This International Women’s Day, Hilton’s Senior Vice President of Brand Management, Asia Pacific shares her views on promoting gender equality in the workplace and highlights hotel brands being launched this year.
Growing up in Germany, which women role models did you look up to most?
While I was born in Germany, I spent most of my life living in different parts of the world — Thailand, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, and the United States amongst other countries. Despite being a global citizen, the German culture remains a big part of my life and career.
A female role model I look up to, and who’s played a huge role in influencing the person I am today, is the first female chancellor of Germany, Ms. Angela Merkel.
Firstly, she has very steady hands on the wheel. I admire her thoughtfulness and how deliberate she is in her decision making, carefully weighing the pros and cons with reliance on her team of experts to bolster her reasonings. As a leader, I try to emulate her by listening to all sides of the story, gathering relevant information and making judgement calls based on reasoning and logic instead of emotions.
Secondly, when she delivers her decisions, she stands by them confidently and firmly in an incredibly composed manner. When I watched her while growing up, it gave me a lot of confidence in her leadership and made me feel secure in her decisions. When dealing with male leaders within her party, the EU and across the world, she always had a place and a voice based on fact and reason, with a sense of humor.
I try to model my leadership style after her. My mantra is to always remain calm and composed, perform my duties with diligence and stand by my word, no matter how difficult it is at times. No one is perfect. When decisions are not the best ones, do not be afraid to acknowledge them with agility to rectify the mistakes and to do so with humbleness and humility.
What specific challenges have you faced as a woman in the hospitality industry?
I was very fortunate to have been immersed in the hospitality industry from the time I was born. It is part of my heritage and DNA: my parents worked in hotels and in fact, it is where they met. My father was a General Manager who moved our family across the world to manage different hotels. While growing up, I had the opportunity to experience life not only in seven countries where he worked but also to engage with people from diverse backgrounds, personalities and stories.
From an early age, I was armed with the tools to forge a career in the hospitality industry. I have a first-person appreciation of the hard work in various departments of a hotel. After Cornell and my MBA from Duke University, I embarked on my own journey in the industry.
I am aware that I was better equipped to succeed in the industry as a result of my background, experience and network. My journey though, would be different to many others. When I first launched my career, my challenges were less about gender obstacles but more about cutting my teeth in this business.
As I assumed more senior leadership roles, I also became more aware of unconscious bias in the workplace. Back then, issues such as inclusion and diversity were not widely discussed. It was accepted that male voices resonate louder in the board room.
This is the reason why I am extremely appreciative that Hilton is at the forefront of supporting diversity and inclusion at the workplaces. Our company culture is reflected in the diversity of its team members, which is reflective of the world we live in and guests who book our hotels. It is important that every team member understands and embraces inclusion and diversity.
Despite advances in education and gender equality in recent decades, why do you think we aren’t seeing more women in management-level positions?
There has definitely been progress but there are opportunities to improve the situation.
Balancing family and work is not an easy feat, especially for female leaders. The need to juggle multiple roles in our career and family life in order to fulfil our obligations is challenging.
For more women to succeed in leadership roles, a strong corporate culture is essential. In addition to a flexible working environment, employers should provide continuous training and evolve their programs to accommodate changing needs.
For long term success, employers should invest in the pipeline of young talents. The framework for talent development should allow female team members to have a full understanding of the industry, mentor and challenge them to be better equipped for greater leadership roles in the future.
It is crucial to create a conducive environment and corporate culture for all individuals to shine, encourage collaboration and be part of the transformational leadership team. Hilton has done a lot to ensure that women leaders can be successful. In fact, Hilton topped the list for the recent 2020 Fortune Best Workplaces for Women accolade. This recognition bears testament to Hilton’s continued investment in women-focused initiatives, a robust program of partnerships, learning and development options and industry-leading benefits.
What do you think companies can do to promote gender equality and create a supportive environment for women?
Promoting gender equality and creating a supportive environment for inclusion and diversity continue to be a focus for us at Hilton. This is a relentless commitment from the very top, permeating throughout the organization.
There are many ways in which Hilton is leading the industry by creating programs and tools that cultivate an inclusive environment that enables our team members to thrive.
By being flexible with a sustained focus on unconscious bias training for both genders, companies can cultivate a growing appreciation for different leadership styles. However, it is not only about what companies can do. Employees should also play an active role in initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion, such as participation in resource groups and optimization of the company’s maternity/paternity leave benefits, flexible working arrangements etc.
Another focus for us is to groom future talents through the commitment from visionary leaders — male and female alike — who are willing to mentor female professionals during the early years of their career. I speak from experience, having personally been very fortunate to have mentors at various levels of the organization during my entire career (both male and female), who have been my voice and advocate, thus helping me through my own career path. It is this experience that now forms part of my professional ethos to give back and be a mentor to individuals of great potential — regardless of gender, age and cultural backgrounds.
