General Counsel & Chief ESG Officer, Hilton Worldwide
“The data on this is clear, the more diversity on boards and at executive levels, the better the bottom line. Encouraging women to lead in these roles is not the challenge. Rather it is the cadre or two below the executive level where we need to increase engagement and development as this is where we see women tend to give up the pursuit…”
In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?
A Power Woman is the perfect combination of head and heart. Smart, strategic, driven, and deliberate, we lead with an inclusive mindset and execute with care, driven from a desire to make the world a better place for all.
Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in the Covid-19 pandemic. Do you believe the response to the Covid-19 pandemic highlights & emphasizes the natural resilience of women?
Covid-19 itself is gender-blind and tested all of us in many ways. We’ve seen an outsized impact on women, especially around childcare and domestic responsibilities, leading to women leaving the workforce as a consequence. As a society we need to do more to support and facilitate opportunities for their return.
It also goes without question that women having a seat at the table to problem-solve and influence key decisions – whether in the science-medical field, government and public policy arena, or in the private sector managing business and human capital impacts – was critical to successfully navigating the various aspects of the pandemic.
With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? Is it a global approach or a specific issue that you are passionate about?
For me, it is both a global priority and something I’m passionate about personally. Diversity and equality, in all forms, should be front of mind in virtually all contexts today. This includes access to education, jobs, pay equity and promotion opportunities. Personally, I am committed to fostering the independent economic empowerment of women, especially in underdeveloped parts of the world. We know that economic independence can help combat issues such as poverty, malnutrition, and human trafficking.
What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take toward en-powering women and gender equality?
We need to shift the focus to be more on the carrots and less on the sticks. Penalties associated with mandates like affirmative action have the potential to create negative incentives just to hit numbers. What if, for example, companies received tax credits associated with diversity-related participation on boards, executive teams, etc.? It should not be that difficult to move the needle here.
Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block due to your gender?
Perhaps it is a blind spot of mine, but since I don’t expect to be treated differently just because I’m a woman, I never accepted the idea that someone else could treat me differently for that reason alone. This started from a young age, growing up with two brothers, always insisting that I could and should be able to do the same things they did. Carrying this mindset through the years has garnered respect and results.
Do you think that asking previous salary requirements in job interviews contributes to the pay gap between women and men? Should we push for a nationwide ban?
Transparency isn’t the problem. In fact, it should be part of the solution. Shining a light on the topic of fair and equal pay must be a priority for leaders, whether in government or in the c-suite. I am certain we will see more of a focus on this in the future.
There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the board room increases the bottom line and leads to healthier work environments. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the growth and presence of women in high profile positions?
The data on this is clear, the more diversity on boards and at executive levels, the better the bottom-line outcomes. Encouraging women to lead in these roles is not the challenge. Rather it is the cadre or two below the executive level where we need to increase engagement and development as this is where we see women tend to give up the pursuit. Promoting flexibility and sponsorship will help, as will increasing transparency on the numbers.
In fact, at Hilton, we have been tracking our data for years, but in an effort to be more transparent, we are now publicly releasing our data to further support our accountability on our commitments, which include achieving global gender parity and 25% US ethnic representation at corporate leadership levels by the end of 2027. I’m proud to say that we currently have four women on our board, and each director offers invaluable insight for our business.
Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?
I would say there has been a succession of smaller a-ha moments and turning points. There was a time a few decades ago when I was up for a huge role and there was no guarantee I would get it. It forced me to consider the alternative, which would mean taking a completely different path from the one I was on. Knowing that I would survive either outcome brought me confidence and peace – and probably helped me nail the interview!
Have you seen changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?
Yes, I have absolutely seen positive changes for women in the political landscape. I believe the past two election cycles have dramatically increased the number of women being elected to public office and in political leadership positions including the Vice Presidency. Looking overseas for other examples and inspiration, some of the most successful countries are run by women. There can only be more to come.
Is “Education, education and education” one of the top three responsibilities of a civilized society? If so why is it prohibitively expensive? If not, why not?
Certainly, education is a top priority, and higher education has been greatly disrupted over the past decade. With large universities moving into the online space, and small, accredited start-up education hubs offering strong programs in medical sciences and tech, there are an increasing number of accessible opportunities.
As an employer of choice, and the #1 company on DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity list, Hilton offers many opportunities for Team Members to further their education and professional development, including an industry-leading paid GRE certificate program.
If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?
This is a tough call, but I’m going with Ina Garten. To create beautiful food in a gorgeous environment, enjoy adult beverages with family and friends, AND get paid for it? How great is that?
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Trust your gut; listen to your instincts.
What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?
For me there is no contest, the winner is The Great Gatsby. It may be cliché, but the words, sentence structure, and flow are just beautiful.
What do you most value in your friends?
That is difficult as I have such wonderful friends! Probably the combination of being able to connect deeply on important personal topics one minute, and then laugh the next. Truly great friends can run the full gamut.
Which trait do you find most uncomfortable in yourself? In others?
I apologize too much. This is a general trait that seems to be most prominent in women. While one should certainly apologize when appropriate, women should never apologize for sharing ideas, brainstorming, or being ourselves. We’ve got to stop starting sentences with “This may be a stupid idea but….” No idea is stupid.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
This feels like a trick question! As women we want to be sure to balance humility – a meaningful virtue especially in these times – with self-advocacy. The two are not mutually exclusive. Women can be humble and be servant-leaders, and at the same time stand up for ourselves and showcase our talents and skills. It is all in the how.