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Key Takeaways from Inspiring Events Celebrating International Women's Day in London

Women in hospitality gathered in London for two events to mark International Women's Day on March 8: a Boutique Hotelier "Women in Hotels" morning at the Pan Pacific London and a F&B focused event at the Conrad London St. James, "Inspiring Women in Hospitality," hosted by Hilton EMEA F&B VP Emma Banks and Chef Sally Abe, of The Pem Restaurant at the Conrad. Both events were absolutely buzzing and the energy was amazing, it was incredible to see how excited everyone was to mix with their peers and learn from engaging sessions. Here is the scoop!

Brenda Fine, Preferred Hotels, Joanne Taylor-Stagg, The Athenaeum and Rohaise Rose-Bristow, The Torridon
(L to R) Brenda Collins, Preferred Hotels, Joanne Taylor-Stagg, The Athenaeum and Rohaise Rose-Bristow, The Torridon

Boutique Hotelier gathered 100 women in the morning at the Pan Pacific London to celebrate their annual list of "Women in Hotels 2023" which featured 49 female hoteliers at the top of their game in the UK. The event was free to attendees and generously sponsored by House of Rohl as well as a dozen other partners, it booked up quite quickly (sign up early next year). It was a fantastic event!

After breakfast and networking, the day began with a panel discussion about career journies led by Boutique Hotelier senior editor, Zoe Monk, with Ali Powell, CEO and founder at Commercial Acceleration, Silmiya Hendricks, commercial director at Iconic Luxury Hotels, Lorraine Jarvie, general manager, The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa in Bath and Rohaise Rose-Bristow, co-owner of The Torridon in Scotland.

L to R: Editor Zoe Monk, Ali Powell, Rohaise Rose-Bristow, Lorraine Jarvie, Silmiya Hendricks
L to R: Zoe Monk, Ali Powell, Rohaise Rose-Bristow, Lorraine Jarvie, Silmiya Hendricks

Accidental Career

Interestingly most of the panel shared that they got into hospitality by accident as teenagers, a part-time job that grew into a passion and then a career. Many went to university to study hotel management or business, working in a variety of roles on their way up in operations from event planning to revenue management.

Facing Obstacles

When asked if they faced obstacles in their careers, Lorraine shared her experience of blatant discrimination. When she told her boss she was pregnant, he said she couldn't be a general manager and a mother. She pushed back and went above and beyond to prove him wrong, in hindsight, at the sacrifice of attending events at her daughter's school and being present at home more.

Rohaise shared her journey to become a Master Innholder, which was all men when she began. "It was often assumed the business was my husband's, and it was intimidating having to face rooms full of men, but you just have to find your confidence." Silmiya shared her experience moving to the Middle East, when one of her (male) direct reports wouldn't listen to her, a supportive boss suggested she scream at him and slam the table. "It wasn't my style, but it worked!" Silmiya added that working for a company that supports women helps you overcome any obstacles.

All the women agreed that resilience and having belief in yourself is the key to keep moving up. Ali Powell noted how vital exposure is in your career, "70% of success is exposure, 20% is your image and 10% is your performance, this is a lesson I wished I had learned earlier in my career when I was working like a beaver hoping to get noticed."

"70% of success is exposure, 20% is your image and 10% is your performance, this is a lesson I wished I had learned earlier in my career" –– Ali Powell, CEO, Commercial Acceleration

Challenges Ahead

The biggest challenge the industry faces for women, and not just hospitality, is caring responsibilities and the cost of child care. "This is really a government issue, women need more support to help with the costs because at the moment the math doesn't work, for some people childcare is 90% of their salary," said Lorraine. The changes in parenting and paternity laws are helping, as are new flexible schedules, but there is still a long way to go, as well as in pay equity. "We have to use our voices and keep going when we face resistance, but the targets and metrics are helping," said Rohaise. The panel was thankful for the leadership of Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality, who has, "been brilliant at working with the government on behalf of the industry."

Happy to be the role models they never had, all the women lamented the lack of female leadership to guide them on the way up. "The glass ceiling has moved up a level but it is still there," remarked Rohaise. They suggested women find their own mentors through LinkedIn if not available through their company.

What women would you most want to have dinner with?

The session ended with a fun question, each panelist being asked which three women, alive or deceased, they would most love to have dinner with and why. The answers ranged from Pink, Coco Chanel, and Jennifer Saunders to Queen Elizabeth, Eleanor Roosevelt, Angela Merkel, Michelle Obama, Jacinda Ahern, and Oprah! Rohaise sweetly wanted to have dinner with her first female GM boss, Greta Hobbs.

Editor Zoe Monk (L) and lawyer Louise Attrup (R)
Editor Zoe Monk (L) and lawyer Louise Attrup (R)

Legal Advice Louise Attrup, Employment Partner, Debenhams Ottoway

This was an interesting conversation covering gender-related employment issues from pregnancy and maternity leave to menopause. Louise also addressed employer and employee rights in sexual harassment cases and how to foster an environment where harassment is prevented.

The event concluded with a toast led by Laura Rhys, Master Sommelier from Gusbourne sparkling wines.


Inspiring Women in Hospitality at the Conrad London St. James

Hilton Inspiring Women in Hospitality Event

After the Boutique Hotelier event, I headed over to the "Inspiring Women in Hospitality" event organized for a second year by Chef Sally Abe and Emma Banks, Vice President, F&B Strategy & Development Europe for Hilton, EMEA. The day included educational sessions on topics including:

  • How I Got Here: goal setting from top chefs

  • Not In Service: looking at alternative hospitality careers and how to pivot

  • Building Your Own Brand: tips for using social media to stand out in the market

  • How to Be the Best You: work life balance and stress reduction

Emma Banks hosted the "Building Your Own Brand," session along with panelists: Chef, Author, Activist, and TV Presenter Raveneet Gill; social media personality and "potato queen," Poppy O'Toole; Jules Pearson, founder of London on the Inside and VP of F&B with Ennismore; Carmen O'Neal, founder 58 & Co Gin; and social media expert Lauren Halliday, founder of Social Sequence. The afternoon session opened with very specific tips on how to utilize Instagram to build your personal brand by Lauren.

Discussion was then led by Emma on topics ranging from using Instagram to get your first cookbook deal like Raveneet, to blowing up on TikTok during the pandemic, like Poppy, or using social to build a product business like Carmen with her 58 Gin, to creating a platform and community, like Jules with London on the Inside. The session was packed with great advice, making me wish I had been able to attend in the morning as well. Next year!

After the session, I caught up with organizer Chef Sally Abe who said she was "excited to have built a bigger program this year and the sessions were well attended, the whole event had about 100 people––women and quite a few men." In between the morning and afternoon was a gourmet lunch prepared by Chef Sally and the day finished with champagne and more networking. The cost was £55 a ticket and it was sold out.

Some pics L to R: me with Chef Sally Abe (left) actually out of her chef whites; part of the "Building Your Own Brand" panel-Carmen O'Neal, Raveneet Gill, Emma Banks and Poppy O'Toole; and me again with Emma Banks.

All in all, hospitality career women in London had incredible options for learning and celebrating International Women's Day!


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