Kathrine Ohm, Carlson Rezidor

Kathrine Ohm

Kathrine Ohm

Kathrine Ohm is Director, People and Performance Management for Carlson Rezidor. The hotel company has made a commitment to provide greater support to women and one of their measures is the Women in Leadership programme. In our latest Industry Leader interview, Kathrine describes why encouraging women within the industry is important to Rezidor.

Green Hotelier: Hi Kathrine, can you tell us a bit about your background in hospitality?

Kathrine Ohm: I am Norwegian, and started my career in 1987 at the SAS Royal Hotel in Norway as Concierge and later Duty Manager. In 1989 I left the company to pursue other interests. In January 2000, I accepted the position of Hotel Manager at the Radisson SAS Globetrotter Hotel in Norway until September 2002 when I was promoted to General Manager at the Radisson SAS Hotel in Leeds, UK. At the beginning of 2005, I was then appointed General Manager of the Radisson Blu Hotel in Birmingham, UK.  I had been working as General Manager of the Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa, since June 2010, when I got a call to come to the Corporate Support Office in Brussels to take over my current role.

We know that gender balanced teams throughout organisations perform better and as a company we want to be the best we can be and we want our people to reach their highest potential.

GH: Why is it important to support women in the workplace and what is Carlson Rezidor doing to achieve this?

KO: It is important to support all our employees in the workplace, however when we look closer at the numbers, in the majority of the 70 countries we operate in, females make up slightly more than 50% of the total population. Within our company our total workforce consists of approximately 57% male and 43% female. On average our business school has close to 60% female participants. And yet, when it comes to women in our senior leadership positions, the picture looks very different.

Somewhere along the line the picture changes and the number of women reduces significantly to 16%. We invest in our talent constantly yet somewhere along the line they stop moving forward in their career. Losing female leaders is a business issue and as a result, we have developed the Women in Leadership (WiL) initiative. The aim is to change our culture and retain more women to create a larger pool of talent for senior leadership positions. We know that gender balanced teams throughout organisations perform better and as a company we want to be the best we can be and we want our people to reach their highest potential. We have established two WiL champions in each region (one man and one woman) to provide mentoring and support to generate future women leaders, as well as to monitor progress on our ambition. These champions have also been tasked with developing and implementing action plans that will ensure that our activities are informed and led by our people, for our people.

GH: How does the Women in Leadership programme work?

KO: As we explain on our website, in many companies the proportion of women in the workforce decreases the higher up the corporate ladder you go. This phenomenon is particularly apparent in the male-dominated hotel industry where women hold less than one in five leadership positions.

Within Rezidor we believe the number of women in leadership must increase if we are to develop the potential of our people and meet the challenges of the future. So we decided to grow the percentage of women in senior leadership positions to at least 30% by the end of 2016.

To reach the target we are identifying WiL Champions in all areas of operation, as well as at the core of Rezidor. They will be people who want to make a positive difference toward making our company a role model and ensuring that women have every opportunity to achieve their maximum potential. We’re also looking at innovative solutions that will enable women to take advantage of the opportunities available. That means taking a more flexible approach to working conditions, personalised development plans, and a more open approach to mobility.

This change programme will be driven by and for our people and will benefit everyone in the company – not just women.

GH: What role can a company like yours play in making the industry a more welcoming place for women?

KO: The hospitality industry is one which presents specific challenges for both men and women and their families. For example, there are a lot of old-fashioned perceptions in our industry, ranging from the long and unsociable hours associated with being a general manager, to the perceived requirement for a general manager to be available and on-call at all times. We want to show that by being more flexible we can overcome these challenges and adapt the way we work to the way that people and families work nowadays - for the benefit of both men and women. It is about making people aware that the hospitality industry is ever changing and by becoming more flexible we encourage the equal participation of all our talent.

The WiL initiative is based around our Guiding Principles and I am very proud of this document. It is designed to challenge existing thinking, breaking down barriers that prevent women across Rezidor from having open transparent conversations about their careers, and encouraging them to take a flexible approach to their working conditions. It inspires us all to encourage the collective participation of women at every level of the organisation.

GH: What do you think are the biggest employment challenges facing the sector at the moment? And what challenges are specific to women in the industry?

