News

March 2018

6 Women Marriott Execs Share Their Secrets to Success

by Tyler Davidson

Kieran Donahue, VP, Brand, Marketing & Digital

Kieran Donahue, VP, Brand, Marketing & Digital

International Women’s Day is March 8, 2018. To celebrate the day, Meetings Today reached out to Marriott International to get the perspective of some of their successful female executives on their secrets to success, and their career and work/life balance tips for women climbing the corporate ladder.

Their submissions follow:

Kieran Donahue
Vice President, Brand, Marketing & Digital for The Americas

1. How many years have you worked in the hospitality industry and how has it changed as a career option for women since you entered it?

All 17 years that I have been in this business have afforded me great opportunities as a woman. The hospitality industry is a great environment for women who seek strong growth paths and career opportunities.

I began my own career on the Loyalty team at Hilton. One of the most noticeable differences today is the number of female general managers at hotels—a significant increase, especially in the select service category and large convention and resort hotels. On the corporate side, I see a significant number of women in the C-suite, especially at Marriott International. It’s very encouraging.

2. What key piece of advice can you give women who struggle with work/life balance issues on how to further their careers?

First, I am not sure that equal balance can exist all the time. There are times in your career where work will be the priority, and if you enjoy it you need to be okay with that.

Conversely, you will never look back and say, “I wish I had worked more,” so it is important to make the effort to check in with your friends and family—even if it’s just a short hello.

They are an energy source and you need them.

For me personally, I like to ask questions, empower my team and take on things that make me uncomfortable—it’s the only way to stretch yourself. I would also encourage women to take care of themselves, including annual doctor visits and exercise. When people are counting on you it’s important to have a healthy presence.

Take a vacation every year; It’s so important to get away from work and recharge.

3. What has been the biggest challenge you faced during your career journey? What is a memorable success or win on the job?

The most challenging is also the most rewarding; finding and then keeping the best talent in the industry. I have a team that contains some of the best marketing, digital, loyalty and public relations minds in the business.

From the team members out working with our hotels every day through to my team of leaders, I am blessed to have such a highly motivated and skilled organization. Their success is extremely important to me and so I challenge myself constantly to find ways to help them learn and grow.

4. Where should women look for career mentors?

Everywhere… but focus on someone that has a skill or knowledge that you believe can help you.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask! Most female executives I know, although busy, will make time for a young woman looking to grow. My field marketing organization has a female majority of inquisitive professionals that are not afraid to assume large roles.

5. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first began your career in this industry?

Patience pays off. Sometimes you need to step back and let things play out.

When you move into new leadership roles there is a great tendency to pressure yourself to act and achieve results immediately. There are times when that is required and there are times when taking a more thoughtful approach will serve you far better.

The importance of building it together—leaning into your team down to line level to engage them in change. Not only does it make your strategy more realistic and operational, but it builds team morale and buy-in when they can be a part of the change in a meaningful way.

Tammy Routh, Senior Vice President of Global Sales

Tammy Routh
Senior Vice President of Global Sales

1. How many years have you worked in the hospitality industry and how has it changed as a career option for women since you entered it?

In June, I will have 35 years with Marriott—I joined right out of college. Early in my career, while I knew I had many different opportunities to grow within my company or the industry at large, there were very few women in leadership roles.

I had many really wonderful bosses and leaders that taught me a great deal and were extremely supportive, so I have no complaints. It’s been so rewarding to see more and more women join the leadership ranks at Marriott and now it’s just assumed that women will have the same opportunities as men. 

2. What key piece of advice can you give women who struggle with work/life balance issues on how to further their careers?

My view is likely different from others as I do not believe that only women in today’s world strive to find work/life balance. This is a gender-neutral issue. Everyone is trying to find a way to balance.

My advice is two-part:

  1. Find a job that you love and that brings you fulfillment;
  2. Understand when “good is good enough.”

Attempting to achieve 100 percent perfection all the time is simply unattainable in this 24/7 connected world.

3. What has been the biggest challenge you faced during your career journey? What is a memorable success or win on the job?

My biggest challenges were generally self-inflicted, by not having enough confidence early in my career to ask for what I wanted. My most memorable success is very recent; it is having the privilege of leading our Global Sales Organization through the Starwood integration. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create an organization that leveraged the amazing talent from Marriott International, The Ritz-Carlton and Starwood.

It was a very humbling and inspiring experience to watch everyone work through this major change and come together in the end.

4. Where should women look for career mentors?

Look for mentors both inside and outside your own organization. Look for traits in others that you admire and be open mind to all kinds of people, especially those who are not in your current network or circle.

5. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first began your career in this industry?

