The annual event known as International Women’s Day is held on March 8. If you have daughters and/or granddaughters, you might have paid attention. If you are the partner of a woman, perhaps you both talked about it for a bit. And surely, readers of all genders could not help but notice the media coverage and thought about it. What was the end result? Anything more than thoughts?

In the days before the 2018 celebration, I gave it more thought than ever before as the last 12 months have been tumultuous for women, to say the least. And, after spending the full day of March 8th in the presence of some of the industry’s most accomplished executives who just happen to be women, I felt the earth move… and not because I was in earthquake territory. 

But first, let’s get back International Women’s Day. The stated origin and goal is to “celebrate women's achievements throughout history and across nations.” It is also known as the United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace. There is much to celebrate and our social media feeds did a fairly decent job of sharing pink frames and funny memes along with links to profiles about heroic/remarkable (known or unknown) women of history. McDonald’s humorously thought it clever to invert the M to make a W (fail), which drives home the point that also there is much to lament. 
The day prior, I was flying cross country to attend the annual Travel Industry Executive Women’s Network Conference held coincidentally on March 8th in Los Angeles. It would be an opportunity to look at our industry from a leadership point of view and perhaps peer through the glass ceiling should one be there. But the most interesting insight was that, after escaping the second nor’easter in seven days, we can’t wait any longer for our spring: The Spring of Women.

True, March 20th is the official start of spring so the idea of a springtime for women could be linked to the start of the season, but in reality, it has nothing to do with it at all.

Rather, thoughts of so called “spring” movements come to mind. While “The Arab Spring” is a known moment in history (a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests), it is not the first “spring.” In fact the term "Arab Spring" is an allusion to the Revolutions of 1848, which are sometimes referred to as the "Springtime of Nations," along with the Prague Spring in 1968. 

So what’s the point? Today, we are in a similar setup. We are feeling the waves of change in our culture related to so many important topics, from protecting our rights to protecting our kids, our jobs, our lives and that of our planet. All this effort is through demonstrations and protests; we haven’t seen anything like this since the late 1960s. But today, one must ask, are we doing anything other than the lamentable “thoughts and prayers” about the next generation of hospitality industry women? Was last week the Harbinger of Spring for Women? I hope so! 

At TIEWN in Los Angeles, more than 250 attendees shared thoughts on the scarcity of females in the C-suite. We heard reference to a study from Cornell University on female executives in hospitality: “While women make up 52.4 percent of the labor force in these companies, they constitute only 15.5 percent of executive officers. And in hospitality technology, the numbers are even lower.” 

The statistics are ominous when looking at the big tech companies – many of which are California-based – in fact, it showcases a relatively low number of female participation. In 2016, Apple had 20 percent of women employees in technology; Google had 17 percent of women in its workforce, while Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter have 16.6 percent, 15 percent and 10 percent respectively. One can imagine the stats on how many were executive level.

Is there a reason to consider increasing these stats that can be financially validated? If so, one would hope this could change the tide. Interestingly, one panelist pointed out that a study conducted by Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY (Ernst & Young), found that companies with at least 30 percent women in leadership roles may boost their net profit margins by close to 15 percent when compared to those with no female leaders. That sounds like a good reason to consider a few more women in top level to me. But let’s make sure that is not a one-off stat.

A study conducted by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) on women in technology found that in successful startups, there were twice as many women in upper management roles than in unsuccessful startups. Validation.

Interesting factoid: The state of California gets it. It is leading the way with the 2020 campaign, actively encouraging companies to increase the presence of women in the board rooms by the order of 20 percent by 2020. Yet why do managers need to wait for state or federal laws or initiatives to increase women leaders in their firms and promote qualified women to senior roles?

One moderator asked why this area sees little change, if the tech mantra is often all about disrupting (industries) and transforming (the world). Clearly a wave of change and innovation is alive and well when you look at the myriad bustling startups we see at HITEC and other industry events. Visions of those toiling in garages and co-working spaces/incubators is romantic, but who is advocating for the women’s team? Are we (male and female) mentoring and advising other females? One panelist asked how many male colleagues are stepping up and helping. Another worried we are still treating each other as rivals given the scarcity of roles we must fight for.

Everyone adores the myth of so-called unicorns and even yours truly has played an active executive role for more than one innovative team battling to be the next big thing: Internet hotel video tours (circa 1998) and (circa 2016). The dialogue was the same at both places and is probably identical at any startup: “Wow, this is amazing. This is awesome…WE are the game changer.”
Guess what…it isn’t. Something is rotten in technology and that is gender inequality. The startups that typically get the attention, the technology that typically makes things better in hospitality or any industry are, more often than not, led by men. In fact, there may even be a term for it all: Brotopia. And we should realize the cost to our industry for this attitude.

