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Women in the Hospitality Industry

Alexia Silvagni

Photo: Alexia Silvagni

It's not easy being a woman hotelier. If it's not the scandalous PR legacy of one of their own (who can forget "the Queen of Mean"?), it's a muddy construction site filled with disrespectful hard hats. Then there's the catalogue of skewed gender-related assumptions—everyone knows women are hard-wired for pink, frilly, candy-box guest rooms. It's all enough to make a girl go home and play with her Barbie.

Given the potholes, the inroads women have made in recent years in the male-weighted hospitality industry are all the more impressive. Women now control hundreds of millions of dollars of international real estate. As designers they influence not just one another but the entire home furnishings business. And their hotels are recognized as some of the world's most innovative. The only wonder is that it took so long, especially since—politically prickly territory ahead—sheltering and swaddling have always been considered feminine talents. As architect Denise Scott Brown has noted of her staff's work, "There do seem to be some male-female differences, but there's no way of knowing if they're the result of nature or nurture." If only that closed the case. Some women hoteliers believe that a lobby bouquet in a hotel run by a man will always be bush-league, no matter how many ikebana courses he takes. Sorry, guys.

Of course, the lives of the women profiled here revolve around more than turn-down niceties. You wouldn't believe how many times their cell phones rang mid-interview with calls from a panicky daughter who'd missed a piano or ballet lesson. But the fluidity with which Mommy remained on message was dazzling. "Now, as I was saying about the sheets in my new suite . . ."

"It's a man's world," according to the James Brown song. Or is it?

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