For more than nine decades, the ‘Leading Ladies’ have shaped the way the world travels, from the action-packed streets of New York City to the tranquil snow-capped Alps. But they haven’t stopped there: While cultivating the most exclusive collection of independent luxury hotels in the world, they also created a more inclusive business, in the hopes of encouraging future generations of female hoteliers.

The commitment to equity continues under the leadership of Leading Hotels’ President and Chief Executive Officer, Shannon Knapp. Leading by example, Shannon’s goal is to bring the company’s values of diversity, empowerment, and transparency from the inside out — to attract, and develop, exceptional female talent in all stages of their career. Under Shannon’s leadership, the Company’s Executive Team reached gender parity for the first time in 2021, a rare feat in hospitality, with LHW’s workforce also reflecting a 50/50 composition. “We have an unprecedented opportunity coming out of this global crisis to build a new and more inclusive future,” she says.

Together with the International Women's Day community, the ‘Leading Ladies’ join the 2022 #BreakTheBias discussion to take action for equality, raise awareness against bias, and celebrate women’s achievements – today and every day. Get to know some of our extraordinary female hoteliers:

Shannon Knapp

President & Chief Executive Officer, The Leading Hotels of the World

My biggest learning from 2021 was…how powerful transparency, authenticity, and empathy for each other are. These forces can bind a community — and a company — together through the most difficult of times. My tip for a balanced life is…to keep everything in perspective and to never lose sight of what’s important. Easier said than done, of course. To retain and attract more female talent, I believe companies — and specifically, the hospitality industry — should…start from the inside and then work your way out. Your company’s culture dictates how your company shows up in the market for others. As leaders, we need to take an honest look at the cultures we are promoting in our organizations. Is it a culture of inclusivity, empowerment, flexibility, and transparency? What behaviors are we rewarding, overtly and subliminally? To reach gender parity, do we have an explicit strategy to actively recruit women? And more importantly, to develop and reward women? Are we creating growth opportunities and modeling the behavior for women? It is very hard to be what you can’t see, so think about how a lack of representation at the leadership level impacts women in your organization.

Deborah Yager Fleming

Chief Executive Officer & Partner, Acqualina Resort & Spa on the Beach, USA
Executive Committee Member, The Leading Hotels of the World 
2021 Uncommon Vision Award Recipient, The Leading Hotels of the World 

My biggest learning from 2021 was…embrace technology more than ever, especially with the disruption that the pandemic has caused. The digitalization of functions to allow for quick reaction is critical to today’s ever-changing environment. The ability to be able to have the organization adapt and implement new ideas faster based on data and customer feedback is essential. When processes are digitalized, time is given back to spend on development and engagement with team members and customers resulting in loyalty and long-term growth. My tip for a balanced life is…to try something new that is just for you and can be incorporated into your lifestyle. I find that sometimes you have to try several things to figure out which one is best for you. I am taking ballroom dance classes. It helps me maintain a positive outlook and increases my happiness. It incorporates many of my favorite things, music, movement, mind focus and laughter. To retain and attract more female talent, I believe companies — and specifically, the hospitality industry — should…ensure equality across the entire organization and include benefit options such as family insurance coverage and flexible work schedules. Women are inspired by companies that trust, empower and encourage new opportunities and allow them to make a difference. 

Jenny Zhang

General Manager, J Hotel Shanghai Tower, China

My biggest learning from 2021 was…that in the post-pandemic world, we shall act as one, perform as one, and do this wholeheartedly, more than ever before. This is how we will overcome the pandemic and beat it together. In 2022 I’m dreaming of visiting…the beautiful and majestic Western region of China. I’ve had the opportunity to travel around the world, but haven’t travelled as much domestically, so I would like to visit the YunNan and SiChuan provinces this year. To retain and attract more female talent, I believe companies — and specifically, the hospitality industry — should…offer strong and clear career paths designed for female talent, as well as 1:1 mentoring programs to cultivate this talent pool.

