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HT Talks Tech: Diane Estner, President, CEO & Founder of DANNI Enterprises

Hospitality industry veteran discusses the importance of diversity in leadership roles and gives concrete advice for women who are looking to move up the corporate ladder.
Diane Estner

Diane Estner originally began her career working for Motorola. While attending a HITEC conference in San Diego in the mid-90’s Estner met the founders of a startup company that would ultimately turn her into a hospitality industry veteran. There she met Ron Grau and Dina Tarro, the founders of Systems Design and Development, Inc. (SDD), a telecommunications software company that focused on the hospitality industry. Shortly thereafter, Estner joined SDD as employee #4, Director of Sales.  During her time with SDD Estner fell in love with the global hospitality industry and the people in it.

“I’m a people person, I love to travel, and the whole culture within the hospitality industry felt like such a good fit.  Plus, you never know what you’re going to be dealing with on a day-to-day basis within a hotel.  That dynamic environment was very appealing to me. It’s the challenge and the excitement of not knowing what you’re walking into when you work with a hotel solution provider and/or for a hotel.”

Estner helped to build and grow SDD for over 18 years. In 2014, SDD was acquired by BroadSoft, which ultimately became part of Cisco. 

“During those 18 years, I felt I had the best job in the world. I was given a company credit card, I traveled around the world, built business relationships, found revenue opportunities and helped hoteliers, hotel brands and solution providers solve problems.  “Growing into the position of Vice President of Global Sales helped me develop my worldview of the hospitality industry. I had the privilege of working alongside some of the greatest technology leaders and innovators there were.”

Lack of Diversity Creates Challenges

However, in spite of this amazing role, Estner’s career has faced challenges.

“One of my biggest challenges earlier in my career was ensuring I was able to establish my credibility within the global hospitality technology industry. Regardless of what country I was in or what conference I was attending, I always walked into a room that was predominately men.  Unfortunately, being a woman made it more difficult at times for my ideas and proposals to be taken seriously.

“Quite recently, my shared thoughts on a particular subject were completely dismissed by leadership. However, I had two male colleagues reach out to me afterwards and say,  ‘You made many valid points and were completely right to say what you did. I support you.’ Sadly,  they didn’t speak up DURING the call, when it would have made a difference and when I could have used their support”. 

“I firmly believe that until diversity, transparency and equality within the workforce is achieved, men need to be willing to speak up during these important moments, validate their colleague’s ideas and fight against the bias that can and does, permeate the room.

Estner says that while diversity and equality could equate to more women in positions of leadership, she would also like to see more diversity all around.  “I believe our leadership should better represent our customer base.” 

“The more diverse our leadership teams, the more successful and profitable our companies become.”

A Few Key Pieces of Advice

Estner highly recommends women actively engage in, and seek out, networking groups. These groups can be safe spaces where women can share their talents and fears, be vulnerable, accept encouragement and support and not be judged.

“There aren’t a lot of places like that, so to foster and promote that within a company or an industry is incredibly important and valuable.”

Estner is a woman of her words. In 2017 she was a co-founder of a cross vertical industry group in Atlanta called Women in Innovation, a professional networking group for women.

“During those networking sessions, we consistently discussed how and why women need to have more confidence. We need to believe in ourselves and support and empower each other.”

Unfortunately, the ability to project high levels of confidence seems to come more easily to men than to women.

“I’ve worked with many men whose mantra is: ‘Fake it until you make it.’ They’ll see a job post that they’re only 60 percent qualified for, and their attitude is: ‘I’ll figure it out once I get in there.’  This is so contrary to how women act and feel. A woman will look at a job post and will say: ‘I’m qualified for 90 percent of that role but because I don’t have that last 10 percent, maybe I shouldn’t apply. We need to adopt some of the fearless confidence men tend to project and go into the interview saying: ‘I’m as good, if not better, than these other candidates and here’s why.”

On a more granular level, and as someone who offers C-level recruiting, Estner has a specific piece of advice for women as they apply for positions or communicate professionally: Be more succinct and powerful in your messaging. For example, instead of using terms like “I hope, I believe, I feel,” etc. use words that demonstrate your confidence in action such as “I will, I can, I have, I know or this is how.”

“I shouldn’t be able to pick up a piece of communication – whether that’s an email, a cover letter, a resume, or what have you – and be able to tell whether a man or woman wrote it. But I can. And I believe that’s something we need to work on.”

During the interview process, consider how you are presenting yourself. Corporations are looking for leaders who can take charge, have a vision and can build growth and collaborate. 

“Our industry is full of talented, executive leadership.  These talented individuals deserve to be mentored, supported and promoted.  I sincerely hope to be part of the change as this industry recognizes more fully, the many women, as well as the immensely diverse individuals, who love our industry as much as I do”. 

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