HT-NEXT 2021 Excerpt: A Candid Discussion of Female Participation in the Hotel Tech Industry

In this panel discussion, members of AHLA's ForWard platform discussed some of the common issues facing women in technology and ways companies can begin to encourage more female participation in the hospitality technology industry.
Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor (Hotels)
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forward panel at htnext
Jeff Bzdawka, Page Petry, Kathy Hatala, & Dayna Kully

ForWard @ HT-NEXT: Women at the Top


ForWard: Women Advancing Hospitality is AHLA’s platform for engagement and a vehicle to highlight female leaders in the hospitality industry. It was launched in 2018, and helps offer practical strategies for women to benefit from on a day to day basis. AHLA also recently launched a new ForWard ambassador program. This volunteer driven program is open to all AHLA members at all levels. 

During this ForWard session at HT-NEXT, moderated by Dayna Kully, Co-Founder, 5thGenWireless, three panelists explained how they’re working to improve diversity and encourage females in hotel technology within their own organizations.

To start of the conversation, Kully asked panelists about the amount of females employed at their company. Kathy Hatala, Director of Sales, Blueprint RF discussed how her company has 40 employees and approximately eight of the 40 are women making the Blueprint RF workforce approximately 20 percent female. Blueprint RF is owned by Cox Communications which has approximately five thousand employees of which approximately 26 percent are women. On the other hand, Knowland is able to boast that nearly 60 percent of its overall team is female – however – Jeff Bzdawka, CEO, acknowledged that within its technology department, the company doesn’t have a single female on the team.

This led Kully to ask panelists for their thoughts on how the industry can encourage more women to choose the hospitality technology industry as a career choice.

According to Bzdawka, a recent study published by the National Science Foundation looked at college enrollment rates among women and computer science degrees. In 1997, 27 percent of females were enrolled in a computer science degree program. In 2016, that went down to 19 percent and in 2020 it’s down to 12 percent.

In response to these numbers, Hatala mentioned how with her previous company – the company made an effort specifically to do outreach with colleges in their area to get women interested in careers withing their industry and to explain the variety of career avenues available to them. Her previous company even created mentoring programs to match female college students up with executives which had dual benefits: mentees often had jobs waiting for them as soon as they graduated and executives were kept up to date on the most innovative technologies within their industry.

Page Petry, Principle, PD Petry Consulting, mentioned that we need to educate the youth even before they get to college, aiming to connect with students when they’re in high school. Petry also brought up that hoteliers could focus on pulling up General Managers into corporate IT jobs.

“Most hotel companies are focused on moving diverse candidates into GM jobs which makes them a great internal resource for recruiting to corporate,” Petry noted. “We need to let these GMs know that there are more opportunities within the company than just being a general manager.”

Kully then turned the conversation to the recruitment process itself, asking her panelists how hoteliers can recruit a more diverse group for IT careers.

Bzdawka spoke first, explaining a very real problem his company faced.

“Since joining the company as CEO we’ve hired 12 new people, but not a single female applied for any of our open positions. So we had to choose either to fill the role with a man or keep the position open. We ended up filling the roles, but it really has made us look at how we’re recruiting applicants to ensure we get a more diverse group,” Bzdawka said.

When Bzdawka took a look at their own recruiting firm, he found that it was a 100 percent white male firm.

“That’s a problem,” he noted. “Since discovering that, we added a female-led recruiting firm because we believe our recruiting partners need to have the same values as us.”

Hatala agreed, noting that it’s also highly important to make job descriptions that are inclusive.

And don’t forget to take a look at what your recruiting firm turned down, Petry added.

“You might have some diverse candidates apply for your position but they didn’t use the right buzz words or aren’t coming from a very specific background that the recruiting firm is expecting to hire from,” she explained. “We use recruiting companies because they speed up the hiring process and make things easier but there could be issues with them.”

Kully wrapped up the panel by asking panelists for their final thoughts.

Petry talked about how prospective employees should look at a company’s board of directors when considering employment at the company.

“Is it diverse? What about the executive committee? You can make good judgement calls based on a quick look at those two groups of executives,” she explained. “Then look at their culture and vision statements. Does it match up with what they’re saying and what you’re looking for? Remember, Millennials are very attuned to this information and looking specifically at it.”

Hatala agreed noting that in a recent training session on diversity and inclusion, she learned that our brains are wired to belong to something bigger than ourselves BUT they’re also wired to be lazy.

“We feel more comfortable being with people like us,” she explained. “That’s human nature. But we can push ourselves to be open minded and look for opportunities to be with and hire people that are not like us. Growth comes from putting ourselves out there.”

Bzdawka agreed noting that its not good for the company to hire people who look and think like me and “won’t challenge me.”

“Remember, diversity needs to be a daily conversation or else it gets forgotten,” Petry reminded the audience. “And when it’s forgotten, women and other groups get left behind.”