Starting the year off with fresh insights and inspiration, we held our first "Morning Shift" event of 2024 at The Athenaeum Hotel in London. Despite the cold weather, the room was already buzzing by 8:30 am with a crowd of over 40 women eager to hear from panelists Mazilli Restrepo, Director, Luxury Sales, UK, Spain and Scandinavia, Accor, Joanne Taylor-Stagg, General Manager, The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences, Neetu Mistry, Chief Commercial Officer, Cycas Hospitality, and Kalindi Juneja, CEO of PoB Hotels, moderated by me (Emily Goldfischer, founder + editor in chief at hertelier).
Do You Like Change?
The conversation began with a simple question. "How do you feel about change?" According to leadership expert Mark Murphy, CEO of LeadershipIQ.com, and NYT best-selling author, 38% of people like change / are happy to leave their comfort zone and the other 62%...not so much! The audience was mixed, as our panel shared their personal experiences of dealing with change. The open, honest conversation touched on everything from how to move on from "mistakes" to how to create a framework for managing change. Three key themes that emerged:
Change builds resilience. All the women shared pivotal moments in their careers or personal lives, where change made them stronger. For Neetu, it was dealing with tremendous growth of her company from six hotels to 50, much of it during COVID. Joanne also faced challenges during the uncertainty of the pandemic, and getting through that time brought her strength.
Change brings opportunity. Whether taking on a new role or moving to a new country, change is a catalyst. Mazilli shared that, as a young girl moving from her native Colombia to Sweden, she learned to survive difficult situations by learning to adapt. Having to learn a new language, being different and getting laughed at by classmates, while not pleasant, broadened her world view, and offered her the language skills and a perfect entry into the career she has now, selling hotels in the UK, Spain and Scandinavia.
Change helps you learn about yourself. When Joanne was offered a promotion from GM to a regional role, she jumped at the chance without thinking about it too much. "Part of it was my ego, people thought I was capable of even more responsibility. It turned out that ,while I was capable, I didn't actually like it. I missed being part of a team and running a hotel."
"A new role meant I would be losing as much as I would be gaining." –– Joanne Taylor-Stagg on being offered a promotion from GM to regional VP
Joanne shared a favorite quote from Nelson Mandela, "I never lose, I either win, or I learn."
Women Feel Pressure to Take Opportunities
As ambitious women, the topic of seizing opportunity struck a chord with everyone on the panel. Neetu noted, "When you’re offered a senior opportunity as a female, you’re subconsciously reminded that if it’s not you, there is someone else ready. So you feel the desire to say 'yes' or accept without thinking, especially if you’re career oriented. And you tell yourself, 'oh I’ll deal with these red flags later.'"
"I spent a big part of my career thinking if there is an opportunity I have to take it. I felt I had to work harder than the man next to me." –– Kalindi Juneja
For Kalindi, she also felt pressure throughout her career, "I spent a big part of my career thinking if there is an opportunity I have to take it. I felt I had to work harder than the man next to me." As she got more responsibility, and started a family, she realised this attitude was unsustainable. "I became aware that I needed to make personal changes because I cannot be the 'yes' girl, I cannot be everywhere and I do not get FOMO." It is hard to be intentional in the face of change, which is why having values or a framework for decision-making is so important.
How to Create a Framework for Making Intentional Change
Each opportunity presents choice, and for Kalindi she has developed her own filter for decision-making.
How will it benefit the organization?
Does this offer personal development?
Can I add value?
What is my headspace right now?
How will this impact my travel / ability to be at home with my family?
Frameworks Are Empowering in the Face of Uncertainty
Based on learnings from a course from the Steven Covey’s, "7 Habits of Highly Effective People," Joanne developed a set of values to guide her in decision-making. She wrote them down, and keeps a framed copy above her kettle as a reminder each morning. These values guide her not only personally, but as a leader for her organisation. "It's Important to me that people make decisions based on our shared purpose and values. Then no matter what the situation is, even if the decision is “wrong” it won’t be that wrong."
Joanne shared there are many situations in the daily running of the hotel where everyone on the team will have to think through the "framework for success." "Does it live by our purpose, by our values and does it live by our non-negotiables (we won’t do anything illegal!). This allows people to make decisions," and a recent employee survey confirmed that they feel empowered.
How Women Are Viewed During Change
Peppered throughout the conversation were anecdotes and instances where gender played a role in how these women felt viewed at work, during times of change. Hired to be a disruptor, Kalindi faced pushback when she took over as CEO of PoB Hotels from someone who had been in the role for over two decades. "You’ve got big shoes to fill," to which she replied, "No, I’ve got different shoes." She noted, you can change things by not accepting “the norm.”
Neetu agreed, "I've never played the victim in my career, but it needs to be said that there have been times in my career where I have thought to myself, if I was a man you would not have said that. Recently I had to be firm about a situation and the person said to me “ooh you’ve got your claws out” and I just point blank said to the person, “would you say that to me if I was a man?” And the person was then really uncomfortable, but it’s our responsibility to call this behaviour out."
She also talked about being only female in the room, making a valid point during a discussion only to be ignored or muted…then minutes later, someone else would say the same thing in different words and everyone would think it’s a brilliant idea. “I learned how to get my own way by planting these seeds in the room. Knowing that I wanted something done but if I say it nobody would do it, so I would engineer for someone else to suggest the idea. I found this a good coping technique. Effective but disappointing.”
These are just some of highlights from our panel…and here are some takeaways from our attendees
"It felt like earning a PHD in authentic leadership and empowerment!" said attendee Simona Barbieri, CEO of Hubdot.
"As someone who has embraced a fair amount of change in the last few years in particular, I was blown away by the honesty and stories of resilience," said Maritsa Samonas, Head of Business Development, BlomaH.
For more insights from the day, please read the wonderful blog post, "Embracing Change: Insights from Women Leaders in Hospitality," by Harriet Ruby, head of marketing at Thynk.