Today is International Women’s Day, a time set aside to shine light on the wonderful and inspiring accomplishments of talented women around the world, to raise awareness about women’s equality and to work together to accelerate gender parity. This year, the celebration means more to me than ever before as I have recently been named President of Marriott International.
I’m the first woman at Marriott to sit in this seat, but I didn’t get here without the hard work and sacrifice of countless women before me, starting with our co-founder Alice S. Marriott. She was the first woman to sit on the Marriott board, the first woman to keep the company books and the first woman to select the décor for our early hotels. She was breaking down barriers back in the 1920s. She helped establish the Marriott culture of opportunity for all and because of her, so many women, including myself, have flourished here.
As we look forward to a global recovery from COVID-19, it is critical that we remain focused on women’s roles in the workplace. The impact of the pandemic is erasing years of economic progress many women have made and is threatening to leave long-lasting damage as many women lose jobs or drop out of the workforce to care for children.
At Marriott, women represent 54 percent of our global workforce. We understand that companies with gender and culturally diverse employees are more likely to thrive in the global marketplace. The more diverse perspectives, skills, and backgrounds we have at the table, the better we will be as a company at innovating and driving business results.
I’m extremely proud and delighted to showcase today and every day this week some of my rock star women colleagues from around the world. All of them are risk takers. They are ambitious and hardworking, brave and yet caring enough to lend a hand. They inspire me and I hope you will take time to read their beautiful stories.
Aya El Maghraby
WHO: At 25 years old, Aya El Maghraby is already Chef de Partie (head chef) at Plateau, a Mediterranean restaurant in the JW Marriott Cairo. She has eight chefs who work under her direction, which is quite an accomplishment. It wasn’t easy.
WHAT INSPIRED AND LAUNCHED YOUR CAREER: My dad used to work in the hotel business and my family would visit a lot of properties where I sampled different cuisines. I decided to go to culinary school, which was a hard decision because in Egypt, it’s a male-dominated field. When I arrived, there were very few women students in the program and none of them wanted to be chefs. They wanted to start their own business cooking at home and delivering food. Most people assumed it was just a hobby for me and they didn’t take me seriously. That kind of culture de-motivated me and I began to question if I was good enough. I didn’t have a mentor. But I also couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.
WHAT WAS A KEY DECISION THAT PROPELLED YOUR CAREER FORWARD: Shortly after graduation from culinary school, I was accepted into the Culinary Voyager program at the JW Marriott Cairo. I did hands-on training not only in the kitchen but also across the hotel – in engineering, security, finance and housekeeping. I was so lucky to get this training. It gave me an advantage.
WHO IS YOUR MENTOR: Right after I finished the Voyager program, the hotel hired a new culinary director. We hit it off right away. He taught me how to plan menus, budget a department and so much more. He wanted me to work at the 11 restaurants in the hotel – serving cuisine from Asia, Italy, the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Then he offered me the position at Plateau.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE: Don’t get de-motivated and think that you’re unworthy. Only you can decide that. Find a mentor. Mine gave me support and opportunity and I needed that. Raise your hand. When the culinary administrator went on maternity leave, I volunteered to do her job too. I scheduled shifts for 150 employees, I managed the HR and finance paperwork for the department, and I ordered food from the market. I did that job in the morning and I cooked at night. It gave me a lot of experience in a short time. When an opportunity came to run my own restaurant, I was ready.
What I love about Aya’s story is how she persevered despite some self-doubt and she raised her hand to take on an assignment that was hard and added to her workload – but that she knew she would ultimately benefit from the experience. Congrats Aya – I can’t wait to get on the road and taste some of your incredible culinary creations.
WHO: Janet McNab is Multi Property Vice President for the Sheraton Grand Macao, the largest Sheraton in the world with 4,001 rooms, and the adjacent hotel, The St. Regis Macao.
WHAT INSPIRED AND LAUNCHED YOUR CAREER: I grew up in Brisbane, Australia, the daughter of Italian immigrants. I started as a paralegal, but it was a bit boring. So, I took a job as a convention assistant, planning meetings at the Sheraton Brisbane Hotel & Towers. I loved it and within eight years, I was Director of Sales and Marketing, while I earned an MBA part time.
WHAT WAS A KEY DECISION THAT PROPELLED YOUR CAREER FORWARD: I put up my hand to move. The company wanted me to go to Nanjing, China and I had never even heard of it. All of my meetings were in Mandarin and I didn’t speak Mandarin. My secretary was my translator. But I learned a lot. I learned that all the things I thought I knew were not always right in a different culture. You have to mold to your environment. In the end, it was one of my favorite opportunities and it would be followed by increasingly senior jobs in Indonesia, Malaysia, Bali, Thailand and now Macao.
WHO IS YOUR MENTOR: I have had so many mentors – men and women who were terrific. They saw me as someone who was productive and didn’t need to be handheld. When opportunities came, they pushed me to say yes even if at times I wasn’t so sure.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE: You have to take risks. You can’t tread water and think you’ll get ahead. If I hadn’t taken risks, I wouldn’t have moved into operations, which I love.
Janet’s story about her first assignment in China is a great example of the importance of having humility and adaptability to new situations and cultures – something she clearly got right since she now sits at the helm of the largest Sheraton in the world! I loved seeing Janet and her team when I was in Macao in 2016 and I look forward to visiting again.