By David Lund

I may have caught your attention with this potentially explosive title, so I hope you will read this and either help change this inside your hospitality business or personally get your hospitality business acumen on, whether you’re a woman or not.

In my experience in the last 35+ years I know three things are true about women and business acumen.

By the way, I think the word “acumen” is the wrong word simply because it has the word men in it. To my way of thinking it is a non-starter right out of the gate because it sounds sexist. To me the words to describe any manager who has their stick together with the numbers side of our business should be Hospitality Financial Leadership Skills. We need the word Leadership in our description. Leadership is about communication and development. Perhaps we could swap out Financial and replace it with Business. Hospitality Business Leadership Skills. I just wrote these four words together for the first time. I am going to try them out and if you have an opinion on the little debate I just started about words and which ones are best, I would love to hear from you.

The first thing I know about women in the hotel business is there are not enough in senior leadership positions. Specifically, General Managers. I do not have any hard data to cite here but there are lots of articles that have been published that exalt the unbalanced results. Just google, “Women in senior hospitality management rolls,” and you will find lots of links to articles and papers on this subject. Why are the numbers so one-sided toward men?

Three main reasons

One, we do not train our managers on finances. We do not have systems inside our hotel companies to train women or men on Hospitality Business Leadership Skills. We still cling to a system of mentoring, (there goes the men word again). We cling to a somewhat sick right of passage to get the numbers down.

Two, men are—more often than women—risk takers. This propels them through the “figure it out as you go” system faster and more often than women.

Three, men have always accounted for more senior leadership rolls and they favor more men. Long hours, children, family life and sacrifice all favor a man’s world. This is simply my opinion and I want this to change. There is no argument to the imbalance and it has improved but we still have a long, long way to go.

The second thing I know is, in my experience, often when we give our female managers training and support around the numbers and they accept the challenge, they are equal to and often better than men at delivering financial results. When I consider what is required to create the kind of engagement with the numbers inside the hotel, I am focusing on managers consistently and accurately preparing their departmental payroll and expense Forecasts. Tracking business volumes, Adjusting their spending to maximize flow thru. Reviewing the month end results for accuracy. Writing their commentaries. F TAR W. Read the article on how to create financial leadership using my system.

Women are better at consistently and accurately delivering these results. I believe this is the reason why: Women pay more attention to the details, they are more organized, and men are more interested in the lime light. I know you are probably thinking that is a BIG statement to make. I make it based on my experience. With the proper training and resources, I would pick my line-up with more women than men when it comes to delivering on financial preparedness.

The third thing I know is women have a predisposed belief that they were short changed with the numbers or numbers just are not a woman’s thing. It is some cocktail of left and right brain misalignment. All of this is complete BS. There is not one shred of evidence that I have ever come across that supports this.

Three important factors are missing

One, women, like men, need to know that in order to get ahead in the hotel business they need to know their numbers. It is not nearly enough to be good with the guests and the colleagues. Being a leader that knows their numbers and can actively participate in the financial and business strategy side is a must for advancement to senior rolls. Without this you are just another face in a long line. This is equally applied to men and women. But more frequently, women are not given this advice and they are not “groomed” as often. There is a great Ted Talk on this subject. Check it out here.

Two, both men and women can easily learn the numbers and all it takes is effort, commitment and practice. To learn the numbers—like anything in life— it takes effort, time and practice. Far too often the numbers are the very last thing aspiring managers focus on.

They all use the same excuses:

  • We are so busy.
  • My finance person is impossible to deal with.
  • They just change my stuff anyway.
  • The numbers are just for the senior team.
  • I was told to look after the guests and the money looks after itself.

You get the picture. Lots of excuses and victim thinking. If you are going to ramp up your financial skills it takes work. No fairy dust here, just apply yourself. If this is not something that is readily available at work, then seek it out. Find a mentor, a night class in accounting, volunteer for projects that have a numbers side (they all do), ask for cross training. Read a book. Read my past 50 blogs on financial leadership. Oh, last but certainly not least, get a coach. And know this: It will come and when it does you will look back and laugh. You will laugh at all the fuss you made in your own mind before you crossed the financial skills bridge.

Three, we confuse things and roles. Accounting underpins the language of business. To have Hospitality Business Leadership Skills you do not need to be an accountant or know accounting. Some very basic concepts, yes, but people think that accounting knowledge is what is missing. Wrong. You do not need to know squat about accounting to do your departmental expense budget and staffing guide, track productivity, adjust spending in the month-for-month based on business volumes, write your monthly commentary, read a P&L or review your general ledger listing at month end, just to name a few.

People hide out with a misguided version of what they are missing and in the process of being misinformed they get scared and back away. If you are going to understand and improve your numbers, you must be open-minded and curious about how you can apply your skills and efforts to work those numbers. This is the pivot point because the work to accomplish is NOT accounting. I wrote a previous blog on this very subject with a story of a leader who did exactly this with her numbers.

To wrap things up I want to tell you that I have a dream. My dream is the numbers are just as well managed in our business as the guests and the colleague engagement. What that really means is I dream that all our leaders are just as comfortable with their numbers as they are with creating great guest service and superior colleague engagement.

I know that it is possible for my dream to come true. Like Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” I also know it is true because I have seen it happen many, many times and, Women, you do not need to take a back seat to anyone. Getting your financial game on is completely within your reach and abilities. Just jump in with both feet and apply yourself and do not take no or later for an answer. If someone or something is in your way, then move around the obstacle or even over or under. Just do not stop and look the other way.

The last part of my dream is that our industry understands the numbers for what they are, and we ditch some of our stereotypes at the same time. The numbers are just another part of our business, just like guests and colleagues. Like guests and colleagues, the numbers are not going away. Here is the shift in all of this. We somehow think that the numbers are like grade 10 math, if you pass it you will never have to take math again. Well, the numbers are never going to be perfect and they are never going away. The only thing we know for sure about the budget or the forecast is it is wrong. We need to bring the same lightness to working with our numbers. Remove the seriousness and just get on with the task.

We come to work every day to face the imperfect guest service delivery and the colleague engagement mess knowing it is never going to be perfect. Same goes with the numbers.

Just take your shot!