Giuditta Gallo

Owner & General Manager, Relais San Maurizio, Italy

My biggest learning from 2021 was…that it is necessary to adapt to unexpected change — gracefully embrace and accept it — allowing change to reveal your strengths and finding new creative solutions along the way. If I could plan a group trip with inspiring women, I would invite…Frida Kahlo, Maria Montessori, Emma Watson, Rita Levi Montalcini, Queen Rania of Jordan, Marina Abramovich, Mother Theresa, and Agatha Christie. What a cool trip it would be! To retain and attract more female talent, I believe companies — and specifically, the hospitality industry — should…have transparent hiring policies and ensure there are no differences in same-level compensation. Offering maternity and paternity leave, creating an environment where work-life balance is at the core, ensuring shifts are evenly distributed, and overtime is properly paid is also important. In general, I believe in a more equal society, where talent is rewarded, not gender focused.

Alice Gentils

Head of Sales, Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo & Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo, Monaco

My biggest learning from 2021 was…to never give up, now more than ever. Whatever the obstacle is, if you look positively at the situation, there is always a solution and a bright future ahead. If I could plan a group trip with inspiring women, I would invite…Michelle Obama, Simone Veil, Charlotte Perriand, Camille Claudel, and my daughters, Anaïs and Maëlle, to give them this unique chance to meet such incredible people, each in their own personalities and achievements. I #BreakTheBias and support the growth of women in the workplace by…not assuming that women are different than men in their capabilities and professionalism. I just look at women and men as human beings! But because this is not the way that others view women at work, I also support their growth in giving them as much confidence in themselves as I can. I tell them that when I was 20, I would have never thought I would have such a beautiful career. Everything is possible when you just look ahead and believe that you can do it.

Innegrit Volkhardt

Owner, Hotel Bayerischer Hof Munich, Germany

My tip for a balanced life is…to take time to gain strength for each working day. I start every morning with stable work. I have four donkeys – Molli, Pipi, Michel and Elli. With donkeys you get used to always being in the now. I spend 1.5 hours with them - feeding, cleaning, and mucking out. Being with my animals gives me positive energy and peace as I start my day. In 2022 I’m dreaming of visiting…The Maldives. Due to the pandemic I haven’t been in three years and I love the water and tranquillity there. I #BreakTheBias and support the growth of women in the workplace by…setting a good example by living out my leadership role naturally – without coercion or pretense. We have a wide range of training programs that all employees can, and should, take advantage of. It is particularly important to me that in the end the focus is on qualifications and performance and not gender. This automatically means that about half of our team is female.

Celine Maginel

Director of Sales & Marketing, The Datai Langkawi, Malaysia

My biggest learning from 2021 was…to embrace every day as it comes and to never take anything for granted. Enjoy the power of now! I also learned to be more flexible; not having a clue about what the following day will bring forces you to put things into perspective. Weirdly, I am less afraid about the future than before. If I could plan a group trip with inspiring women, I would invite…Jane Goodall, Coco Chanel, Mother Teresa, Dorine Bourneton, Aretha Franklin, and Teresa Perez. I #BreakTheBias and support the growth of women in the workplace by…empowering the amazing ladies working with me at The Datai Langkawi. I do all that I can to give them faith in themselves, teach them to be proud of their achievements, hear their stories, share with our guests how wonderful they are, help them grow, respect them, learn from them. I am extremely blessed to be working in a place where diversity is a real strength. Our differences make us stronger.

Bessy Kafchitsa

Commercial Director, Bill & Coo Mykonos, Greece

My biggest learning from 2021 was…to embrace my vulnerable side, to accept different aspects of myself so that I may become stronger and more resilient. To put yourself out there and be able to confront your fears, it’s part of human nature. In 2022 I’m dreaming of visiting…Cuba! I’m in awe of this country; it combines the new and the old, the past and the future. I’m intrigued by its art, music, colors, and history. My tip for a balanced life is…to say yes to yourself. To be able to train yourself to fulfill your needs is an act of self-care, and it empowers you to become happier and more confident. I #BreakTheBias and support the growth of women in the workplace by…encouraging transformative leadership and striving to live a purpose-driven life. I make sure to seek opportunities that promote equality and I encourage my colleagues to do the same.

