Contributed by Paula Perrin, Sr. Market Analyst, SHR
In a recent study from Cornell University on female executives in hospitality, it was reported that 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. At SHR, there are two female executives on a team of six C and V-level members, which, by mathematic definition, makes SHR the odd man (woman?) out in its industry. And that’s a very good thing. For as the study further states, the more varied the voices a company brings to its executive table, including female voices, the more it can fill in the gaps between styles, ideas and methods—and the more successful the company will ultimately be.Estella Hale, SHR’s vice president of product, and Laurie Mowchan, vice president of finance at SHR, are two solid examples of female executives who have been enriching the corporate conversation for many years. By understanding the personal and professional experiences that helped shape them as people, it becomes easier to see how they’ve managed to become gentle yet powerful industry leaders, bringing not necessarily “better” insights to light than their male counterparts, but “different” ones. It’s in that difference that the value truly lies.
They say that there are often singular events that either make people or break them. In Hale’s case, an American-born citizen attending school in Mexico, that one event might have been having to start second grade at the age of five, which had her in high school by 13, an intimidating situation for anyone, male or female.
“I knew I couldn’t survive by popularity or athletics,” Hale said. “So, I made up my mind to become the alpha person via my studies. I made sure I was the one to get the best grades, have the best attendance, just to show I belonged there.”
It worked. She graduated with high honors at 16, going on to earn degrees in graphic design and computer animation. And in what now seems like fate, she paid for school by working nights at a local hotel, foreshadowing what has become an almost 20-year career in hospitality technology.
By the time Mowchan was 16, she was already trusted with handling money at her first job as a cashier at a grocery store in her native Houston. But it was as a sophomore in college, working as an underwriter at Bank One for the small business sector when she knew she was hooked. The financial reports fascinated her.
“So much important information to dissect in such a condensed format,” she said. “From the beginning, I’ve always enjoyed the story that accounting tells with numbers. Here are our wins, here are our losses. It’s transparent and real and stable. I never wanted to do anything else.”
She would parlay her adeptness with spreadsheets into a University of Houston degree in accounting, handling progressively more senior finance roles, ultimately landing in hospitality technology.
Teamwork and Leadership
Fast forward to present day, and Mowchan is married with three children in a blended family. Hale is married and raising three special needs children. More lessons to be learned, particularly about patience, tolerance and what it means to truly pull for another person, no matter the seemingly overwhelming circumstances.
“When I look back at the diverse backgrounds of some of our best hires that seemed like a stretch at the time, I realize I’ve learned that stretch from my children,” said Hale. “They’ve taught me not to get so focused on gaps and weaknesses, but instead to find strengths and talents in each person, and capitalize on them.”
The same goes for leadership. For Mowchan, it’s more about mentoring than mere managing. “I try to strike a balance between recognizing someone's strengths and yet challenging them to step slightly outside their comfort zone,” she explained. “Watching a junior accountant grow into a finance superstar—that’s the ultimate reward.”
And contrary to the “Mad Men” workload technique of old, Hale takes a more conservative approach. “You want to challenge people to give you their best, then step back and give them room to learn from mistakes. Find the balance in intense environments, or you will start to break them,” she warns.
Most business gurus would say that the ability for a company to see trends in advance is one of the deciding factors in whether a company makes it or not. Mowchan uses her vision for trend-mining numbers. “If I were to name a super power, it would be seeing big gaping holes in financial reports, re-analyzing the data, and then blending it all back together for a truer picture,” she said.
Hale sites her special skill as being able to see in 3-D. “I can hold an idea in my hand and see it from different aspects, so I can dissect it,” she said. “Because of this, I can see sides of things that others may not see.” Once again, this comes from observing her children, and what thinking differently really means. “My daughter walks around softly flicking a leaf in front of her face and finds joy. I join her flicking a leaf myself, we connect, and now the joy is shared. So, I try to leave off pre-conceived notions whenever I can.”
Just as diversity in the executive suite is good for a company’s bottom line, so is the finer diversity seen within each woman that informs her life, which in turn, informs what she brings to the work table. As Hale put it, “I believe in my family. I believe in my work, and what we have, and what we can do. It’s OK if we don’t see the full path ahead every day. There are more advantages to seeding opportunities—eventually the path clears.”
First published in Hospitality Upgrade, Tech Talk, March 27, 2017. http://www.hospitalityupgrade.com/techTalk/Articles/A-Different-Power-Female-Executives-in-Hospitality-Technology/