Tackling Diversity Challenges in the Hospitality Sector with Violeta Longino

 

Violeta Longino, Vice President, Deputy General Counsel and Regional Compliance Officer for North America and Central America, AccorHotels

You currently serve as Regional Leader of WAAG (Women at AccorHotels Generation). Tell me more about this initiative.    

WAAG –Women at AccorHotels Generation – is an international network with more than 4,400 members worldwide aimed at overcoming gender stereotypes and promoting gender equality within AccorHotels, specifically in management positions. We prioritise internal encouragement in the form of mentoring programs, as well as gender marketing and interaction with external networks.  AccorHotels follows the UN´s Women Empowerment Principles that foster the empowerment of women in the workplace and the community. Moreover, AccorHotels has been a signatory to these principles since early 2015 and part of the UN’s HeForShe initiative since late 2015.  AccorHotels commitments for the UN’s HeForShe initiative are: (1) to drive towards parity in pay and representation of women; (2) to understand and champion male engagement; and (3), advance our knowledge of the evolving ‘ideal worker’ and understand how the hospitality industry is changing.  We aim to have women comprise 35% of General Managers by the end of 2017 (with a longer term goal of 50%), and 30% of the AccorHotels Executive Committee by 2018. In addition, we’re driven to reduce the pay gap between men and women and put an equal number of male and female candidates on shortlists. Finally, we want men to represent 35% of WAAG members by 2017 and hope to see 50,000 male employees engaged in the movement by 2018.

How did you become passionate about gender equality and diversity?

I was very fortunate to have wonderful parents who raised me with the same opportunities and education of any boy. My parents did not expect less of me because I was a girl; on the contrary, they expected more. I was always held to the highest possible standards in relation to education and values, and was always encouraged by my family.

After obtaining my first law degree, I worked for a multinational corporation in Mexico. I thrived in an international environment, and due to my strong work ethic and legal knowledge, I was promoted to General Counsel at the age of 25.  I then moved to the United States, where I completed my second law degree and started working for one of the most prestigious law firms in the United States. While working in a competitive law firm environment, I realised that many of my female colleagues were leaving their positions in both firms and corporations. I did not quite understand this phenomenon until I became a mother with the birth of my daughter and son. I realised that balancing motherhood and a professional career can represent a challenge for women.

In many countries around the world, women receive a lower wage and do not have the same opportunities for promotion compared to men. The hospitality industry and legal profession are no different and unfortunately remain male-dominated sectors. Although the scales are beginning to rebalance, disparities remain, and it is our duty to eliminate such illogical and unfair inequalities and to close the gap. Each person, male or female, can make the difference. Because of this, I am passionate about gender equality and diversity. I truly believe that I can make a difference in this world.

What has been your experience of balancing your personal and professional life as general counsel? Has working in the hospitality sector presented specific challenges?

I decided a long time ago that my personal life would be a priority, but have had to balance my personal and professional lives. For me, having a family, raising your children and being with someone you love cannot be superseded by anything else.

The hospitality sector is still a male–dominated industry, particularly in executive roles, where a vast majority of CEOs from the biggest hotel chains are men. In my opinion, I think we need to have the gender diversity debate for future generations. Supporting diversity, inclusion and equality initiatives is something that we must do by vocation and not by enforcement.

WAAG Mentoring programme

What sort of initiatives has AccorHotels been implementing aimed at furthering the advancement of diversity?

AccorHotels has a strong commitment to promoting all aspects of diversity through a wide range of programmes. The AccorHotels Group has also envisaged putting in place an array of initiatives in order to increase the number of women in the hospitality industry, which as mentioned previously, is a traditionally male-dominated sector.

One of the Group’s priorities is to ensure equality of opportunity for employees with the same professional skills, in particular for women and men, in all areas of work and at all stages in their working life.

At AccorHotels, employee engagement surveys are carried out in order to measure the impact of promoting diversity actions. We ensure that the management teams from all over the world carry out in-depth diversity analysis in their department or hotel, based on international opinion surveys, quantitative criteria and qualitative observations.

Some of the initiatives include, but are not limited to, promoting diversity training and awareness-raising activities for employees, putting in place information campaigns targeted at employees and collaborators, and guidance on how diversity programmes can be supported and implemented. An example includes AccorHotels’ “Inspired by heroffer, an initiative launched in 2014 that aims to provide female guests with an array of special services including choice of room location and welcome products, as well as healthy and balanced food.

Beyond that, AccorHotels is playing a key role as a diversity ambassador sharing its ethics by seeking to ensure that its requirements and commitments are also followed by its business partners and suppliers.

You have had a very successful career. What key pieces of advice would you would give to young women starting their careers?

  1. Stay healthy, stay strong. You have to be healthy and take care of yourself first before you can take care of everything else, including your family and your work.
  2. Enjoy every moment and every day. You must enjoy every moment in your life and work. Life is too short. Find what makes you passionate and, once you find it, work hard. If your life is fulfilling, you are not going to second guess your choices.
  3. Trust yourself. Trust your abilities and skills. You must believe in your work before other people will.
  4. Your best investment is you. Invest extra time to master your skills, even if this means working extra time or taking on additional work; you will not regret it in the long term.
  5. Be proud of who you are. Be proud of your heritage. You are who are thanks to your upbringing and your past: do not forget it.
  6. Be proud of your choices. If you choose to work and have a family, embrace your decision. You do not have to apologise or to feel guilty for your choices, nor do you have to explain or justify them to anybody.
  7. Prioritise. An ‘ideal’ work-life balance does not exist. Different issues take priority at different times. You can have it all, but not at the same time. Learn to prioritise.

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Violeta Longino is a dual qualified multicultural lawyer in Florida and Mexico with over 20 years of experience practicing privately and in-house. She has developed strong expertise advising public and private multinational corporations across the USA and Latin America. Ms. Longino currently serves as Vice President, Deputy General Counsel and Regional Compliance Officer for North America and Central America (also known as NCA) region at AccorHotels. She is also Regional Risk Correspondent and Regional Leader of WAAG (Women at AccorHotels Generation).

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