So let’s take a moment to celebrate a few very special women in our industry for being the standard bearers for us all. And more to the point, let’s celebrate, emulate and innovate to create the next generation of leaders and icons for our industry.

1. Bonny Simi: President of JetBlue Technology Ventures, the Silicon Valley innovation hub for JetBlue Airway’s investment and incubation of emerging startups at the intersection of technology, hospitality and travel. Simi joined JetBlue in 2003 and brings more than 25 years of experience in human resources, customer service, aviation, industrial engineering, operations, broadcast journalism and design thinking experience to her role. Simi is also an active JetBlue pilot and three-time Olympian in the sport of luge. She graduated from Stanford University with three degrees, including MS Management, MS Engineering and a BA in Communications.

2. Kris Singleton: Chief information officer and senior IT executive for International Cruise & Excursions. Simultaneously, she is global board director for HFTP and her responsibilities are to provide guidance and support to the association, assisting members with hospitality solutions to industry challenges, providing educational opportunities to enhance their knowledge and strategic insight for innovation. Prior to International Cruises and Excursions, she was the chief information officer for Omni Hotels & Resorts in Dallas, where she provided information technology vision and leadership strategically aligned to meet the business objectives and brand strategies. Singleton was responsible for fostering innovation to enhance guest services and operations and led the deployment and management of current and emerging technology. Prior to that she was chief information officer for The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Singleton provided enterprisewide vision and leadership for the company’s strategic business objectives through the appropriate and applied use of technology. In this position, she led IT strategic and operational planning to achieve business goals by operating a reliable and stable IT infrastructure, fostering innovation and business partnerships, and leading the evaluation, setting of priorities, deployment and management of current and future technology products, services and systems across the organization. Her contributions were significant to The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas’ brand experience to guests and co-stars as well as to the overall efficiency, productivity, growth and direction of the company. Singleton has a successful track record defining technology strategies that drive bottom-line growth and achieve business goals. Her reputation for implementing transformational changes in a complex technical environment are well known and result in delivering a stable, reliable infrastructure.

3) Martha Poulter: Senior vice president and chief information officer for Royal Caribbean Cruises. Poulter joins RCL after spending the last 13 years of her career as CIO for major corporations such as Starwood Hotels and Resorts and GE Capital. After spending 19 years with General Electric, most of it in the financial services side, she reached the top as CIO of GE Capital. After she left GE, Poulter served as executive vice president and CIO for Starwood Hotel and Resorts. There she led a global IT team integrated across Starwood's nine brands and operational platforms, and served as a member of Starwood's leadership team. 

4) Lynn Goodendorf CIPP, CISSP: Director of information security for Mandarin Oriental. Goodendorf has a global scope of responsibility for all hotels and corporate offices. She has more than 22 years of leadership in technology and risk management with experience both as a CISO and chief privacy officer. Goodendorf’s passion for data protection has earned her industrywide recognition including providing expert testimony for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission regarding best practices in information security, presenting of a white paper to the National People’s Congress of China regarding the global flow of personal data, and valuable service on the U.S. technical advisory group to the ISO/IEC international standards sub-committee for security techniques that resulted in the updated ISO 27002. Even more impressive, Goodendorf has been a speaker at ISACA, Infragard, Secure World and other professional security events and has published articles with TechTarget, Hospitality Upgrade and White Collar Crime Fighter. Her professional associations include ISSA, IAPP and InfraGard, a cybersecurity partnership between the FBI and private sector.

We could examine others and encourage readers to email who they think was missing, but the really useful call to action is this: Join with other industries to help grow and encourage the next generation. There are many groups pushing for this by creating events where like-minded women can meet and persuade that technology is an industry that welcomes hard-working, passionate women. Girls in Tech is one of those groups. For more than 10 years, they have organized conferences around the world where women can pitch their ideas, hackathons where they can build them and boot camps where they can learn the skills required to enter into the tech sector. Why isn’t there anything of this sort through many of the hospitality industry’s events? After spending 24 hours in the presence of some of our industry’s most accomplished executives who just happen to be women, it was crystal clear. Travel and hospitality tech industry women are still at the fetal stages of our potential and we as an industry are not talking or doing enough to act and make a change by creating events that help the next generation bloom. It is overdue to say it is time for a thaw: Spring is here!