KO: Recruitment in the hospitality industry is a fierce war for talent and we always want to make sure we place the right people in the right positions. This is even more acute for Rezidor, as we’re a rapidly expanding company with high growth ambitions and we need to have talent ready to lead and operate the hotels in our current and future pipeline.

The requirement to be mobile is something which makes the hospitality industry a particularly challenging one for families and it’s one we are trying to address through a more flexible working approach.

GH: Which workplace initiatives do you think will have the biggest impact at Carlson Rezidor?

KO: The outcome of the Our Promise (Rezidors Employee Value Proposition) development workshop was to take three clear steps within 12 months: 1) A flexible approach to our Working Conditions; 2) A flexible approach to Mobility; and 3) Active, personalised and meaningful Development Plans. At the Corporate Support Office in Brussels we have just launched a policy around flexible working conditions that will benefit both men and women alike. A flexible approach to mobility is about giving a General Manager the opportunity to stay in a location for a longer period of time because of family obligations but ensuring that they remain active in the community in which they are part of.

Over the last couple of months we have also launched three initiatives to create more meaningful, personalised development plans. The aim of these thee initiatives is that they will speed up the development of our talent and reinforce our talent pipeline. First is a Talent Development Workshop, this is a one day workshop, currently for General Managers, and is a real deep dive into producing a personalised development plan. The second initiative is a Learning Library which is housed on Rezidor’s e-Learning platform. This is a place where we have put some tactical suggestions about how managers might support someone in their development. And third, we have also created a video with one of our Organisational Physiologists on Ten Top Tips for creating more meaningful, personalised development plans for our direct reports as well as for managers themselves.

Rezidor is also working on challenging existing thinking and storytelling. We are in the process of devising courses around challenging our individual internal bias and with our new internal communications platform D-Rezidorian, we have begun to share stories relating to Women in Leadership and how many individuals in our organisation work to achieve a successful balance between career and home.

GH: What initiatives will you be looking to implement going forward?

KO: With D-Rezidorian we are encouraging our Women in Leadership Champions to create area group pages and share stories around successful women in their parts of the world. These stories are inspirational, encouraging and motivating to more junior levels to inspire them to work towards being the best that they can be. Anyone in the company can follow and like these stories. We have also developed a prototype of what will be known as Internal Concierge. This is a document that will help our talent move from one city to the next without too much difficulty. We know all too well that it is hard to get to know a new country and city quickly, especially when we need to figure out where the international supermarket and hospital is, locate a trustworthy moving company, find accommodation and on top of that run a business! The objective of this document is to have an ‘all you need to know about your new city’ in one place.

GH: If you could change anything within the field and debate, what would it be?

KO: We are striving to effect a vital change of attitude - and to see the introduction of a more flexible approach to working and career mobility that will benefit every member of our staff, irrespective of gender or background.

GH: What initiatives are you most proud of and why?

KO: The WiL initiative is based around what’s known as Guiding Principles, I am very proud of this document. It is designed to challenge existing thinking, breaking down barriers that prevent women across Rezidor from having open transparent conversations about their careers and encouraging them to take a flexible approach to their working conditions. It also inspires us all to encourage the collective participation of women at every level of the organisation. Our CEO, Wolfgang M. Neumann, is a great proponent of this initiative and has signed a Statement of Support for the UN Women's Empowerment Principles signaling Rezidor’s support for the overall goal of advancing and empowering women.

GH: If you could look into the future, what would you most like to see?

KO: A gender balanced senior leadership team within Rezidor.

GH: Is it ever difficult to convince people of the worth of what you’re doing? What’s the best way to demonstrate the value?

KO: Of course, but it is essential that we are willing to challenge current thinking – including looking again at our own mind-sets. Indeed, it is as much about challenging existing thinking internally in ourselves as externally in our work environment and industry.  The best way to demonstrate the value is by highlighting female role models within our company. Those women who have found ways to have successful careers and who have a good work life balance.

GH: What advice would you give to any hotel seeking to attract and retain talented staff and particularly women?

KO: Be open to consider flexible solutions such as part-time work and job share arrangements when recruiting – where traditionally we may not have thought further than Full Time Employees (FTEs). Start to have constructive, open and transparent conversations with your talent so that they know your attitude is one that is understanding, supportive, creative and – crucially – flexible to theirs and the business needs. Start to build confidence in your female talent. Continued support and discussion will bring about openness to career possibilities and there for career progression in the long run.