Allyship and Opportunities with Three Hotel Industry Leaders (and Fathers) on Father's Day

In our more than 200 interviews(!) with women in lodging this past year, many have cited their fathers as models and mentors in their careers. So, in honor of Father’s Day, we’ve flipped the script and reached out to three hoteliers and fathers to have a conversation about allyship. Our panel includes: David Kong, recently retired President and CEO of Best Western® Hotels & Resorts, now the principal of DEI Advisors; Donte Johnson, General Manager of Revival Baltimore and Rocco Bova, founder of My Humble House, a new asset management and hotel consultancy company. We chat about the women who have inspired them, opportunities for the industry to be more equitable, and of course, a few DAD JOKES. Happy Father’s Day to all!


Are you familiar with the term "allyship" and if so, what does it mean to you?


David: To me, Allyship means humbly seeking to understand and respectfully standing in solidarity without asking for “kudos.”


Donte: Yes, and it’s important. The notion of allyship, which I view as the activity that takes place at the intersection of privilege and compassion, can run the risk of becoming somewhat selective. I think we can all show up for each other wherever we can wherever there’s a need. When we’re leading with love the work is broadly inclusive and comprehensive. As exhausting as it might sound, equity benefits all, and many hands make light work.


Rocco: To me, allyship is about being together, helping each other, and bringing out the best in each other.


Before we get into allyship, who are the women that have mentored or inspired you, tell me a little about them?


Donte: The women in my family are incredible. I’m so fortunate. As a preteen, I lived with my grandmother. She was my North Star. My stepmother, sisters, my aunts, and cousins all inspire me. It sounds cheesy, but, they’re strong, intelligent, loving, and resilient women. I’m blown away by them. My wife is a pretty amazing human in her own right. But, my mother-in-law is the absolute best. She’s brilliant, compassionate, and totally unruly, she has no use for a filter and you love her even if she says something you don’t like.


Rocco: A woman who inspired me, my dear friend Daniela once told me ''better to repent than regret.'' Unfortunately, I lost her to cancer a couple of years back. The other is my wife, she makes everything possible, especially our marriage.


David: Women who have mentored me include my mom, who made it her life’s goal to work hard, save money and send all four of her children to the U.S. to further their education so they can have a better life than her. I didn’t see her much growing up as she was always working, but she taught me the value of work ethic and unconditional love from a young age. My wife is my other female mentor. She helps me understand and make sense of things when I face setbacks and disappointments; she is my biggest cheerleader when I am successful; she is the life of any gathering with her positive, gregarious personality, and you can always count on her to give her 100% in everything she commits to doing.

David Kong
Davig Kong with his three granddaughters

Many women we’ve interviewed cite their fathers as important mentors in the business world, what have you learned by being a Dad about guiding others either at home or in business?


Rocco: As a father, one has to be the mirror for the people around them. The most important trait is integrity. The moment you walk the talk you can hardly be questioned and people trust you. I believe I learned this from my father.


David: Being a good dad, like being a good mentor, requires patience and a knack for knowing when to let the children make their mistakes and when to step in to avoid disastrous outcomes. It also requires one to be supportive whether the child is successful or not – giving encouragement, being present, and listening intently.


Donte: If you listen, people will show you how to lead them.


We’ve seen stats from McKinsey that the pandemic put additional stress on women, with homeschooling and more domestic duties, causing many to leave the workplace. The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said women’s equal opportunities in the workplace are advanced by supportive partners at home, and by fathers who are committed to co-parenting. “Women will have true equality,” said Justice Ginsburg, “when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.” What happens in your house and how can the hotel industry better support parents in the workplace?


David: My dad was a good role model and he taught me that whatever chore I don’t do, my wife will have to. I help with household chores as much as I can. I have seen my daughter with three young children try to manage the demands of work and the chores at home. Companies that understand the struggles of a working mom should allow flexible scheduling – allow their associates with young children or who face other personal demands to come in later, leave earlier, and finish their work during non-business hours.