No matter your background, race, gender, etc.; if you are willing to work hard and make a difference to your company and the overall industry, the hospitality industry is a place where you can achieve your greatest career aspirations.

Kori Johnson, General Manager, The Mayflower Hotel

Kori Johnson
General Manager, The Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection

1. How many years have you worked in the hospitality industry and how has it changed as a career option for women since you entered it?

I have been in the hospitality industry for 22 years and the noticeable change has been in the way Marriott has approached work/life balance.

There is more of a focus on the individual and an emphasis on getting the job done in the flexibility of one’s own work environment, rather than a one-size-fits-all mentality.

2. What key piece of advice can you give women who struggle with work/life balance issues on how to further their careers?

Hang in there. You struggle now so that you can have what you want later. Find a way to create result-oriented efficiencies and “be present” no matter where you are.

When you are at work, work smarter, not harder, and give 100 percent so that when you are not at work, you can give 100 percent to who, and what, matters most to you.

Those who matter most will remember and appreciate that you’re engaged with them and not just giving 50 percent because you are also looking at your phone and checking email.

3. What has been the biggest challenge you faced during your career journey? What is a memorable success or win on the job?

It was a challenge to get to a place where I am able to tell my own story to decision-makers and leaders, versus having someone else tell it for me, but I have succeeded in reaching that point.

I’m excited to be able to share my story and passion, and create paths for other associates as I advance through the company. I take great pride in forging a path for associates, some of whom may feel that their obstacles are insurmountable, and showing them that they can achieve their next-level career move.  

4. Where should women look for career mentors?

Look for mentors inside and outside your industry or discipline, and even the country, for different perspectives. My mentors within Marriott were high performers that were either peers or were in positions I aspired to have, as well as those that represented who I wanted to become.

Outside of Marriott, I looked to mentors that were noted by performance, innovation and/or creativity.

5. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first began your career in this industry?

Take more risks and get comfortable with being uncomfortable, because the best of you will always rise to the occasion.

Marya F. Moore
Executive Chef & Director of Restaurants, Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel

1. How many years have you worked in the hospitality industry and how has it changed as a career option for women since you entered it?

I have worked in the hospitality industry for 23 years, 19 of which have been with Marriott. Most of my career has been in the culinary world, which is constantly changing and evolving.

The amount of women that begin in the culinary field has certainly increased over the years with better schools and continuing education revolving around the culinary arts.

Although there are definitely more males in the role of executive chef, I feel as though the women that start in the culinary arena have numerous options and opportunities to further their career in all areas of hospitality by having a strong culinary knowledge and background.

2. What key piece of advice can you give women who struggle with work/life balance issues on how to further their careers?

The biggest piece of advice is to ensure you love and are passionate about what you do. Surround yourself with likeminded individuals who share that same passion, drive and commitment.

Work/life balance is a daily struggle due to our industry demands. When you are passionate about your work, the long days and hours are extremely rewarding, especially when you execute successfully. But it is extremely important to ensure that you manage your life commitments in the same fashion.

Taking time to enjoy family, friends and personal interests keeps your mind and body invigorated. Be sure to take time off and away from the stressful day-to-day.

3. What has been the biggest challenge you faced during your career journey? What is a memorable success or win on the job?

The biggest challenge I have faced is being a female in a male-dominated field.

It takes a lot of different skill sets to navigate leadership roles in this setting. It is important to learn about the people who work for you, work with you and who you report to. Understanding cultures, backgrounds and recognizing differences allows you to be a more open minded leader.

Constantly acquiring and developing new skills while embracing the fact that you can make changes and smart choices to reach goals.

A memorable win always happens when you least expect it. I think the most memorable wins are when a past colleague or associate reaches out to me to let me know how well they are doing in their career. Often times this call includes much gratitude about what they have learned while working side by side with me.

It is amazing to hear these success stories and makes all the tough days, hard decisions and work all worthwhile. It makes for very proud moments that last forever.

4. Where should women look for career mentors?

Career mentors are really everywhere. Don’t be afraid to network with people, especially other successful females. Weather they are in your field or not, they can be a great sounding board for advice and feedback.

Pick mentors that will hold you accountable for decisions, share open and honest feedback and make sure you are willing to accept lots of constructive criticism. A mentor should be someone you trust and feel comfortable sharing the good and the bad, with the goal of always finding new perspectives to help you grow as a leader.

5. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first began your career in this industry?

This is a very tough question. I wish I knew then how important it is to trust your instincts.

Often you are faced with difficult situations and decisions and it is so important to make a call. It is okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them and grow.

Having that confidence is not easy in the fast-paced hospitality industry, but confidence in yourself and the ability to trust your decisions will make you that much more successful and experienced.

