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Celebrating International Women’s Day at Marriott

Originally published on LinkedIn by Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson.

Today, we are continuing our celebration of International Women’s Day with three profiles of exceptional talent at Marriott International.

Yesterday, I mentioned in my blog that this week is a time to reflect on the incredible progress and achievements of dynamic women around the world. As we salute inspiring women who have courageously changed neighborhoods, countries, industries and hearts and minds, we must continue to focus on the drive toward global gender parity and the fulfillment of human rights for all.

At Marriott International, more than 40 percent of our top 1,000 leaders are women. Our goal is to achieve gender parity among global leadership by 2025. We operate on a world stage and we know our continued success will be a direct result of our efforts to maintain an inclusive environment, where no energy is ever spent wondering if you belong.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to two associates and a Marriott hotel owner. I hope you find their stories as uplifting as I do.

Day 2:

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Brenda Durham

Who: Brenda Durham is Marriott’s senior vice president and regional general counsel for the Caribbean and Latin America. She manages a team of seven attorneys, two paralegals and two legal assistants at corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Md. and at a regional headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

What inspired your career: I pursued a law degree believing it would provide a range of interesting options and experiences from which I could develop a challenging and rewarding career. And it has. I have worked as a district attorney; served overseas in the military as an Army JAG, supporting counter-drug and special forces operations; and worked at a law firm. Then Marriott gave me the opportunity to work internationally, which was a lifelong ambition since I grew up in a bi-cultural home.

What was a key decision that propelled your career forward: Leaving a law firm more than 20 years ago and joining Marriott’s law department. Since then, I’ve had multiple opportunities to develop a broad role that includes both legal practice and traditional business assignments.

Who is your mentor and how has she/he helped your career? Mentors, for me, are people who inspire me. I do my best to incorporate what I learn from them.

What advice do you have for other women to succeed in the workplace? Never say “no” to an opportunity. It often leads to another opportunity and rewarding relationships. Assume there are no limitations to your career; no rules. Make yourself indispensable and be curious. Ask a lot of questions and work hard.

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Mara de Lima

Who: Mara de Lima is chief executive officer of Hospitality Property Fund, which owns six Marriott properties, including The Westin Cape Town, in South Africa, a waterfront 483-room hotel.

What inspired your career: My career was largely inspired by my love for traveling and people. I selected hospitality because I wanted to improve my lifestyle to be able to afford to see the world and meet fascinating people from different cultures and backgrounds. I was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was 19 years old when my father passed away and in order to assist my mother, I worked and studied part time to become an accountant. I started working as a management accountant at a hotel, spending my days in each of the hotel’s departments to learn and understand the business. This gave me immense insight and clarity as to how the numbers fit together. In 2016, I was promoted to chief financial officer for Hospitality Property Fund, which owns 54 hotels around South Africa. This new role took me to board meetings and investor meetings, and I worked with many people across the hospitality industry. Last June, I was promoted to chief executive officer.

What was a key decision that propelled your career forward? There was no pivotal moment for me. The backbone to my success has always been hard work. I remember studying while my friends were out having fun. My perseverance paid off.

Who is your mentor and how has she/he helped your career? I’ve been privileged to have many mentors in hospitality, from hotel general managers to operations directors and other senior executives. I believe everyone we meet has something to teach us, even if it’s what not to do or who not to be. There is always a lesson to be learned.

What advice do you have for other women to succeed in the workplace? Work hard, set your intent and reach your goals. Our minds are unbelievably strong, and we can achieve anything we set our minds to. It is also important to be seen and heard – always present yourself professionally, be present and change your language to positively ask questions and positively pass on your message. Most importantly, persevere!

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Sherene Hutchinson

Who: Sherene Hutchinson is a specialty chef at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, in charge of the Veranda oceanfront restaurant. In 2018, she won Marriott’s Masters of the Craft international cooking competition, beating out more than 2,500 contestants from 270 hotels.

What inspired your career: My grandmother inspired me to become a chef. I grew up in Jamaica, watching her cook every day. She would always prepare too much food in case someone came for a visit. She was wise. I had friends who would follow me home to eat her food.

What was a key decision that propelled your career forward: After I finished culinary school, it was hard to find an internship in Jamaica. A friend of mine was a chef at The Ritz-Carlton in Bahrain. He encouraged me to search in other countries. I found a great training opportunity at The Ritz-Carlton, Doha in Qatar and I jumped at the chance. It was a bit nerve wracking. I had never been outside of Jamaica and everything about Qatar was different from my background. But I loved the experience and I learned to cook with entirely different techniques, seasonings and meats.

Who is your mentor and how has he/she helped your career: My mentor is a previous executive sous chef. He has always given me support and encouraged me to take risks or live with regret.

What advice do you have for other women to succeed in the workplace: Be yourself. You are your own version of strength already.

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