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Top Takeaways from ForWard 2024

hertelier is running a three part series on the ALHA Forward Conference.

Here is the second instalment from Andrea Foster, Principal, Foster Venture. You can read the first article, here.

AHLA ForWard
Jen Collins of Procure Impact, Rachel Vandenberg of The Travel Leader, Andrea Foster, and Amelia Zimmerman of Crestline Hotels & Resorts after our dinner together at Chicago’s deep dish pie (pizza) institution - Lou Malnati’s.


The authentic camaraderie, vulnerable stories, shared laughter and heartfelt tears, and long-overdue celebrations. Between old friends and new.

No, this wasn’t your favorite team finally winning the world championship or your best friend’s wedding. It was ForWard 2024, the annual conference of AHLA Foundation’s initiative to advance women leadership in hospitality, held in Chicago last week. This year’s theme was “Right the Narrative”.


I am fortunate to have been in attendance. As the Chair of ForWard for 18 months in 2020-21, this initiative is deeply meaningful to me, and I remember when ForWard launched in 2019 with ~180 attendees. It has grown year-over-year, and last week brought 900 women and men together at the McCormick Place Convention Center. As much as we love hotels, it’s time to celebrate when you outgrow the market’s largest hotel meeting space!


Here are a few of my takeaways from two very memorable days:


  • Spaces like ForWard NEED to exist. Women and men, alike, need to be in rooms like this talking about how to get more women in the rooms where decisions are made. Sessions and expert workshops like What’s Your Story: Change and the Power of Narrative, The Art of Negotiation, and Women on Boards provided tactical skill refinement. Soft skills (aka “power skills”) were showcased in sessions such as 7 Habits of Transformational Leaders, The Unhustle Mindset, and in various industry leader panels. And expanding the audience’s knowledge of challenges and opportunities in our industry were the focus of panels on Global Snapshots, Sustainability, Generational Changes in the Workforce, The Future of DEI, and a Government Affairs Update.

  • We can be highly competitive and highly supportive at the same time. There is room for everyone to win and to reach their highest goals. The room full of women - plus some very supportive men - is evidence of this.

  • Women have been expected to give more credit than they take. Servant leadership, courage, curiosity, commitment, and humility are all character traits for disrupting - and leaning into them overcomes doubt and fear. We each have stories and experiences that are valuable, that matter. Our stories are power and telling them - accurately and with authenticity - rights the narrative and helps us move forward.

  • The value of a growth mindset, was noted by Mark Hoplamazian of Hyatt as the most important quality in a leader. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing. Tracy Prigmore of She Has a Deal and TLT Solutions shared the importance of taking more risks and managing the fear. Big leaps are supposed to make you nervous. And don’t let ‘it’s never been done’ stop you from getting it done, Tracy added. Jen Collins of Procure Impact doubled down on this point with, ‘Because we’ve always done it this way’ is a crappy answer.

Malaika Myers Chief Human Resources Officer, Hyatt Hotels Corporation Jen Collins President, Procure Impact Tracy Prigmore Managing Partner, TLTsolutions + She Has a Deal Julienne Smith Chief Development Officer, IHG Hotels and Chair, AHLA Foundation Board of Trustees
Malaika Myers Chief Human Resources Officer, Hyatt Hotels Corporation Jen Collins President, Procure Impact Tracy Prigmore Managing Partner, TLTsolutions + She Has a Deal Julienne Smith Chief Development Officer, IHG

  • Women know our WHY. On the panel of innovators and disrupters talking about breaking boundaries, Julienne Smith of IHG shared the importance of knowing - and living by - your “why”. She also doesn’t believe in “no”. In every effort or action, the response or reaction she believes in is “yes”, “not right now”, or “there is something better” - which support her in always moving forward.

  • UBUNTU: I am because we are. The narrative of women in leadership is about BELONGING. Shola Richards enthusiastically talked about the spirit of ubuntu and taking responsibility for the energy we bring into our space. We are better together, and we take forward the knowledge that women belong in roles that lead others, make important decisions, and transform companies and cultures. The results of women in leadership roles is positive, impactful, and clear. Fostering cultures within our organizations that encourage, support, and amplify women’s voices and impact is beneficial to all.

  • Celebrate our wins. Jen Collins mentioned the book “The Gap and The Gain”. It’s premise is that we oftentimes focus on how far we still have to go, or the frustration when we takes steps backward (I’ll just leave that there), but we need to acknowledge - and celebrate - the gains we’ve made to keep momentum in our steps and strides. A recent ForWard BUILD cohort shared with me that the story she presented at BUILD just last month, and my feedback on her delivery as the presentation coach, helped her secure a promotion and build additional respect within her leadership team. What a profound example of the value of ForWard and the importance of celebrating our gains!

  • ForWard is working. From the substantial increase in attendance to the breadth of who was in the room - from emerging leaders to CEOs, women and men, of diverse backgrounds - to the feedback and stories of how leadership is evolving as a result of these real conversations of efforts, missteps, learnings, and growth. ForWard’s focus may be to advance women in hospitality, but it is really about leadership.


Anna Blue, President of AHLA Foundation, said on stage that, as an introvert, most conferences leave her exhausted and depleted, but ForWard is the one conference she leaves more energized and invigorated. As we each need to take responsibility for the energy we bring into a space, to me this is everything I need to know about the power of women - both individually and coming together - to bring about powerful, positive change in our industry and in our world.

Andrea Foster is Principal of Foster Venture, a strategic advisory and business development consultancy for the hospitality industry. Foster previously held senior leadership roles for Marcus Hotels & Resorts, CBRE Hotels, Miraval Resorts, and branded and independent full-service hotels and clubs. A graduate of Cornell University’s Nolan School of Hotel Administration, Foster is active in the Cornell Hotel Society; an AHLA Foundation Board of Trustees member; 2020-21 Chair and current member of AHLA’s ForWard Advisory Committee; a luminary and coach for She Has a Deal; on the Lodging Industry Investment Council; and has been a regular speaker at industry conferences, university hospitality programs, and widely published on industry topics.


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