One month after International Women’s Day, Accor celebrates the success of its Women at Accor Generation (WAAG) program, with news that another 20 women were put into Hotel Manager or General Manager positions in the last 12 months in Asia Pacific. Accor has confirmed its plan to reach 35% of women GMs by 2017 and 50% in the long-term.
Currently Accor’s hotels in South and North America lead the way in terms of gender equity with 42% of hotels being run by women General Managers. Across Asia Pacific, there are currently around 1 in 5 women in Hotel Manager or General Manager positions compared to men, but the group has introduced a range of policies to make it easier to identify high-potential women and ensure they enjoy equal access to the company’s senior positions. A large part of this goal is the creation of the Women at Accor Generation (WAAG) network, which is designed to inspire and support women to evolve within the group.
Asia Pacific has one of the strongest WAAG networks, with over 1050 members (or over 39% of global membership), showing there is a real push for change in the region, with both men and women represented in the network. Here Accor introduces just some of its most successful women leaders in Asia Pacific, who provide some insight into how they think women can reach better gender equity in their careers.
Julie Tham, Hotel Manager ibis Jaipur (India)
Julia brings with her a passion for hotels and an infectious energy as she welcomes guests to Jaipur’s conveniently located ibis. She hails from Slovakia and has an MBA in Economics and Management from the University of Poitier in France. Her first position with Accor was as Assistant Director of Sales at Ibis Pune, India and after three years with the company she was fast-tracked through the group’s General Managers Pass program which provides multiple training and practical projects in preparation of becoming a Hotel Manager. While Julia says there are many challenges for women managers in India, she has found that Accor is a group committed to diversity and gender equality. She has 13 male direct reports and says that the candidature of female employees is taken as seriously as that of any male employees.
“Women face limitations with respect to traditional, cultural and family aspects that somehow restrict their mobility for future growth in India, but I strongly believe that women have an equal opportunity for advancement within Accor regardless of religion or caste,” she says.
“Even in positions such as security manager, a domain predominantly ruled by men, we had our first woman manager in Novotel Imagica Khopoli,” she said.
Dona Yohana, General Manager, Ibis Jakarta Cawang (Indonesia)
As General Manager of the 240-room ibis Jakarta Cawang, Dona sees customer-centric service and guest satisfaction as her top priorities. She says that Accor has provided training to equip her with managerial skills including Accor’s International Hospitality Management Program (IHMP Asia) which Dona completed in 2010. She has complemented this with other off-the-job courses including Business Challenge, Business Master and 7 Habits, among others. Dona also holds a Revenue Management Pass, with all these courses provided through Academie Accor, the group’s accredited training school, which has 17 campuses across the world.
Dona is now committed to developing her female staff and has mentored an Executive Secretary at Mercure Pontianak who was promoted to Quality & Brand Manager at Novotel Tangerang, and a Junior Accountant who was recently promoted to Chief Accountant at Mercure Pontianak.
Acknowledging that gender inequality exists where she lives, Dona notes that as a result, not all women have the confidence to show their ability in the workplace in Indonesia.
“However, in my opinion, there is no barrier for women to take the lead within Accor,” she said. “WAAG is a great program created to encourage women to be more confident and develop themselves in their career paths. As proof, there are now many female GMs in the Malaysia-Singapore-Indonesia region,” she said.
Dona should know. She was appointed as Chairman of WAAG for Kalimantan, Sumatra, Sulawesi and Riau Region last year. The equal opportunity culture in Accor contributed to this remarkable achievement.
“During the pre-opening period of Ibis Jakarta Cawang, we recruited female managers at the proportion of 50% of total head count,” Dona says proudly, showing that she is committed to backing up her words with actions.
Amery Burleigh General Manager, Sofitel Gold Coast (Australia)
Amery Burleigh, General Manager of Sofitel Gold Coast has been with Accor for over seven years. Now with 11 direct reports, of which six are male, Amery believes that she is fortunate enough to be working in a country (Australia) where gender equality, broadly speaking, isn’t an issue. Yet, she finds “an unconscious bias and the lack of understanding that women can be quite perceptive and competent” that she says is rather alarming.
Accor’s Australian corporate office started the A/Gen: Diversity Committee to address gender equality, indigenous employment and experienced workers in an effort to be an Employer of Choice in the hospitality industry in Australia. In its first year, the Committee introduced a target of 50% female GMs by 2018, flexible work arrangements and paid maternity leave. All of these policies have benefited women with a stream of new female GMs appointed in the past 18 months.
While WAAG programs and initiatives have resulted in positive change within Accor Australia recently, Amery finds that deep cultural biases still lurk. She says that equal representation by women should not be a box ticking exercise but a cultural shift that recognises the benefits of a workforce that represents the general population.
“We need to start engaging young high-potential women early to help support the pipeline to leadership,” she says. “Executive management needs to instil a culture of genuinely developing women’s confidence and profiles in the company and we should have greater transparency around the issue of diversity so we can really see how we are performing.”
Janice Gan, General Counsel – Accor Asia Pacific (Singapore)
She is a new mother, yet Janice Gan is able to juggle her priorities with her family and work. With Accor opening, on average, one hotel per week in Asia Pacific, things are certainly busy on the legal front.
Apart from supervising operations in Accor ‘s regional headquarters in Singapore, Janice also manages regional legal teams in Accor’s Sydney, New Delhi, Singapore and Shanghai offices to support business in the Asia Pacific region, which means regular travel is required.
“I think the culture at Accor allows women to have more choices with how they want their job or career to be, more than other places I have worked with,” she said. But work life balance isn’t always easy, especially, for a new parent.
“Having recently become a new mom, there are constraints on your time as a young child will always need its mother if the mother is the primary care giver, as is often the case in Asia. It also often falls to the wife in Asia to manage most of the duties at home so it’s a difficult balancing act,” said Janice.
This is where a platform such as WAAG is useful as it provides a forum for women to discuss any female-related concerns in the hospitality industry, including motherhood.
Shamila Rolfe, General Manager, Mercure Bali Legian (Indonesia)
The topic of women leadership in Asia is one that Shamila will easily delve into, having lived in Canada, New Zealand, Singapore and Indonesia. The Fiji-born GM can testify to the huge cultural differences that exist in the workplace as she moves from one country to another, even within the same industry – hospitality.
Shamila says that Academie Accor provided a number of leadership training programs including a Diploma in Hospitality that helped her develop the necessary skills to succeed. Still, cultural factors were real hurdles to cross when it comes to having a woman in charge.
“In Asia, some contractors are not so comfortable seeing a woman doing project management and dealing with technical issues,” she said. “Women have to be strong and hold their ground amongst that kind of mentality but I believe women are more than capable of doing everything our male counterparts do. ”
Shamila goes on to say that she has found some owners in Asia are not always comfortable with a woman General Manager but this is something she is working hard to combat. After successfully opening the Mercure Bali Legian, she recently started as General Manager of the ibis Styles Macpherson in Singapore, which will open later this year, showing that some owners also embrace the opportunity to have a woman in charge.