Donte: My wife is the center of the universe at home. We party when she’s out of town. But, my son DJ and I do our best to be supportive roomies. Anyone can tap out at any time. We have a shared calendar to allow either parent to protect time and alert the other that they’ll need to hold down the fort. We’ve gotten progressively better at prioritizing home and planning work around it. The industry needs to emphasize creating space for people to be the fullest version of themselves at work and at home. All people, not just the characters on Leave it To Beaver. Women are not a monolith. Get a variety of different voices in the room and actually listen to them.

Women are not a monolith. Get a variety of different voices in the room and actually listen to them.

Rocco: I believe that both parents have a role and both bring up their children in different ways with shared values. In human behavior management, there are no clear/straight rules or books that can tell you how to do things. I wish there was a book! But this is the beauty of being human and being able to admit when you make mistakes. I am not sure about what the industry can do, but support is always welcome.

Donte Johnson
Donte Johnson with his family

Companies with more female leaders are more profitable (McKinsey) and allyship is crucial to gender equality according to research by Leanin.org. What do you think are the most important skills as an ally?


Donte: Listening. Active and engaged listening. As obvious as it might sound, we must also trust what we hear. We have to not just think or trust, but KNOW the people who we seek to support know better than us what they need, and having a need or many needs doesn’t disqualify a person from having a ton of value to contribute to the removal of the barriers that are in their way.


Rocco: Integrity is the only way to be truthful to your values and to “walk the talk.” This applies both at work and at home. I think it's also important to walk away from a relationship (both work and personal) when things are no longer aligned and can no longer be repaired.


David: Being a good example for others in this regard, and persuading others to become an ally because it’s not only the right thing to do but also good for business.

Have your own views about equal rights and opportunities for women changed over the years?


Rocco: No. I always respected the work of women and believed that we both are equal. It's a shame that it's taking so long for the world to realize this.


David: Being an immigrant, I know firsthand the bias and disadvantages one faces as a minority. I have always advocated for equal rights and opportunities for all. Now that my daughter is a working mom with three young children, I am particularly committed to this endeavor.


Donte: No. I’ve been riding for access to opportunities for women for a while now. In my career, I’ve always been surrounded by very capable women and I've learned too much from them to view them as any less worthy of any of the challenges and gifts our industry has to offer. My first GM was a woman, Sholeh Kia. A substantial chunk of my tenure with Kimpton was under the leadership of Niki Leondakis as President and COO. But, that’s way too rare even still.

According to the Castell Project women are still highly underrepresented in leadership at lodging companies, what would you like see happen to help advance more women, and how would you do that?


Donte: Hire women and invest in them like our survival as an industry depends on it, the same way we invest in everything else we see as valuable. It’s beneficial, not benevolent.


Rocco: Times are changing and I see more and more companies focusing on preparing women for leadership. But it's important to start earlier in building self-esteem in young women starting at home and at school. I still feel the education system is far too obsolete.

It's important to start earlier in building self-esteem in young women starting at home and at school.

David: Many companies are realizing the importance, and implementing programs to improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). I also believe women can better prepare themselves for advancement. Often, they don’t have the same access to networking opportunities; they lack champions or advocates in the organization, and they need to gain a broader perspective and skillset. I formed DEI Advisors so we can learn from industry leaders and women/minority allies and empower ourselves to achieve our career aspirations.


Wow, thank you for taking the time to share all your insightful thoughts on allyship. Let’s finish with your best Dad jokes.


David: I have two.


For all the dads that lament that Mother’s Day is celebrated with so much more fanfare, take comfort in knowing we celebrate Father’s Day 320 days before Mother’s Day.


Do you know what the buffalo tells his son when dropping him off at college? Bison!


Donte: Why was 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9.


Rocco: Why did the girl toss her alarm clock out the window? To see time fly.


*GROANS* Well done on the jokes guys and HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!