Inside White Lodging's women's advocacy group

Last January, Carolyn Hosna circulated an invite to 12 senior-level women at White Lodging's corporate offices in Merrillville, Ind. Hosna, corporate senior director of marketing and distribution, was looking for like-minded women to meet weekly for professionally focused conversations. What Hosna didn't expect was for all 12 of her prospects to respond, and positively, leading to the first meeting of WL Women, White Lodging's first associate advocacy group.

"We invited 12 women, from our chief revenue officer to our VP of sales and coordinators from several other departments," Hosna said. "Initally we were meeting every Tuesday to talk about whatever was hapening in the world, from TED Talks and articles that interested us to sharing tips on salary negotiations and other professional topics."

Organized via LeanIn, a nonprofit organization and online community designed to help women network, the group quickly grew to 20 members. This growth told Hosna there was an abundance of people who were on the hunt for such an organization within hospitality, and she began softly announcing the group’s existence throughout the White Lodging office. Before she knew it the group swelled to 40 members.

By this point, Hosna felt it necessary to solidify a purpose for the group. Together they wrote a vision statement laying out their goals for the year. Once word got around to White Lodging’s senior leadership on the existence of a women’s group, they showed immediate genuine interest. Harold Morgan, the company’s SVP of human resources, became an executive sponsor for WL Women, solidifying it as an advocacy group within White Lodging.

“We are officially blessed now,” Hosna said. “We are are so fortunate to have a relationship with Hyatt’s headquarters, who was willing to show us the ropes on how to form an organization like this and keep us informed on what we should know.”

White Lodging's relationship with Hyatt helped establish the group's credentials.

This insight included creating a purpose document with a plan and budget, and eventually led to the meeting with Morgan, which solidified the group’s existence within White Lodging. Hosna credits the group’s success to the level of professionalism with which it was created. 

“When you say you want to start a women’s group at a corporate office, people often don’t understand,” she said. “They wonder if we are talking about scrapbooking, but we just took topics that were more professionally focused and went with it. At first we spoke about what was relevant in the news, and specialized it to our group. Now we have close to 40 women meeting monthly at our corporate office, and each month one signs their name as a thought leader and we fill out a subject pick list. We want to keep this organic, and if someone has something personal to speak about they are encouraged to bring it up.”

When asked why she believed the group felt like a necessity, Hosna said the current state of women in hospitality is strong but there are opportunities for it to be stronger. She specifically cited a strong female leadership presence at White Lodging, evident in the group’s growing membership, and she believes those leaders have an opportunity to be an asset to other employees on a personal and professional level.

“At White Lodging, we have many females in our senior leadership, and while people get busy and focused on their jobs at hand I wanted this group to act as a pause for those female senior leaders to teach and mentor within the company,” Hosna said. "It’s a place to talk about recruitment, advancement and more, to give that message and time back to people on that career path, and there are a lot of opportunities for this.”

Physical distance can deter groups from forming, but there are opportunities for group growth online.

For others who want to create a similar group, Hosna said to speak up and listen for those who sound off. She recognizes that not every office will be positioned to facilitate large weekly group meetings, so in those instances she recommends organizing via social media or email lists. Hosna’s organization has its own Facebook group of White Lodging employees, which has grown to 150 active members in three months, a number far exceeding her estimated 30 when she started the group. In addition, White Lodging Women had its own announcement and call to action at the company’s corporate event and annual GM conference held in 2016, helping seek out more members.

While WL Women is still focused primarily on the company’s corporate office in Indiana, Hosna said she eventually wants to create a chapter in every city.

“Of the initial 12 women I reached out to, I expected half to respond due to schedules and other personal concerns,” Hosna said. “I’m impressed with the organic momentum we’ve generated with this, and I’m personally proud of our company for taking us on, formalizing us and making us part of our corporate messaging.”

White Lodging is the most recent company to offer a place for women to excel in hospitality, in their case leveraging the expertise and contacts of women in executive positions to mentor those new or growing within the business. HOTEL MANAGEMENT also recently profiled Marina MacDonald, Red Roof Inn’s chief marketing officer, who started her own Forum on Leadership for Women Entrepreneurs, a first for the company. 

Seeking to highlight Red Roof’s growing female hotel ownership base, MacDonald’s experience in creating a space for women in hospitality mirrors that of Hosna, and both found immediate positive responses to their respective calls to action. For further reading on women and leadership in hospitality, check out HOTEL MANAGEMENT’s profiles of Melissa Maher, SVP of Expedia's global partner group, and Jagruti Panwala, the first female officer in the history of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association.