Truth: Despite the hospitality industry’s traditional dependence on women for lower-level jobs, there are few women at the top. We’re talking about a thin slice of the pie: a 2016 survey found only 5 percent of CEOs and 9 percent of presidents at U.S. hotel companies were women. However, there are signs of a slow shift toward gender diversity in leadership. We spoke with some female movers and shakers we admire to get their voices on the matter, and insights into their industries as a whole.
Karin Kopano, General Manager, Hotel 50 Bowery
New York, NY
Yarlin Faurer, Spa Director, Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Kirsten Seltzer, Executive Chef, The Wigwam
HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY MANAGEMENT IS KNOWN TO BE MALE-DOMINATED. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE, AND HOW HAVE YOU WORKED WITHIN THE SYSTEM?
Karin Kopano: A decade ago I was the only female in my team; now half of my team is filled with bright female leaders. During my career growth I stayed focused, used my voice, set my expectations and gained respect.
Yarlin Faurer: When I graduated from Florida International University with a bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management more than a decade ago, the majority of my class were male students. However, I am glad to see more women entering this industry and filling leadership positions. And it works both ways: even though spa specifically is often a female-led industry, I now see more and more male Spa Directors than I did when I started.
Kirsten Seltzer: The culinary industry is even more male-centered than the hospitality industry overall. However it’s gotten better and we have more women making their mark. You have to set a goal for yourself—I told myself I was going to be the first female chef here. You have to love it every day and you have to have the passion for it.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WOMEN WHO WANT TO SUCCEED IN THIS INDUSTRY?
Kopano: My advice is “Be yourself”. Put yourself on a level playing field and don’t play the victim or put roadblocks in front of yourself. Women have the quality of compassion and nurturing which many men don’t and that is a fundamental quality in hospitality.
Faurer: I tell people to follow their hearts and dreams with determination, and with an action plan. I started at the concierge desk, was in guest services, and was even a Director of Sales and Marketing for a major corporation before I followed my passion and went into the spa industry.
Seltzer: Have three things: Heart and hustle and thick skin. In the kitchen, you have to be able to give and take, at the same time not being sensitive about the same things that everyone’s joking about. Women, remember we can give and take it as well as the guys.
HOW DO YOU STAY ON TOP OF THE COMPETITION IN YOUR COMPETITIVE MARKETS?
Kopano: Genuine service — there are many new properties but the human element is what makes the guests come back, and this starts at the hiring process, through onboarding and in everyday coaching and mentoring.
Faurer: By fostering a work environment where respect, passion, and love of excellence are part of our culture. People will notice when they enter a place and feel a good vibe or energy. Also, consistency and innovation.
Seltzer: In being here for 18 years, I have the demographics down so I know what will work when I add culinary trends from Food Network and magazines, or when I’m just experimenting with new dishes.
HOW HAS THE INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE LAST 10 YEARS?
Kopano: The term “luxury stay” has changed to “experiential stay,” and nowadays guests are very self-sufficient and well-educated in travel. They know exactly what they want and many prefer to use technology over interaction with others.
Faurer: Men and teens are now a big part of our clientele. Our guests have become more educated about the health benefits of the spa industry. Also, technology is playing a big part and machines are used to perform spa services, especially facials.
Seltzer: With social media and smart phones we can use site alerts when people check us out. And over the past 10 years we’ve kept extensive guest notes, so if someone calls for a reservation, say, on their anniversary, we have their name and remember what they like.