Jane McGee

Commercial Director, The Gleneagles Hotel, Scotland

My biggest learning from 2021 was…to be agile. No two days are the same and some decisions must be made on the spot to react to this ever-changing world. The other big learning is to be kind to yourself, your family, your colleagues, and strangers — you just don’t know how people are feeling or if they are coping with everyday stresses. In 2022 I’m dreaming of visiting…Italy — to spend some time on the beach with a great book, eating the most amazing food, drinking fabulous wine, and immersing myself in a bit of culture! I #BreakTheBias and support the growth of women in the workplace by…actively challenging the taboo of menopause. Menopause is a natural part of life experienced by half the population, yet it is something that is poorly understood and still spoken about in hushed tones. As an employer, we are working to break down that stigma and support our people through the menopause with understanding, compassion, and practical support. That includes working environment assessments — reviewing things like room temperature, uniforms, and access to toilet facilities — to make adjustments that help women manage their symptoms. We have also launched our own Menopause Café, an employee group that meets regularly to provide comfort, friendship, and support through the sharing of experiences, stories, and tips.

Mariella Avino

Managing Director, Palazzo Avino , Italy

My biggest learning from 2021 was…to be flexible throughout constantly evolving scenarios. I am a planner so learning that – albeit scary – resulted in unexpected creativity. In 2022 I’m dreaming of visiting…India. It was my very favorite trip, and I am counting down the days until I can return and further explore the amazing culture and traditions. If I could plan a group trip with inspiring women, I would invite…Frida Kahlo and Miuccia Prada. To retain and attract more female talent, I believe companies — and specifically, the hospitality industry — should…invest in talented individuals across all departments. We like to say we are a hotel in “Pink” — we are a family of three sisters and our management team has a very high percentage of women. I believe the hospitality industry has great opportunity to enhance the “Pink” workforce.

Femke Groeneveld - Weller

Deputy General Manager, Hotel Okura Amsterdam, Netherlands

My biggest learning from 2021 was…to practice daily resilience and appreciate the small stuff. Professionally, closing our restaurants multiple times due to Covid-19 restrictions has had an immense effect on the teams involved. But as a leader, it is your role to inspire the people you work with every day. Personally, being flexible and grateful for the little and beautiful things in life makes me jump out of bed each morning. If I could plan a group trip with inspiring women, I would invite…my grandma (who passed away 15 years ago, but was — and still is — a great inspiration in my daily life), my mother, my sister, and my best friend for more than 35 years. We would sip cocktails, tell stories, laugh, and cry. I #BreakTheBias and support the growth of women in the workplace by…sharing my belief that our differences are what makes us unique and should be proudly celebrated.

Alejandra Pedrosa

Head of Communication, Abadía Retuerta, Spain

My biggest learning from 2021 was…that when you work for a brand with true vision, with strong values and a more open and personal approach, then your clients and friends soon become ambassadors. Here at Leading Hotels, we are the custodians of a legacy, and it is both our responsibility and passion to make sure that it lives on for future generations. In 2022 I’m dreaming of visiting…London, Amsterdam, or Berlin — all destinations with their own unique charm! To retain and attract more female talent, I believe companies — and specifically, the hospitality industry — should…further value flexibility. This has become more important than ever during the pandemic. Juggling our personal and professional lives can be hard sometimes, especially for women due to our family commitments. I think that bringing more women into this industry requires further measures in terms of equality and flexibility, which, in turn, will lead to greater productivity.

Virginie Basselot

Chef des cuisines and “Meilleur ouvrier de France,” Le Negresco, Nice, France

My biggest learning from 2021 was…to be more adaptable and focus on human connection. In 2022 I’m dreaming of visiting…Finland for the gastronomic experience, landscape and to see the aurora borealis. If I could plan a group trip with inspiring women, I would invite…Florence Arthaud, Simone Veil, Roseline Bachelot, Virginie Guyot, Anne-Sophie Pic. I #BreakTheBias and support the growth of women in the workplace by…being an actor of the words egality and parity and not conforming to stereotypical judgements that are in place with gender.