Now more than ever, women have found their voices. It is a positive cycle: the more female leaders are represented in the board room contributing strategic insight and making meaningful contributions, the more they empower and inspire others to do the same. In fact, a real source of strength for me throughout the course of my career has been the moments when I see female leaders providing a supportive network and allegiance to fellow colleagues, fostering a strong collaborative work environment instead of a competitive one.
Your role is to oversee the ongoing evolution of Hilton’s portfolio of brands in the Asia-Pacific region. What kind of impact has the current crisis had on brand strategies across the board?
At the onset of the crisis, we recognized the need for ruthless prioritization of resource deployment. There was concerted effort on a global level to be focused, agile and collaborative so that we can offer peace of mind to all stakeholders. Efforts were instantly redirected to address urgent concerns by our team members, guests and owners.
First and foremost, our primary objective was to safeguard the wellbeing of our team members. Protecting their health and safety was an immediate priority.
Secondly, being one of the world’s leading hospitality companies, we understand our duty and responsibility to care for our guests. With flexibility and focus, a judgement call was made swiftly to give us the competitive advantage. Hilton CleanStay was launched globally in June 2020 to deliver a new standard of cleanliness and safety protocols. At the same time, delivering the signature Hilton service is equally important for us to retain our loyal consumers.
Thirdly, we adjusted our brand strategy for hotel owners, whose business was hugely affected. We focused on cost efficiency without severely impacting guest experience and developing long-term strategy for business recovery. There was a concerted effort to do what we could without impacting guest services while creating value for the hotel owners.
Backed by more than a century of hospitality excellence, we harnessed our core values to continue delivering the light and warmth of hospitality. Our team members are trained to embrace Hilton’s passion for exceptional guest experiences. Through a genuine smile and heartfelt service, these intuitive gestures made a difference for our team members, guests and owners.
Which sectors of the hospitality industry do you think will have the greatest potential for growth after the pandemic ends?
We believe that the focused service brand segment has one of the greatest potentials for growth. According to the World Economic Forum, the population of Asia’s middle class is growing at an exponential rate. With rapid urbanization and increasingly mobile workforce, there is a large market segment with higher disposable income on hand. Be it for leisure or business travel, these travelers’ propensity to spend has increased.
Through strategic partnerships, Hilton is well-positioned to fortify our focused service brand presence in Asia. China is a great example of a country that is experiencing a rising middle class, whose travel needs are perfectly served by our Hampton by Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn and Home2 Suites by Hilton brands.
Created to celebrate everyday life, our focused service brands, such as Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton, balance practicality with purpose to provide accessible travel solutions for all reasons to travel. This opens up a huge array of guest profiles who will choose Hilton, for example the road warriors, school excursions, fans going to a sports event or concert, visiting relatives etc. The possibilities are limitless.
Can you tell us about any new brands Hilton will be introducing within the next year or two?
With a cautiously optimistic outlook for 2021, we have lined up several new to market launches in the months ahead:
Home2 Suites by Hilton®
In June 2020, we signed an exclusive management license agreement with Country Garden to introduce and develop the Home2 Suites by Hilton® in China. The agreement with Funyard Hotel Investment (Asia) Limited, a subsidiary of Country Garden, further expands the strategic cooperation between Hilton and Country Garden.
As one of Hilton’s fastest growing and award-winning midscale brands, Home2 Suites by Hilton® is well-positioned to capture these opportunities as an affordable upper midscale offering. The brand currently has approximately 400 operating hotels and over 450 hotels in the pipeline across the US and Canada, and its introduction to the Chinese market represents the first major extended stay play for Hilton outside of North America.
We aim to develop 1,000 Home2 Suites by Hilton® in China.
LXR Hotels & Resorts will debut in Asia this autumn – Roku Kyoto
LXR Hotels & Resorts is a collection brand from Hilton created for independent luxury hotels offering enriching, uncommon experiences for guests that are personalized and authentic to each distinctive property. Each LXR hotel represents a unique point on the world map but all are united through exceptional, singular service consistent at all LXR properties and the strength of the Hilton enterprise. LXR complements the Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts brands to offer the full spectrum of luxury experiences within Hilton’s Luxury portfolio.
Hollick Hotel Wen’an, Tapestry Collection by Hilton
Hollick Hotel Wen’an, Tapestry Collection by Hilton is expected to open in Q3 2021. This will be the first Tapestry Collection by Hilton in Mainland China. Wen’an sits within the Beijing-Tianjin Luneng Ecological Zone and boasts a long history and gorgeous interlaced rivers.
The 270-room Hollick Hotel Wen’an is a member of Tapestry Collection by Hilton and part of the prestigious Hollick Australian winery. Travelers can look forward to immersing themselves in the unique wine culture of the hotel while enjoying the hospitable Wen’an local culture after a busy day of sightseeing.