Jacqueline Volkart, General Manager, The St. Regis San Francisco

Jacqueline Volkart
General Manager, The St. Regis San Francisco

1. How many years have you worked in the hospitality industry and how has it changed as a career option for women since you entered it?

I have enjoyed being in this fabulous profession for three decades and believe it is one of the most fulfilling careers for anyone who loves being in hospitality. I like to inspire upcoming hospitality professionals, recent graduates and members of my own teams to embark on this journey. When we love what we do, we will be successful; gender does not matter.

2. What key piece of advice can you give women who struggle with work/life balance issues on how to further their careers?

Do not try to play “Super Woman.” Assign tasks to other family members or extended family and friends. It is okay to ask for help, something that many women find difficult.

Also, education. Continuing to learn, evolve, and build expertise in our field is critical.

I am honored to have a degree from Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, an MBA from Glion Higher Institute of Education, as well as CMP (Certified Meeting Professional) and CAM (Condominium Association Manager) certifications. Learning allows for one to be open to new ideas, innovation and a passion to excel.

3. What has been the biggest challenge you faced during your career journey? What is a memorable success or win on the job?

A hospitality career requires an extraordinary amount of dedication and commitment. In order to advance, flexibility and willingness to relocate across the globe plays in your favor. While it has been difficult to be away from my family and close friends, the opportunity to make new ones is always there.

Regarding success; as director of food and beverage at The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun, the two fine-dining restaurants, Fantino and The Club Grill, were both awarded the AAA Five-Diamond designation.

This was a proud moment.

4. Where should women look for career mentors?

Everyone needs to build their network of mentors and mentees. You may have a different mentor at each stage of your career, and also those who stay with you throughout your entire journey.

One of the most important aspects of mentorship is to continually seek new mentees. If you have been a mentee, you have a responsibility to mentor, paying it forward.

I am thrilled to say I am in still in contact with many hospitality professionals whom I have mentored—and continue to mentor—around the globe, a truly rewarding experience. The younger professionals need role models to inspire them along this wonderful hospitality journey.

5. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first began your career in this industry?

When given the opportunity, express career aspirations.

Don’t be afraid to take risks and be open to new challenges. Learn the art of networking and seek out the advice of other hospitality or industry professionals regularly.

Jannette Berrios

Jannette Berrios
Executive Chef at the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino

1. How many years have you worked in the hospitality industry and how has it changed as a career option for women since you entered it

I’ve worked in this industry for 20 years, since 1998. When I started working, the kitchen was dominated by men.

When I attended culinary school, there was an evident imbalance between genders, but two women from my class ended up becoming executive chefs for hotels. At the beginning, all of the high-ranking positions were occupied by men and there were certain boundaries that seemed to prevent women for reaching a certain level.

This is a career that involves long hours, lots of pressure, heat and strength.

Growing up, I was inspired by chef Marisol. I offered to work without pay just so I could learn from her, and it was inspiring to see her with her chef hat and attire.

2. What key piece of advice can you give women who struggle with work/life balance issues on how to further their careers?

There is very little balance at the beginning. I’ve come to find balance now after many years. All the long hours could make you end up in some sort of bubble, where you start to focus only in your task at hand.

(A tunnel vision of sorts).

If you are interested in progressing, you will need to show dedication and passion, but also compromise.

There is a sense of pride felt when you achieve your goals and are able to inspire others who are considering a similar path. 

3. What has been the biggest challenge you faced during your career journey? What is a memorable success or win on the job?

My biggest challenge thus far was being named a first-time executive chef while opening a new hotel. Having to establish all-new standards, train staff and build a vision to create consistency was very tough, but it paid off.

Years later, while part of a new property, I was awarded the Marriott International Award for Culinary Excellence. It was completely unexpected and most rewarding that I was able to share this accomplishment with my team for their support, balance and respect.

4. Where should women look for career mentors?

In order to find the right mentors, you should first start by examining your goals and finding the right work environment for you. I started my career at a luxury brand because I wanted to learn from top talent early on. In this environment you are able to really nurture your passion while you seek perfection in your execution.

While doing this, you connect with others in the same environment who see your passion and help you develop it even further. I would ask questions, study and seek guidance, but do so with intention and purpose.

5. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first began your career in this industry?

My mother once asked me if I was sure that I wanted to work in a kitchen. I was in school to eventually become a doctor and my parents saw my interest in cooking as more a hobby. I think it’s important to remember that with any big dream, there will be tough moments, but also moments of satisfaction.

Once you’re in, you need to give it your all to succeed, or get out. Time must be sacrificed, but I have no regrets. Maybe I could have been a doctor, but I am doing something that I truly love.

Twenty years later, I still have an undying passion for what I do.

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