Fumi Yanagihara

Director of Brand Management, Palace Hotel Tokyo, Japan

My biggest learning from 2021 was…that resilience calls for being adept at being adaptable! By this I mean that although you can – and should – remain confident in yourself and steadfast in your beliefs, it is important to always be open-minded to change and prepared to pivot. As they say, the only constant is change. If you don't like change and you're not adaptable then you're always going to encounter what feels like headwinds – whether in business or in life in general. In 2022 I’m dreaming of visiting…Hawaii, a place where I have years of fond memories with my family. To retain and attract more female talent, I believe companies — and specifically, the hospitality industry — should…collaboratively work together. It is so difficult to try and affect industry-wide change on one's own – especially here in Japan, where diversity within the hospitality industry still has a very long way to go. It's actually a key reason why, in 2018, I became one of the founding members of a group called "AXIA - Ladies in Hospitality", where our mission is to develop and support exceptional female hoteliers. Our aim is to present a platform to showcase female talent in our industry and a forum in which these professionals can meet, motivate and inspire one another to affect positive change across the industry.

Rachel David

Director of Sales & Marketing, Terre Blanche Hotel Spa Golf Resort, France

In 2022 I’m dreaming of visiting…Costa Rica. The Central and Latin American regions have always attracted me. Moreover, I love nature, and Costa Rica has exceptional flora and fauna, not to mention its beautiful beaches and waterfalls. Each trip is above all an opportunity to discover a new culture, to try another language, to taste another cuisine. If I could plan a group trip with inspiring women I would invite…French actress Virginie Efira, Michelle Obama, and chef Dominique Crenn...when are we going, ladies? I #BreakTheBias and support the growth of women in the workplace by…hiring many exceptional women. A large portion of my team is female, which is common for the sales and marketing functions in the hotel industry. I like to help each team member evolve in their careers and make sure they feel confident and accomplished in their work. I believe teamwork is essential for women to succeed in the workplace. This of course goes beyond gender, as it takes a fully united team to succeed.

Esmarie Faessler

Director of Marketing, Sonnenalp Hotel, Colorado, USA

My biggest learning from 2021 was…that embracing change and discomfort can be incredibly freeing. In 2022 I’m dreaming of visiting…South Africa to see family and friends in person, and to show my daughter a piece of her heritage. My tip for a balanced life is…to say no. A lot can be achieved when we accept that we can’t do everything. I #BreakTheBias and support the growth of women in the workplace by…making sure that women have an equal voice in a traditionally male dominated industry. We have many women in leadership roles, including our Director of Human Resources, and together we make sure our female employees are top of mind when our executive team makes hotel-wide decisions, such as childcare and maternity leave.

Lisa Remesch

Front Office Manager, Interalpen-Hotel Tyrol, Austria

My biggest learning from 2021 was…that my health, including my mental health, and my loved ones comes above all else. I take time for myself and my family and pay more attention to my needs. This way I stay balanced and can continue to give my very best in my professional environment. In 2022 I’m dreaming of visiting…Norway and the North Cape. I love the silence, the wild nature with fjords, glaciers, and breathtaking landscapes. There I can recharge, and hopefully see the northern lights. I #BreakTheBias and support the growth of women in the workplace by…being an ally and mentor for women. We all need someone to encourage us, to remind us of our strengths, and to cheer us up on bad days. I try to be that someone for other women. I want to help women become more visible, so I also offer my support behind the scenes.

Sylvie Gonin

Chef Concierge, Beau-Rivage Palace Lausanne, Switzerland

My biggest learning from 2021 was…to step back from situations and evaluate their true importance. In 2022 I’m dreaming of visiting…Iceland. I’ve visited before and appreciate the power of its nature and the beauty of its lights. My tip for a balanced life is…to surround yourself with good people with good vibes, and make time for moments to rest and rejuvenate. For me, this means spending ample time walking through our vineyards overlooking Lake Geneva. To retain and attract more female talent, I believe companies — and specifically, the hospitality industry — should…trust in women’s intuition and empower them in and out of the workplace.