NATIONAL HARBOUR, Md. — On Oct. 2, leading into its 2019 North American Convention, Best Western Hotels & Resorts hosted its 2nd annual “Today’s Women in Leadership Forum,” which celebrates the vital role women play both inside their organizations and out.
Canadian Lodging News asked forum leader Dorothy Dowling, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer for Best Western Hotels & Resorts about this years’ event.
CLN: Tell me a bit about the Women’s Forum — how did it originate and why it is so important?
Dorothy Dowling: Championing gender diversity and empowering women has always been a priority for me, which is why Best Western Hotels & Resorts has been the perfect home for me over the last 15 years. These beliefs are part of our DNA, so when I proposed the concept of hosting a “Women in Leadership Forum” at our 2018 Annual Convention, the idea was celebrated by our leader, David Kong.
When I look back on my own career, I have benefited from the mentorship and guidance of men and women. I believe every man and woman in a senior leadership role has an obligation to join the gender diversity conversation, share their stories and empower the next generation of female leaders. This is exactly why we created the “Today’s Women in Leadership Forum.”
The forum is a place for women and men to gather to discuss challenges, best in class solutions, and learn from each other in a collaborative and inspirational environment. Through the forum, we are helping women in our brand chart their own career journeys, while highlighting the incredible stories of the women behind Best Western hotels.
CLN: How many people attend this part of the conference? Have the numbers grown since last year?
Dorothy Dowling: I was humbled with the incredible response we had to our inaugural event in 2018 and I’m thrilled that we were able to return in 2019 with a powerhouse lineup of extraordinary speakers. We welcomed over 200 attendees to the 2019 event, and anticipate further growth as we look ahead to 2020.
CLN: Who are some of the main speakers and what were their messages for delegates?
Dorothy Dowling: While I am proud to lead the forum, I know how important it is to bring together a powerful line-up of insightful sessions and speakers. This year, the forum was moderated by internationally recognized and acclaimed speaker Dr. Lalia Rach, who was joined by powerhouse speakers such as sales expert Tammy Gillis; Jane Gould with Disney Channels Worldwide; and Judi Holler, acclaimed improviser and keynote speaker. Throughout the day, attendees also heard the stories of strong female leaders within the Best Western brand, from successful entrepreneurs and hoteliers to corporate trailblazers.
Each individual that took the stage shared their own stories, delivering a unique message that left the audience feeling motivated to take the next step in their own journeys. However, the overarching message was clear: women are taking their rightful place as decision makers.
We know that having women in leadership roles actually drives business outcomes, so it’s not surprising that gender diversity is becoming the conversation of our time. The data around women in leadership consistently shows that inclusive c-suites see improved business performance, and having just one woman in a c-suite role can drive a 15 per cent improvement in company profitability.
CLN: What were some of the panel sessions? How did they go?
Dorothy Dowling: Dr. Lalia Rach moderated the Global Women’s Panel: A View from the Top of the World, which highlighted the expertise of the panelists in their various markets, how they lead and drive outstanding results, and how women are as varied as men in their leadership styles.
Panelists included: Suzi Yoder, senior vice-president, International Relations, Best Western Hotels & Resorts; Carmen Ducker, CEO, Best Western Central Europe; and Giovanna Manzi, CEO, Best Western Italy.
Dr. Lalia Rach also moderated the AAA Leadership Panel – A Journey of Evolution. This panel featured top executives from AAA/CAA, one of Best Western’s longest and most valued industry partners. Panelists delved into their career journeys, from where they began, to where they are now as top women leaders in the hospitality segment.
In a candid conversation, these extraordinary women shared insights, successes, learnings, challenges they’ve overcome and much more. The panel also discussed the ongoing co-innovation between Best Western and AAA/CAA, and how these brands are redefining success in today’s evolving marketplace. Panelists included: Brenda Hunsberger, senior vice-president Travel Services, AAA Club Alliance; and Paula Twidale, vice-president, AAA Travel.
Lastly, I moderated the Member Spotlight Panel: Today’s Empowered Entrepreneur, which shined a light on just a few of the many Best Western women who are blazing new trails in our industry, from running cutting edge companies and thriving hotels, to leading development strategies and key partner organizations.
Panelists included: Nimisha Patel, director, Western Division, member and board director, AAHOA and member and District V Governor, Best Western Hotels & Resorts; Rita Santillanes, founder and CEO, Peppertree Hospitality Group, member and District II governor, Best Western Hotels & Resorts; Monica Glenn, member and District V governor, Best Western Hotels & Resorts; and Jennifer Gipfert, CEO, TWC Management, member and District I governor, Best Western Hotels & Resorts.
CLN: Was there any Canadian content?
Dorothy Dowling: The forum was created as a platform for women of all walks of life, nationalities, professions and industries to share their stories. Personally, I always make a point of sharing that my own journey began in my home country of Canada where my education and early career laid the foundation for the path that led me to where I am today. I believe that the insightful sessions from the Women’s Forum can inspire men and women around the globe, encouraging them to take the next step in their journey.
CLN: Results of this year’s forum and plans for next year?
Dorothy Dowling: I am already blown away by the incredible response we received to the 2019 “Today’s Women in Leadership Forum.” Throughout the remainder of our Annual Convention, I was honored to hear so many stories of men and women who were inspired by our forum over the last two years, and how it has quickly motivated them to take a bold risk in their lives and careers. I have no doubt that we will return in 2020 with another incredible line-up of speakers and I hope to highlight those individuals who have personally benefited from attending the forum in 2018 and 2019.