The hospitality industry has been historically male-dominated, but dynamics of corporate leadership in the hotel industry are changing and despite facing challenges in the workplace and balancing personal lives, more women are breaking the glass ceiling by putting themselves forward for leadership roles.
WorldHotels takes the opportunity to speak to three innovative female executives:
- Susan Keels, GM of the Royal Park Hotel,
- Rebecca Kwan, GM of Lan Kwai Fong @ Kau U Fong and Chairman of the Hong Kong Hotels Association and
- Anke Ebinger, WorldHotels Regional Director of Sales Central Europe.
In the following interview, the woman leaders talk about their career paths, stereotypes,about what makes a great leader and their thoughts about a quota.
What drove you to work your way up?And what does a woman need in the hospitality industry to be successful?
Rebecca Kwan: “It’s a people-oriented industry, you need to have the passion for taking care of your internal team and external guests to drive success. You need to have a strong mindset and utilize the strengths in skill, knowledge, experience and emotion to pursue what you want, and not wait for it to come to you.”
Anke Ebinger: “To be successful you need to build up a profound networking platform with partners, clients and friends.”
Susan Keels: “My passion for hospitality, determination for always wanting to find a better way and relentless curiosity drove me to work my way up. Also saying yes to opportunities and not allowing fear to get in the way of opportunity.”
What can the hotel industry do to let more women gain access to management levels?
Anke Ebinger: “I think that women are well represented in Marketing and Sales in the hotel industry and I am glad that this trend carries on in other departments as well. In my opinion, our industry is very well suited for a career path for women.”
Susan Keels: “I feel the hospitality industry is already on the right path to taking women in leadership more seriously. We as female leaders in the industry need to continue to nurture and foster strong leadership roles for women. This is especially important for the next generation of leaders to come. Placing women in high level leadership positions needs to become more than a standard, but a strong intent. As we continue to pave the path for women in leadership, it will become easier for future women leaders to follow.”
Do you think that women lead differently than men?
Rebecca Kwan: “In general, women tend to be more interactive, stimulating high-quality relationships, bonding, and connectivity among team members; while men are task-oriented and directive, providing direction for their employees. Gender diversity is a global trend in many industries, and it is proven that either gender can supplement each other. I have a strong belief that each individual has his/her own character and style regardless of gender and race.”
Anke Ebinger: “It is true, that women and men have different characteristics. In my experience, mixed management teams are often the most successful. Women are usually focused on the well-being of their team so that it does the job well. Men usually make clearer announcements, are more contentious and are more in the foreground. They are also much more successful in networking.”
Susan Keels: “Yes, and both genders bring a different skill set to the table. That is why diversity in the workplace is extremely important.”
The typical female component (empathy etc.) as an advantage - fact or just a fairy tale?
Susan Keels: “Empathy is most certainly an advantage in this industry. The business world has evolved throughout the years, and there is more of a connection between leaders and their teams. It’s important to lead with understanding, compassion and empathy. A leader with these qualities has the ability to understand that everyone views the world through different perspectives and without judgement. Women who are empathic leaders are often perceived as “too nice” and that is not the case; it takes a strong leadership skill set to be a good listener and understand the deep layers of all sides. An empathetic work environment leads to happier employees who feel a stronger sense of belonging and ultimately take will better care of our guests and business.”
Rebecca Kwan: “I think empathy plays an important role in our relationships. It helps me better understand and recognize my employees’ emotions and needs, and I always believe emotional intelligence is a critical factor that drives their overall performance.”
Anke Ebinger: “I agree with Rebecca. Empathy is the ability to empathize with other people's feelings, thoughts and emotions. Empathy is an important key to understanding other people - for me an important trait in leading employees, especially in conflict situations. In my opinion this I not only a female component, it depends more on the education of the individual human being.”
In Germany, people are suggesting that a quota of women on boards of private companies should be established. What do you think about a rule like that?
Susan Keels: “I’m not much of a “quota” believer however companies do need to be aware of creating a balanced environment where each leader brings a different perspective to the table. If a group of leaders is all of the same mentality it can slowdown progress and evolution. I would encourage leaders to look around the table and if everyone looks just like them, clearly something needs to change.”
Anke Ebinger: “I agree. This should generally be anchored in attitudes and corporate culture. I am sceptical that companies stand behind a quota system and actively promote it.”
Rebecca Kwan: “I think it’s more important for the company culture to foster equal chances and gender diversity than the codification of rules. Bridging this gap and creating change are only possible if there is a combined effort from all of us. Working together regardless of gender, I am confident that we will help to build and ensure the prosperity of the industry as well as create more opportunities to provide a better future for the next generation.”
If you could travel back in time, what suggestion would you give your younger self?
Anke Ebinger: “Be confident trust your instincts they have never disappointed you.”
Rebecca Kwan: “I make every decision thoughtfully and think about the consequence; I won’t look back and I have no regrets whatever the result is. For each challenge and failure, there’s something to be won. Life is boring without challenges! It’s important to identify your interests, get ready and enjoy your challenge.”
About Susan Keels
Susan Keels is the General Manager of the Royal Park Hotel, Rochester, US with over 25 years of experience in the hospitality field. Her foundation and experience started in hotel, restaurant and country club operations. After spending over 15 years in operations working in the luxury market, Susan moved to the Royal Park Hotel. She was the first employee hired at the Royal Park Hotel prior to opening and started in catering, then moved to sales and marketing where she travelled the globe sharing the Royal Park Hotel story. In 2018, she was offered the role as General Manager and is excited to continue making a difference and being a trailblazer for women in the industry.
About Rebecca Kwan
Recently elected as the first female Chairman of the Hong Kong Hotels Association in 2018, Rebecca Kwan is serving as Senior Vice President of Sales - Hong Kong & United Kingdom and Head of Operations – United Kingdom in Dorsett Hospitality International, Rebecca also holds the portfolio of General Manager of Lan Kwai Fong Hotel @ Kau U Fong, Hong Kong.
With over 20 years of experience in the hospitality and tourism industry, Rebecca has held various positions in Sales & Marketing in both international deluxe hotel chain and boutique hotels. Based on her longstanding expertise, Rebecca provides professional advice to vocational education and training as a member of the Hotel, Catering and Tourism Training Board of Vocational Training Council in Hong Kong from 2013-2019. She is also a member of the Tourism Strategy Group – Tourism Commission under The Government of HKSAR since 2017, whose focus is to consider and make recommendations to the Government in respect of Hong Kong tourism development from a strategic perspective.
About Anke Ebinger
Anke Ebinger joined WorldHotels in 2000 as Key Account Manager Central Europe. In her current role as Regional Director of Sales Central Europe, she is leading the Worldhotels Sales Force for Germany, Austria, Switzerland & Poland. By building long-lasting relationships and networking with corporate clients, Consortia partners and MICE buyers and implementing marketing strategies, organizing custom-tailored activities, analyzing trends and results they ensure driving revenue to 300 Worldhotels members worldwide.