30 Jan Leanne Harwood’s Inspiring journey as one of the few female MDs in the Hotel Industry
Meeting Leanne Harwood Managing Director, Australasia & Japan for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) was like a breath of Fresh Air.
From the moment she walked in, she lit up the room.
I was intrigued to know how this Superstar woman made it to the top in the Hospitality sector in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry.
Leanne admits there are still echoes of the boy’s club, but Leanne says things have changed and it is up to us women to step up and continue to change it from within. She is one powerhouse who is showing other women how it is done.
So how did she make her way to the top?
“Persistence, tenacity and a lot of focus”, says Leanne.
“I actually started my career as a room service supervisor in the hotel and worked my way up. It hasn’t been an easy ride to make it to the top but incredibly gratifying. I have had some amazing people along the journey particularly some women who have helped me and pushed me where I wouldn’t have pushed myself to take roles that I didn’t think I could do. That has made a big difference. Being a Kiwi I like to think we are quite entrepreneurial in our spirit and we don’t give up and there is a tenacity to us”, she says.
“I don’t have a university degree which is even more amazing. I have worked my way up through the industry and it is something I love about hospitality”, says Leanne.
“I worked in operations, marketing and sales, and have always believed I wouldn’t settle when I knew there was something more out there. With a bit of an attitude and some boldness, I was determined to show I could do it.
“Every time I came up against a challenge I threw myself into it. Whenever I was given an opportunity I have always given myself the confidence of thought that I am going to give this a really good go even though I am nervous as all heck and I have never done this before. This has been my mantra”, she says.
Leanne was VP Operations for SE Asia & Korea prior to this role based in Bangkok for four years.
“Going into Senior Operations in Asia. I recall walking into a meeting when I first started in Asia and someone said WOW you must be really smart to get that job over all the men and I went I am, thank you! That is what you are up against”.
“When I was asked… would you like to take on this role as MD in Australia, I said HELL YES.”
It is now coming up to a year in her current role. Leanne has 13 direct reports, and around 10,000 hotel colleagues in 6 countries rolled up under her, so it is a sizeable job.
Leanne is a huge advocate for diversity and says that the biggest problem she sees in Women progressing is that “Women will think if they can only do 70 percent of a role they will not step up and learn the 30 percent on the job. In comparison, men simply won’t hesitate, so don’t worry about trying to be perfect because your male competitor won’t be Believe in yourself and take a risk.”
For women who have children, Leanne is clear that it should not limit their career. “It may pause a career journey, but it should not rewind it. Taking time out to have a family is not the career killer it was 30 years ago when I was told I wouldn’t make it far because I was likely to run off and have kids. I am so proud to say that I have seen 180° change and now I have many amazing female colleagues who have had children and sit in high-profile senior roles. I think we need to mentor more women who return after having children.”
Leanne says she would like to see more women in hotel General Manager roles and she is always looking for ways to support that initiative.
We asked Leanne what mistakes she has made along the way and she says plenty. “I got offered a fabulous job back in Australia and I packed up my life and shipped my furniture to discover I had been misled,” she says. “If it seems to good to be true it probably is.” As fate would have it she was offered another opportunity offshore which lead her down a new and exciting path.
She also suffered redundancy during her career during a business restructure but that also turned out to be a blessing with so many jobs offer coming out of the woodwork.
Leanne’s advice is to “believe in yourself and be prepared to be uncomfortable. If you have the freedom to relocate overseas then that can be one way to develop and grow your career”…
She is excited and proud to have IHG support the ‘A Force For Good’ movement, as it’s a great opportunity to drive action around diversity. When asked why she is getting involved she said: “this matters to us at IHG and it matters to me.”
We look forward to hearing Leanne speak who joins our Power Panel on 8th March 2019 at A Force For Good Event on International Women’s Day.
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