When Women Make The First Move: What I Learned From Bumble’s IPO
by Bashar Wali
Women. Who needs them?
From birth, so many of us are self-proclaimed mama’s boys, and yet, by the time we graduate from Cornell Hotel School (or the off-brand equivalent), we’ve pushed them out. As we don our ceremonial blue suit and take that first step up the corporate ladder, we leave women in the dust.
We’ve made sense of women in the workforce in a handful of roles: HR, PR, journalism, marketing, reservations, and concierge, mostly. A few VPs slip through, a sign of progress, assuming they haven’t yet been furloughed. The rest never stood a chance.
We get our shoes shined at the airport while making deals and sipping Starbucks. We always tip at least 20%, because we’re in the hospitality business, after all. We drink our scotch. We get corporate credit cards. We fly business class. We call our wives at home. We check on our kids. We sneer at the latest news: Andrew Cuomo. Really?
As we wait to board first, we inhale, recognizing our own fragility.
We take our single digit seat assignment, we exhale: we’re safe at the top.
We touch down in whatever city, check into our hotel room and pull the cellophane off our VIP cheese plate. We join the boy’s club of owners, investors, and decision-makers. Once we’ve reached the top, we yank the ladder from the ground floor. We make decisions behind closed doors.
I was flying business class somewhere between Portland and New York, thumbing through Instagram when an image of Whitney Wolfe Herd with her son slung under her arm, stopped my scroll. At 31 years old, she’d become not only a billionaire, but also the youngest woman to take a major US company public. Bumble is a dating app that ensures women make the first move.
What would happen if women were given all the first moves? I wondered. What would society look like then? What would hospitality look like—how would things be different?
One look at Whitney or Kamala, and we might believe that things are getting better. In 2019, the Castell Project released a report that showed signs of progress: 12% of hospitality industry leadership positions were held by women. 1 in 5 presenters at hotel investment conferences were women. But, the same report showed that men were 10x more likely to be promoted to principal or partner than women. Since 2012, women held strong to 5% of CEO positions at US hotel companies (AHLA).
THEN ALONG CAME THE PANDEMIC
As hotels began to close their doors last spring, furlough became a buzzword. Roles like HR and marketing, typically helmed by women, were relegated to part-time or altogether eliminated. There are 41% fewer women in the leisure and hospitality sector than there were in February 2020 (US Dept of Labor).
Women are the backbone of our society and our industry. Men muscle through life guided by linear thinking. Women are innately more kind, more emotionally intelligent, and better equipped to set us up for future success. In the throes of the pandemic, women are critical to finding our way out of this mess, without doing more harm.
We need them now.
We need them more than ever.
Women are needed to rethink how we do hospitality today and every day after. For far too long, we’ve ignored women in the C-suite and at the ownership level. At the hotel investment conferences, women are lost in a sea of blue suited, middle-aged white men. Or worse, a token.
What happens when women make their way to the top in our industry?
When we scoot over, and allow women to take on leadership and ownership roles, things inevitably change. Take Stacy Shoemaker Rauen, the Editor-in-Chief of Hospitality Design magazine. In the midst of the pandemic, Stacy launched the Hospitality Diversity Action Council (HDAC) to bring more voices to the table, voices that had been historically underrepresented in our industry. You go girl.
Likewise, I met Beatrice Sibblies on Clubhouse. Beatrice was raised in Jamaica, graduated from Yale, and cut her teeth on Wall Street before finding her way back to hospitality. Today, Beatrice is in the process of building her hotel brand in Harlem. Her competitors? If you could call them that, are an Aloft and a Marriott Renaissance (the irony). Black women represent less than 1% of hotel ownership (Nabhood). I’m rooting for you, Bea.
Let’s celebrate women, not only during this special month. More importantly, let’s make sure we get out of their way. They don’t need us to do much—except move over—and let them make their way to the top.
THE FUTURE, AND PRESENT, IS FEMALE
It’s time for change. Women must have a seat at the table. Women must be given the first move on more than just dating apps. Let’s make room at the table. Let’s cheer women on as they build new tables. Long enough for other women to join them. And if there is no room? Then get up. Make room for them. The time has come. The time is NOW.
The truth is, we need women. We’ve always needed women. More than we know. The view from the top hits different, if you weren’t born there. There’s no telling what a different perspective could do to make our hotels—and our world—a better place.