In celebration of International Women’s Day (8 March), Spice sat down with InterContinental Sydney’s hotel manager Charlotte Holtmann to discuss the ins and outs of what it means to be a successful leader in the fast-paced – and often highly competitive – hospitality industry.
What attracted you to a career in hotels?
I have been incredibly lucky – what I loved, what I still love, and what drew me towards hospitality many years ago, still holds true today. It was the idea of being able to travel and to explore new cultures at an early age, while working in a field where I would be working with other people – it’s always been the ‘people’ industry for me. I had identified this already very early on when most of my friends and schoolmates were still unsure what to do. Having moved between continents and having worked with so many incredibly talented people, I can say that I am able to fulfill my dream.
Has being a woman helped or hindered your career?
I can truly say I don’t feel that being female has either helped nor hindered my career path. I was very lucky to work with strong leaders who had a focus on development and growth based on skills, rather than gender, and supported my ambitions.
Is there a glass ceiling and, if so, what can be done to address this?
There will always be a glass ceiling if you allow, or tolerate, there to be one. Luckily many companies have identified this and have great initiatives in place which stem from awareness. We have fostered a great company culture within IHG to remove any notion of the ‘glass ceiling’ and encourage development, training and flexibility. Building a culture of change – a sustainable culture – begins at the top. We’re incredibly lucky to have strong leadership which has identified where gender gap issues lie and how to create a more sustainable, flexible, environment to overcome it. The next step is taking action and it’s one we’ve been doing very well – recent changes to paid parental leave in Australia had a great impact where we found around 95% of women return to IHG after parental leave. The IHG Future Leaders program is another initiative I am very close to; last year we saw a 70% intake of women enter the program. A recent audit at our hotel also showed that we currently have a complete gender balance which we are very proud of.
How does having mentors like Karin Sheppard help you in your career?
Karin is a remarkable role model and an exceptional leader, and I think this is particularly important for female leaders. It makes a difference to have a leader who is very personable and extremely knowledgeable, and who knows these two things are not mutually exclusive. Karin has a strong presence in the industry which is another aspiring factor and something I enjoy.
Do you mentor others? If so, who and why?
We have several young female leaders in our hotel who I work with, helping them through various challenges and development; it’s an extremely rewarding thing. I find it easy to relate to these women and stretch their thinking, while offering support and guidance. I often see a lack of self-confidence which is absolutely unnecessary and I help them appreciate their own achievements.
What’s your favourite thing about working in hotels?
I still find an incredible amount of fulfillment working with people, guests and colleagues – and, most importantly, being able to make a difference to them. It’s what I’ve always loved about the industry and hotels in particular. It can be the small things that make you happy, such as a hotel student completing a successful internship with us and getting a great job offer, or a ‘thank you’ letter from a couple who celebrated their wedding in our hotel and absolutely loved it. I find everyone has a story to tell and is able to teach me something.
What would you like to see change in terms of gender diversity in the hotel industry?
Our goal needs to be a gender balance, especially in senior leadership roles which still tend to be male dominated, particularly general manager and hotel manager roles. While there’s plenty of initiatives in the workplace, it’s important that we’re ensuring both structural and cultural changes are sustainable – this will be the key.
How will you be spending International Women’s Day?
I will be at our ‘Winning Faster’ workshop with fellow IHG leaders from around the country, and I am proud to say one of our topics of discussion will be gender equality and career development for female leaders. We have so many talented women in the company striving to progress their careers – and of course talented male leaders supporting the initiatives – so a very fitting day ahead!