The tourism industry is one of the world’s top employers and, globally, women make up 70% of the workforce. And yet, women are not the people in power, representing only 10% of development roles. Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is aiming to change this narrative and forge a new path for women who are eager to make their mark on hospitality with the new Women Own the Room initiative.
Specifically targeting women’s advancement in hotel ownership, Women Own the Room is designed to advance and empower women entrepreneurs in order to help them break through in the male-dominated hotel industry, create a level playing field and amend the lack of female representation in hotel ownership, real estate and investment funding roles. “This program is an industry first. It’s about financial support, operational support and creating a community. And it’s giving us a platform to talk about it. You can’t solve a problem until you address it,” says Wyndham’s CMO, Lisa Checchio, who was instrumental in the creation and launch of Women Own the Room.
Here, we caught up with Checchio, who is passionate about the advancement of women in the industry. She shared details about Wyndham’s longstanding commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as her own advice for getting ahead.
The Concept: “Wyndham is made up of 22 distinct global brands, and each brand is represented by advisory councils that are made up of owners. We have some amazing women on our franchise advisory councils. In sitting with those women, we’ve started to realize that a lot of them share similar storylines about how they got into hotel ownership and some of the key barriers to entry,” says Checchio. “So it sparked the question: Are there more women like them? Wyndham is the largest hotel franchising company in the world, and we felt that we had a responsibility to use our size and scale to make that ownership number more diverse.”
The Challenge for Women: The first woman named to the program, Trusha Patel, is opening two new La Quinta and Hawthorn Suites dual-branded hotels in Texas. Checchio shares Trusha Patel’s story to illustrate how challenging it can be for women to become hotel owners. “She grew up in the hotel business, and her family and husband owned hotels. When it came time for her to strike out on her own and find a deal, she couldn’t get the terms that she needed from a lender. But her husband went in with the exact same deal and was able to get the terms. Her story is very common,” says Checchio.
Other Barriers to Entry: Besides financial support, other barriers to entry include operational support and opportunities to network with other women. “They might be asking: Once I do have the funding, where do I even begin? If I’m a new owner, how do I run a hotel? How do I generate revenue for the hotel? How do I build a hotel if I want to do something new?” says Checchio. “There are many women who may have attempted this, hit a barrier or an obstacle, didn’t know how to handle it and then stopped. The ultimate goal is that several years from now, I want to meet a woman who says, ‘Because of this program, you gave me the keys to hotel ownership.”
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: “This is not just a one-off program. This is an extension of our core values of who we are as an organization,” says Checchio. “We’re very proud to say that 30% of our executive leadership team are women. And that’s even higher as we go into our next level down of senior leaders.”
The Appeal of Owning a Hotel: “Hotels offer the opportunity for entrepreneurship and that’s really at the heart of our business: this entrepreneur mindset, the nimbleness and excitement of running your own business. You set your own hours, you can choose the location for your business. You can choose the way that you want to deliver it to your guests,” says Checchio. “And the beauty of franchising hotels is that you have the support of a large company. You have the distribution, the loyalty programs, the suppliers, the operation support, the development support. But at the end, it’s your small business that we’re supporting. We’re your partner behind the scenes, ensuring you’re successful. I always say that we’re in the business of making memories and selling memories, and I think for anyone who wants to be a small business owner and an entrepreneur and wants to sell memories, there’s nothing better than hotels.”
How to Get Ahead: “My advice is BYOC—bring your own chair. There have been many meetings where I have physically brought my own chair into a room, just so I could listen,” says Checchio. “Exposure is key—to be able to listen in, to understand the dynamics in certain rooms. It goes back to the emphasis of this program—to be able to help women be a part of those rooms and to really understand the ins and outs of hotel ownership.”
Hustle: “I played tennis in college and I make the joke that I was never going pro. In my senior year, I started working for a woman named Sara Fornaciari, who was the first female attorney at ProServ, a sports management agency. She left to start her own company called Sports+Plus,” says Checchio. “I carried boxes and I ran Excel spreadsheets and I faxed and I did anything she asked me to do, happily. It’s still one of the best jobs I ever had and I would do it in a second. Sara always had business and it was always because she hustled. And that has always stuck with me—that sense of hustle. And I say it now: that’s what I hire for. I hire for hustle because you can’t fake it. And when you meet someone who is a hustler, you can feel their passion, you can feel their energy and you just know they’re always going to find a way through.”
Women Who Have Inspired Me: “There’s a saying that you stand on the shoulders of the women who’ve come before you, and I truly believe that. I am inspired by mothers and caregivers and professionals every day. In the day to day, I have two women peers on the executive committee: Michele Allen, our chief financial officer, and Monica Melancon, our chief human resources officer. We share a lot of stories with each other about what we’ve gone through, our career barriers that we’ve overcome, experiences that we’ve had that are unique to us. Talking about diversity is one thing—but truly creating inclusive environments is vital. Wyndham truly believes that. We walk the talk. And as a member of a team that has women like that surrounding me, I do feel like I can bring my whole self to work. I’m also inspired by these women that our organization gets to spend time with and help them to fulfill their dreams of ownership. That is Wyndham’s mission: to make hotel ownership possible for all, to make leadership possible for all.”