6 Ways to Level Up Your Career
In 2011, my husband and I crossed the ocean with two babies in tow and landed back in my hometown to take over the operation of our family-owned hotel. From a professional standpoint, our preparation for what was about to begin was nothing more than a couple of degrees in politics and a few years working side jobs. Basically, not much!
While there are some who find hospitality early in their education or work careers and identify it as a long-term path, my hunch is that our story probably isn’t that uncommon in the sense of people falling into the industry by chance and circumstance. What follows can be a somewhat bumpy ride of learning by doing, succeeding by learning from failure, and persevering through pure grit and determination. Turns out, it doesn't have to be that way.
After a few years of struggling, I reached a turning point where more was needed beyond "learning on the job," and I began a journey of knowledge, skill, and professional development that has brought me where I am today. It’s evident that the hospitality industry overall has reached a similar crossroad, there is a dire need for leadership development and talent––especially female leadership––and a methodical approach is needed. Luckily, there are resources available online, at conferences, and in your community. Here's a roadmap to help you navigate your own path.
In Case You're Doubting, Here's What is at Stake
Professional women, in general, are reporting burnout in record levels- one in three women according to the McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace 2021 report. Four in ten women have considered leaving their company or switching their jobs. In spite of these conditions women have been more likely to look out for the well-being of others in the workplace and participate in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, but are often unacknowledged for their efforts. While it's promising that women have improved representation across the corporate pipeline, white men continue to be promoted at a higher proportion than women at each level. Women of color have fared the worse representing only 4% of C-Suite positions. In the hospitality industry specifically, The Castell Project’s 2022 Women in Hospitality Industry Leadership research reports some improvement of representation of women in leadership positions, but women continue to hold only one position for every 10.3 men.
I know from first-hand experience what it feels like to be ready to throw in the towel. After a multi-million-dollar hotel expansion in 2016, I found myself on the brink of burn-out, ineffective as a leader, and isolated. Professional development was key for me in charting a new course. Creating a leadership retreat for women in travel in my region was a game-changer for me. (Accelerate Women Leaders in Travel). I found my community and re-discovered the transformational power of coaching. The cumulative impact of these efforts brought me more work-life balance, job satisfaction, confidence, and enhanced leadership performance.
The Impact of Education and Development
I recently chatted with a hospitality friend and colleague Sarah Morris from Basin Harbor in Vermont. Similar to myself, Sarah comes from a long line of hospitality heritage and decided to take part in her family’s hotel business. In contrast, Sarah did pursue a hospitality-focused education and earned her bachelor’s degree in hotel administration at Cornell University. I asked her how she has benefited from her formal hospitality education. She said that it helped to put what she had experienced in the business into context and provided the “why” behind the day-to-day running of the business.
Sarah attributes a lot of her development to the volunteer work she has done in the hospitality and tourism industry sitting on multiple boards and event planning committees over the years. In those environments, she has connected with peers and mentors who have contributed to her experiential learning.
Sarah has also participated in multiple leadership programs. She says that programs like Accelerate Women Leaders in Travel have gotten her out of her resort “bubble”, connected her with new communities of leaders, and given her helpful frameworks for reflecting on her work. She has appreciated the all-female focus from both the standpoint of the facilitators and participants. “There’s humility and vulnerability and at the same time a strong will to move forward and through the challenges of leadership”.
“Like a sculpture hidden inside a stone – it’s a work in progress. Little by little pieces of stone are chipped away to reveal the woman I am and have become.”
When I asked Sarah how this different education and professional development initiatives have contributed to her growth overall, she recalled a beautiful analogy she once heard. “Like a sculpture hidden inside a stone – it’s a work in progress. Little by little pieces of stone are chipped away to reveal the woman I am and have become.”
Taking our Future into our Own Hands
As the rising matriarchs of our hospitality businesses, Sarah and I have taken a proactive approach to our own professional development. Unfortunately, not everyone has that luxury. A survey conducted by New Street Consulting Group in the United Kingdom found that “senior women are more likely than their male peers to say their employer isn’t doing enough to support their leadership development”.
There’s a promising sign perhaps that professional development is becoming more of a priority in the hospitality industry. Hilton recently announced a new partnership with Guild Education which will provide debt-free continuing education opportunities across a variety of levels for its employees.
If someone asked either of us what they could do to promote their own growth, we would probably give the same advice. Don’t stay stuck in your “bubble”. If resources are not available from your company, there are many networking groups and associations with opportunities for volunteering or serving which can contribute to growth and development.
Here are a number of other resources:
Participate in networking groups and associations: Women Leading Travel and Hospitality, Your Local Chamber of Commerce or Business Association
Find a mentor: Women in Travel Thrive
Attend conferences and retreats: Accelerate Women Leaders in Travel
Rachel Vandenberg is the owner and operator of Sun and Ski Inn, Stowe Bowl, and Stowe Golf Park in Stowe, Vermont. Rachel is also a graduate of Coach U, a leading training institute for executive coaching. In 2020, she founded her coaching practice called PEAK and she is working towards her International Coaching Federation certification.