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Key Takeaways from the Cornell Women in Hospitality Panel

Women are working to lift each other up and progress is being made, but more needs to be done according to a panel “Women in Hospitality and Travel: Opportunities, Challenges, and Progress” hosted by the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration’s Center for Hospitality Research and Women Leading Travel & Hospitality, a membership-based association that connects executive women across all sectors of the travel and hospitality industry.

Cornell Hotel School Women's Panel
Cornell Panel (clockwise from top left) Hannah DeMaio, Miranda Scott, Michelle Woodley and Kate Walsh.

The panel was moderated by Hannah DeMaio, director of brand strategy, Women Leading Travel & Hospitality, and included Miranda Scott, director of business development, Lyft, Michelle Woodley, president, Preferred Hotels & Resorts and Kate Walsh, dean and E.M. Statler Professor, Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration, Cornell University.

It was a great discussion with lots of engagement from the online audience––highly recommend experiencing the full conversation here (it lasts one hour).

Short take: The panel was rooted in a familiar statistic: women make up 50% of the workforce in hospitality and travel yet only 12% of leadership positions. What opportunities are available? What progress is being made? Between the panelists, they’ve worked decades in travel across hotels, car services, airlines, and education, each sharing moving stories of lessons learned, mentors that lifted them, and where they see improvement for women as we move away from the pandemic.

Top Three Tips for Women

Cornell has been doing quite a bit of research on issues around women in hospitality, Dean Walsh said, “women want to lift each other up, data shows there is not a ‘Queen Bee Syndrome’ happening” and based on her findings, offered three suggestions for women:

  1. Take thoughtful risks to widen your skillset. Pointing to evidence that men will go for a job even if they are not qualified, while women tend to only apply for jobs where they know they already have the skills. This is a mistake, according to Walsh, "in order to grow, women must go for a range of positions."

  2. In addition to mentorship, get sponsors that will put you into new opportunities. Find people in your company and industry–men or women–that will help propel your career by suggesting and supporting you for new opportunities.

  3. Reframe your view of networking and try to authentically connect with peers. According to research, connecting with people your own age benefits you more than you might think, as these are the colleagues you will do business with throughout your career.

Improving Work-Life Balance

In terms of the travel industry, the panelists all agreed the silver lining of the pandemic has been evidence that working from home and flexible scheduling can be done even in customer-facing roles, as well as a shift to prioritizing “health, family and wellness.”

This also plays into how the industry can offer more work-life balance for women, which is of increasing importance as the industry is facing a talent shortage, Dean Walsh cited research has shown “women in GM roles that don’t want to uproot their family to move up, while recent grads say they want more autonomy with schedules.”

Organizations need to “redesign work to take a longer-term view on career pathing, step back and look at outcomes versus time spent.” Michelle from Preferred agreed, “We need to suggest ideas to make things work differently than they have before” and Miranda noted, “we need to be more conscious about avoiding burnout.”

Skills for Success

When asked “what has contributed to your success as a leader,” each woman answered thoughtfully with Michelle crediting her “curiosity,” Miranda offered her “ability to be vulnerable and even showcasing the ‘goof of the week’ with her team,” to stress the importance of risk-taking and learning from failure. Showing empathy, building trust with colleagues through collaboration, and generally just being thoughtful of others were key themes the panel agreed on for success.

What can organizations do to help women?

Here the panel stressed the importance of “removing any bias, conscious or unconscious” and this is where the DEI programs help. Also looking at where bias starts, even in recruitment, “Are we opening ourselves up to the widest set of candidates?” asked Melissa, and all agreed on the importance of Employee Resource Groups, which have been very effective at Lyft according to Miranda.

Final Pieces of Advice

  • Believe in yourself

  • Go for it because “you’ve got this”

  • Be authentic

  • Stay curious

Not from the panel, but adding in two relevant ideas posted this week by the best-selling author ofAtomic Habits,James Clear, touching on the very same themes:

  • You only need to know the direction, not the destination. The direction is enough to make the next choice.

  • If you want to find a better path, you have to be willing to explore a different path. That sounds simple, but how often do you try something different?


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