an interview earlier this year, she told Thrive Global:

“At the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, we are literally changing the world through implementing thoughtful caring service and by creating employee cultures that honour the individual and empower everyone to do their best work.

If you can create a corporate culture where we all thrive — that impacts not only the employee, but their families, their community, the customers that they touch and their families as well — the multiplier effect of this work is extraordinary. So the consulting work that we do, to share the extraordinary culture and practices of The Ritz-Carlton, is changing lives and communities.” – Antonia Hock


Aside from being a savvy executive and creative innovator, Hock is a leader with empathy and vision.

She wants the Ritz-Carlton to do better, for the sake of all people involved, customers and staff alike. This is particularly important for a brand like the Ritz-Carlton, which markets itself on service excellence. Needless to say, Hock is excelling in her role, and she was recently named one of Luxury Daily’s ‘top 25 women to watch’ in the luxury industry.


Hock is not alone, there are a growing number of inspiring women leaders in the hotel industry. Here are just a few.

Angela Brav just recently stepped down from her role as European head of InterContinental Hotels Group, where she worked for 28 years. The company became the giant it is known as today, under her leadership.

Rebecca Kwan, the Senior Vice President of Sales for the Hong Kong Hotels Association (HKHA) was recently elected, as it’s new chairman. Ms Kwan was also appointed an additional role within the group as Head of Operations – United Kingdom. She’s a big strategic player in the development of the hotel industry in Hong Kong.

Hemma Varma is a sustainability and corporate social impact professional with a long history of excellence in this field. She is currently the Senior Manager of Social Impact & Global Responsibility, at Marriot Hotels Group, for the whole of Europe.

Emma Banks has recently been appointed by Hilton as it’s new Vice President of Food and Beverage Strategy & Development, for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Banks is moving to Hilton from the Jumeirah Restaurant Group, the restaurant division of the UAE based Jumeirah Group, where she was previously managing director. 

Want to know some more inspiring women in the hotel industry? Check out this list of 35 names to watch, from Hospitality News Mag. 

How big is the gender gap?

According to a recent white paper published by the Industry Pipeline Coalition, women make almost 70% of the total global workforce in the hospitality and tourism sector.

However, they hold less than 40% of all managerial and supervisory positions, less than 20% of general management roles, and make up only between 5% and 8% of corporate board positions.

And yet, as consumers, women dominate the travel and hotels market, with 670 million women around the world who travel, controlling $15 trillion in spending power. Nearly two-thirds of all travellers today are women, with women making 80% of all travel decisions. 

How is it that the majority of the workforce in hotels can comprise of women, and most of the decision-making and spending in tourism made by women, and yet, the majority of management positions in hotels are still taken by men?


What can hotels do to fix the problem?

As we pointed out earlier, the problem is not that there is a lack of talented women to draw from. After all the majority of hotel employees are female. It’s that there is still a glass ceiling that’s stopping them from rising through the ranks.

The problem is part cultural (with bias and prejudice assisting men in their upward journey and preventing women), and structural (in terms of a lack of support for women). The good news is that with a shift in company culture and policies, a hotel can do a lot to correct gender inequality.


Here are just a few things that some of the women leaders who’ve made it to the top suggest hotels can do, to fix their gender problem.

More mentoring and support

“I had an exceptional female leader early in my career who showed me that her road to success did not require her to change her personal narrative… She gave me the confidence that I could be my full self and not compromise my identity to succeed.

She also gave me some of my most meaningful performance reviews where she invested in the coaching and insights to help me raise my game. She modelled how a selfless leader behaves, and it changed my trajectory.” – Antonia Hock, from an interview with Thrive Global

Companies can take leadership and set up mentoring programs. Accor Hotels is already doing that, with an ambitious global mentoring program that aims to have 50% representation of women in senior positions.

Make diversity and equality central to hiring policy

Cultural bias against women is an unconscious act of management, and it has to be counteracted with a conscious decision to prioritise diversity. Whether your company institutes a quota, or makes equality a central part of hiring policy without one, change has to come from above.

“I’m not much of a ‘quota’ believer, however companies do need to be aware of creating a balanced environment where each leader brings a different perspective to the table. If a group of leaders is all of the same mentality it can slowdown progress and evolution. I would encourage leaders to look around the table and if everyone looks just like them, clearly something needs to change…

Placing women in high level leadership positions needs to become more than a standard, but a strong intent. As we continue to pave the path for women in leadership, it will become easier for future women leaders to follow.” – Susan Keels, GM of the Royal Park Hotel (in this interview with Hospitality Net)


Introduce family friendly policies and childcare assistance

“This isn’t an issue with diversity in the traditional sense. Hospitality and travel certainly has no problem in attracting women; who make up 60% to 70% of female grads from hospitality management programmes. But we see issues starting to arise in trying to convince women to stay,” Women in Hospitality Chair Tea Colaianni, recently told HR Magazine.

Colaianni, who is chair of WiH and former group HRD of Merlin Entertainments, is working alongside others in the industry to achieve 33% female board representation in hospitality by 2020, a target set by the Hampton-Alexander Review.

“When women get to a point where they start families and are not able to commit to the same long hours or demanding shift patterns, there’s nothing in place to give them the flexibility they need to stay in their roles, nor are there any initiatives to encourage them to return to work. One of the key factors in this is a lack of family-friendly policies.” – Tea Colaianni


Things are improving in hotels, but there’s still a long way to go. Thankfully, we have all these amazing women to learn from, in the industry.

Do you want to be an inspiring leader in hotels? See here for information on courses in International Hotel Leadership at BMIHMS, or here for information on our other courses on offer.

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