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IHG's Female Leaders on Authenticity, Vulnerability and Flexibility in Hospitality

With more than 350,000 employees in some 100 countries, 6,000 open hotels across 19 brands and more than 1,900 hotels in the development pipeline, it was a bold move when IHG announced their plan for gender balance and a doubling of under-represented groups across leadership by 2030 as part of their “Journey to Tomorrow.” Good news is they are making progress!

As part of a new series of events to inspire and engage women, yesterday the company held a panel discussion at their new headquarters in Windsor (overlooking the castle!), drawing around 40 women and men, comprising both current and prospective employees. Moderated by Genevieve Lee, Global Employer Brand & Attraction Manager, the panel included Eunice Clements-Tweedle, VP of Global Talent Acquisition, Karin Sheppard, SVP and Managing Director, Europe, Joanna Kurowska, VP, Managing Director, UK & Ireland, and Rebecca (Becky) Bryson, VP of Hotel and Lifestyle Growth, Europe.

Eunice Clements-Tweedle, VP of Global Talent Acquisition, Karin Sheppard, SVP and Managing Director, Europe, Joanna Kurowska, VP, Managing Director, UK & Ireland, and Rebecca (Becky) Bryson, VP of Hotel and Lifestyle Growth, Europe.

The panel all had impressive career paths, each shared a brief introduction about their careers and what has been most important to them professionally and personally.

  • Eunice Clements-Tweedle: Responsible for a team that handles over 25,000 hires annually, she is the "curator and guardian" of IHG's hiring ethos. Previously, she worked across telecom, energy, and tech sectors in talent acquisition.

  • Joanna Kurowska: Overseeing 350 hotels in the UK & Ireland, Joanna is the eldest of seven children and the first to leave her home country, Poland. Having worked her way up, moving frequently for IHG, she now leads the company's third-largest market.

  • Karin Sheppard: Having lived in four different countries during her 22 year tenure with IHG and now overseeing 800 European hotels, she prides herself in cultivating a gender-balanced senior team across finance, development, and operations.

  • Rebecca (Becky) Bryson: Her hospitality journey began in childhood, her parents were hoteliers and she grew up in the biz, starting work at age 11! Coming up on two decades with IHG, she now runs owner relations as VP of Hotel and Lifestyle Growth, while raising three sons.

Eunice Clements-Tweedle, VP of Global Talent Acquisition, Karin Sheppard, SVP and Managing Director, Europe, Joanna Kurowska, VP, Managing Director, UK & Ireland, and Rebecca (Becky) Bryson, VP of Hotel and Lifestyle Growth, Europe.  IHG
L to R: Eunice Clements-Tweedle, Joanna Kurowska, Karin Sheppard, and Rebecca (Becky) Bryson

The conversation was raw, open and insightful about how these leaders have navigated professional and personal struggles, peppered with lots of advice for women in the audience.

Empowering Advice: Embracing Vulnerability and Confidence

In giving advice, the panelists emphasized themes of empowerment, self-awareness, and building confidence to navigate the challenges of career growth.

Joanna: "Look into yourself and believe you can make it, regardless of external perceptions. As a woman, there will always be choices and trade-offs. Clarity and honesty about what truly matters to you is essential."

Becky: "Consider your core purpose. Confidence was something I lacked. It wasn't until I matured that I began making smarter decisions in my career. Building confidence is crucial."

Karen: "Back yourself. Self-doubt is a natural part of the journey; it ebbs and flows. Working with a coach helps navigate these doubts. It humbles and makes one relatable, but you can also learn to put it aside. It's about mastering the art of self-talk over a working lifetime."

Navigating Leadership: Authentic Experiences at IHG

Drawing on their decades of experience with IHG, the women were honest about a noticeable shift in the culture.

Joanna: "There was a pivotal moment of change at IHG, leading to a warmer, more authentic, and less traditional environment. Believing that there's a space for me, despite societal expectations, has been crucial. Representation matters profoundly. Walking into meetings and defying assumptions about my role–often that I am the assistant not the boss–has been empowering."

Karin: "With over two decades at IHG, I've witnessed significant transformations. Starting in a male-dominated setting in Australia, I found support from male supervisors. When I moved to Singapore as an SVP, I was the only woman in the room. It has shifted thanks to an intentional practice by IHG of encouraging and supporting other women. The effort has paid off, and witnessing a more balanced leadership team with women at the table has been gratifying. The only downside is now I need to wait in a queue at restrooms during meeting breaks!”

Becky: "Having three boys in five years shaped my perspective. IHG's support during maternity leave was crucial; returning to work after childbirth can be a challenging phase for women. The company's flexibility in allowing me to balance my career and family life made a significant difference. Working reduced hours and establishing 'Mummy Day' at home has been instrumental. We are witnessing a shift where men are also seeking similar flexibility, like a four-day workweek, showcases the changing dynamics."

Beware of Common Pitfalls – What Should We Avoid?

Panelists highlighted the importance of avoiding stereotypes, assumptions, and the significance of active listening in both company culture and industry practices. Emphasizing humility while advocating for boldness emerged as essential strategies for navigating challenges in both spheres.

Becky: “It’s easy to jump to conclusions. Have the conversation, don’t make assumptions. Understand what equity means."

Joanna: "Really find time to listen. There's power in silence. Filter yourself. Don’t jump in before you hear people first."

Supporting Female Leaders: IHG's Top 3 Commitments

  1. Flexibility. The panel shared examples of part-time roles that allow for family obligations, while still offering challenge and progress.

  2. Coaching. As people move there is a desire for everyone to be successful, there is full support with coaching and mentoring.

  3. Individualistic. Unique support by person and role, the company takes time to listen to what is important to people in their lives.

Challenges Faced: Candid Conversations About Real-Life Struggles

The panelists bravely shared their experiences with menopause, highlighting the initial difficulties and the transformative power of open conversations. Their stories underscored the importance of acknowledgment, support, and breaking the barriers surrounding these real-life challenges.

Becky: "I had an experience where I thought I was having a heart attack at age 43. The ambulance came and everything. I didn’t tell anyone at work; I kept it hidden. It took time to gather the courage to share with my line manager that actually I was going through menopause, but being open has sparked conversations benefiting many other women. Now, I strive to help others. Acknowledgment and support are crucial."

Karin: "I had no idea about menopause either. I was so nervous before a panel, worried I would forget something, I was balling my eyes out before going on stage. Eventually, I sought hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The more we talk about it, the less of a barrier it becomes. Open discussions are essential."

Parting Wisdom: Embracing Authenticity and Empowerment

As a final topic, the women were asked to share one piece of advice.

Joanna: "Authenticity is key. Have honest conversations and challenge assumptions."

Karin: "Back yourself. It's important to believe in yourself."

Becky: "Embrace flexibility and have confidence in your abilities."

Eunice: "Find cheerleaders that can encourage you in your career journey."

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