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Breaking Barriers: How Providing Nursing Facilities Opens Doors for Women in the Workplace

It’s easy for a woman to feel like an outsider in a male dominated space. My recent experience at a hotel industry conference displayed examples of where we still have room to grow in creating more inclusive working environments for women.

hertelier why pumping facilities are important for working women

When I walked into the hotel lobby on the first morning, I was met by a sea of dark colored suits. In the sea of dark suits, I felt slightly out of place with my chosen purple ensemble. I must have missed the memo. I immediately thought of the stories I had heard about fellow hertelier contributors Lan Elliot and Stacy Silver who had described being only one of a handful of women attending hotel industry conferences when they first began participating. Respect! 

I felt much better later on when I saw other women with vibrant colored pant suits and dresses. I point out the theme of clothing not to reinforce stereotypes related to the male gaze or society’s overemphasis on how a woman dresses vs. her intelligence, but rather because clothing is a symbolic reminder of the the obstacles women have faced in achieving more equity and the contradictory messages we receive on how to belong.

For example, women didn’t commonly wear pants until World War II when they began entering the workforce, even when it was a hindrance to their societal roles and responsibilities. When pant suits for women became more normalized, the message then was that we had to blend in with our male counterparts - enter dark suits. Times are fortunately changing. It was wonderful to see a number of successful executives at ALIS displaying their individuality and personality through their clothing, whether it was dresses or pants, without detracting from their business savviness. 

Nursing room spotted at LAX
Nursing room spotted at LAX

Mid-way through the conference I encountered a glaring example of a barrier that hinders women’s ability to participate. I walked into the restroom and witnessed a woman pumping breast milk next to the sink area. My first reaction was complete awe and respect. It's hard enough traveling far from home and family as a young mother. My second reaction was, she shouldn’t have to do this in the bathroom! Recalling my own somewhat traumatizing experience of pumping in my car before a meeting once, I expressed my admiration for her and dedication to providing for her baby thousands of miles away. I don’t know if I could have done the same.   

Navigating the friction between motherhood and career is an experience I share and hear as a theme often in my coaching practice. The friction is caused by both internal and structural barriers that put obstacles in the way of women’s full participation as professionals and leaders.  I had been struggling with my own internal dialogue in the lead up to my trip feeling guilt about being away, worrying about whether my children’s needs would be taken care of and what I would be missing. 

The stresses of nursing while working and traveling are illustrative of the external barriers many women face. Women, like entrepreneur Anna Fuller, often face bias about whether or not they are capable of combining motherhood duties and their work. Last year, her experiences were described in the article “A CEO Went Viral for her LinkedIn Post about Leading a Meeting While Breastfeeding: Here’s Why it Matter.”

While it's just one example of how to support nursing professional mothers, there is a simple, thoughtful solution. Providing a dedicated nursing space is a very tangible way to support women in the advancement of their careers. I happen to come from the state of Vermont, home to one of the best solutions I’ve seen out there for nursing mothers. A company called Mamava is the inventor of a “lactation pods”. A portable enclosed cubicle that can be put anywhere like airports and conference facilities when no other dedicated space is available. Why couldn’t every conference provide this simple solution?

I was thrilled to hear from the heroic nursing mom that her company provided her with a service that allows her to ship her breast milk overnight back to her husband and baby for immediate use. I had never heard of this before. Kudos to her employer for taking this step to support her. 

Sometimes all it takes is a bit of awareness and support to stimulate change. A little star power couldn’t hurt either. Hip hop and rap artists like Sexxy Red and Cardi B aren’t holding back in showing their pride and capabilities in being mothers and performers helping to destigmatize women’s ability to do both and be successful.

In the case of ALIS, once the challenge for the participating nursing mothers was identified, a number of people jumped in, including the staff members of AHLA and AHLA Foundation/ForWard to help to make a space available that was not the bathroom. This showed that we can all be part of a collaborative, inclusive environment even if the obstacle doesn’t impact us directly.

There’s more good news about progress in increasing women’s representation. It was inspiring to see at this year’s ALIS conference, many female legends of the industry moderating and sitting on panels to discuss subject matter expertise. Due to the collaborative efforts between conference organizers and stakeholders, intentional invitations and women saying yes, we had the opportunity to hear from Rachel Humphrey, Dorothy Dowling, Peggy Berg, Lan Elliot, Andrea Belfanti and many more women who shared their thought leadership and experiences. This increased the value of the conference for all attendees and created a win for everyone. 

From Left to Right: Moderator - Rachel Humphrey, Founder Women in Hospitality Leadership Alliance and Principal, DEI Advisors; Panelists - Tina Burnett, CDO G6 Hospitality, Greg Doman, CDO Virgin Hotels, Chip Ohlsson, EVP & CDO Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Noah Silverman, Global Development Officer, US & Canada, Marriott International, Julienne Smith, CDO, IHG Hotels & Resorts
From Left to Right: Moderator - Rachel Humphrey, Founder Women in Hospitality Leadership Alliance and Principal, DEI Advisors; Panelists - Tina Burnett, CDO G6 Hospitality, Greg Doman, CDO Virgin Hotels, Chip Ohlsson, EVP & CDO Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Noah Silverman, Global Development Officer, US & Canada, Marriott International, Julienne Smith, CDO, IHG Hotels & Resorts

While we have a long way to go in the representation of women in the c-suite, boardrooms and conferences, with the help of courageous young women breaking down barriers, our trailblazing female role models and our forward thinking male allies, we’ll get there. 

Tips for providing conference nursing solutions:

  • Make it known - inform conference attendees well in advance that the facility will be available and inform all conference staff and sponsors about its location and availability.

  • Make it accessible - provide a space that is close to where the work is done ie. near conference rooms and sessions so that women don’t need to plan extra time to walk (in heels no-less) to said location

  • Make it private - be sure that the location has a door that locks and signage that indicates it is a nursing facility

  • Make it special - if you do this you’ll really knock it out of the park…provide water, fruit, other snacks and words of encouragement to show your nursing mothers that you value their work both as a mother and a professional. 

Rachel Vandenberg hertelier
Rachel Vandenberg

Rachel Vandenberg is a hotel owner and leadership coach. She has been co-owner of the Sun & Ski Inn and Suites, Stowe Bowl and Stowe Golf Park in Stowe, Vermont since 2012 and served as General Manager until 2023. In addition to her responsibilities as hotel owner, Rachel is the founder of The Travel Leader, a leadership content and coaching company. Rachel also sits on the boards of her local destination marketing organization and the New England Inns and Resorts Association. In 2019, she founded a leadership development retreat for women in travel called Accelerate Women Leaders in Travel and joined the Women in Hospitality Leadership Alliance on behalf of Accelerate in 2022.  Outside of her career, she is a wife, mom of three and loves to be in the woods on her mountain bike or nordic skis. Learn more at, and

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