Which upcoming hotel openings around the Asia-Pacific region are you most excited about?
Our growth momentum in Asia Pacific will be led by the luxury portfolio. This year started with the highly-anticipated launch of the crown jewel of Hilton’s luxury portfolio, Ithaafushi – The Private Island, in January 2021.
In the coming months, we are looking forward to the brand debut of LXR Hotels and Resorts in Asia with the opening of Roku Kyoto, LXR Hotels & Resorts in Q3 of 2021. Situated in a tranquil area along the foothills of the Takagamine mountains in northern Kyoto and within walking distance of the iconic Kinkaku-ji “Golden Pavilion” and other historic temples, the resort is a peaceful retreat offering guests a bespoke Kyoto experience.
We will also add two more distinctive properties to the Conrad Hotels & Resorts portfolio in China’s Jiuzhaigou and Urumqi.
Located within the city center’s bustling commercial area, the remarkable Conrad Urumqi sits adjacent to the most luxurious shopping mall in the city, perfect for urban travelers seeking a dose of retail therapy. Guests can also explore the markets and restaurants of Urumqi or travel further out to the many beautiful scenic parks on the outskirts of town.
A must-visit destination for nature lovers, Jiuzhaigou is a culturally rich heritage county located in the mountainous region of Southwest China and is home to the Jiuzhai Valley National Park, an extravaganza of natural wonders. A stay at the exceptional 161-room Conrad Jiuzhaigou will elevate the holiday to new heights with its stunning suites, unparalleled service and close proximity to natural attractions.
We are particularly excited about the extension of our strategic partnership with Jin Jiang International to create a network of more than 600 Hampton by Hilton hotels in China by 2034. Building on the original 10-year partnership, this extended partnership cements Hilton’s position as a leading focused-service brand in China.
Above all, I am heartened that we are on our path to recovery. We are eagerly looking forward to welcoming our guests back to Hilton in a safe and delightful way, offering peace of mind through Hilton CleanStay and curated experiences.
You’re also the mother of a young daughter. In your opinion, what is the key behind juggling a successful career with a fulfilling family life?
The key is to accept that it will never be perfect! Accepting that premise goes a long way in alleviating stress.
I am very lucky to have a supportive family and a husband, who also holds a full-time job but plays his role in taking care of our family.
There are a few guiding principles that are important to me. Being judicious with time is a critical skill. Everyone has a finite inventory of time. I make sure that I plan ahead every week to allocate time for my family, work and for myself. One of my mentors reminded me: “There is a reason why you are told to put on your own oxygen mask first in an airplane emergency before helping your children to put on theirs.” If you do not take care of yourself first, you will not be able to take good care of your family and friends.
Activities that induce peace and quiet energize me. I find joy in jazz and classical music, going for walks and gardening. Meditation and mindfulness help me to harness the ability to be fully present. I make a top priority to schedule time for exercises. All these activities help to calm me down when things become stressful.
More importantly, I try to find quality time to be present with my family. It has taken me a while to wean myself off my devices and learn to be fully present. There were times when I would ignorantly think that by sitting next to my nine-year-old daughter with both of us engaged on our devices, that this time counted as “time together.” Clearly, that is not true — ultimately, it the quality of time we share through bonding, experiences and connections that mattered.
The reality is that some weeks will be hectic due to work and key projects, while others can be spent with the family. At the end of the day, it is all about striking a balance in life.
What advice do you have for young women, particularly here in Asia, who wish to follow a similar career path?
My advice for young women embarking on a career in hospitality is to be a sponge. By that I mean trying to gain exposure to as many facets of the industry as possible through internships, classes, work exposure in hotels, seeking out mentors or learning from other peoples’ journeys. It would be helpful to go for networking sessions, attend more industry events, and ask for rotational work programs to get a wider perspective of the business. To be curious, ask questions, and seek to understand are all positive traits of a successful female leader.
For a career in the hospitality industry, one has to be passionate. Due to the long, demanding hours with challenges along the way, young women with passion, resilience, and curiosity will go a long way. While education is important, passion is what makes the difference.
Another piece of advice is to constantly push yourself to be a holistic and integrated thinker. Take every opportunity to learn all facets of the business, understand the levers of the business, connect the dots and try to gain both operational and corporate exposure. At each exposure, try to acquire cross-functional experience. As one grows professionally, having a holistic understanding of the business will create more opportunities that are outside a specific job function. With greater responsibility through career progression, it is ultimately expected that you are a well-rounded business leader. The basic expectation is that leaders possess functional expertise. However, it is equally important to be a business leader in addition to being a functional leader.
Finally, do not be afraid to make mistakes. You will sometimes learn more from your mistakes than from achievements, which will make you a better leader. And remember to have some fun along the way!