Women in Hotel F&B are Ready, and Always Have Been
Dana Pellicano on passion and drive in hospitality success.
When I was growing up, my mother was an accomplished cook and baker. Self-taught, she supplemented recipes she found in magazines with tips and tricks she’d picked up from her Italian immigrant mother. As a single working mom, she cooked both out of necessity and for pleasure. People coveted an invite for any dinner where she hand-made crêpes for manicotti or served her famous meatballs—softer than a cloud and mouthwateringly delicious.
At Christmas, she’d expertly bake dozens of different Christmas cookies you could mistake as professionally done. All expertly shaped and baked, they more resembled the work of a professional pastry chef than an at-home baker and her two adolescent apprentices, my younger sister Carla and me.
I joyfully commandeered our Sunday pasta-making and the hosting duties of our family gatherings. Once I had secured working papers at the age of 15, I found a job at our local pizzeria in Bloomfield, New Jersey. I chopped cases of garlic while rolling eggplant rollatini and answering the phones for delivery orders. I prepped so many antipasti salads that I haven’t eaten one since. I loved that job, even if I no longer love antipasto salad. Thus began my professional career in the industry.
Over the past 25-plus years, I’ve worked in various restaurants, bars, cafés, and hotels as a maitre’d, kitchen manager, GM, and director of F&B, and even overseas at an osteria in Italy. Unexpectedly, my passion for food propelled me from Sunday night pasta-maker to my current role: championing F&B for an incredible portfolio of Marriott International hotels across the Americas continent.
I am often asked for my perspective on how F&B has changed throughout the years. I remember working at the pizzeria, where women were servers and “phone girls” (our actual job title), while men worked the pizza oven, drove deliveries, and worked the bar. At my next job, in the snack bar at a local country club, women made the ice cream sundaes while men tended the grill. When I moved to New York City in the mid-1990s, chefs still assumed that female chefs could only work garde manger or pastry. Having grown up in a house full of strong, inspiring women, this shocked me. I’d hear female chefs repeatedly asked about their “physical readiness” for the job and whether they could really handle the demanding schedules.
Why does this matter? Well, for starters, think about the damage it does to an industry’s talent pool to quickly cancel out half of the world’s workforce on gender bias alone. Crucially, hospitality had the second highest job openings rate through the first half of 2018. Coupled with an era of record low unemployment, our collective ability to fill vacant tournant jobs is imperiled, especially if we close the door on half of our working population. Still, fewer than 7% of restaurant owners and executive chefs nationally are women.
My role is itself a signal that while we still have a long way to go, industry perceptions are beginning to shift. I’m so proud to work for Marriott International, a company consistently recognized as a top employer for women. Company-wide, women comprise a majority of our employees (54%), with 55% in leadership roles. Our Emerging Leader Program continually develops female and minority talent and is comprised of 55% women. As is importantly noted, our CEO walks the walk; 40% of his C-suite direct reports are women.
This year, a cadre of our passionate female chef and F&B leaders started the Culinary Coalition for Women, creating a forum for mentoring and promoting pathways to leadership and success for women in the kitchens of our hotels. Food and beverage is constantly adapting due in part to social media, new technologies, and a fervent emphasis on innovation, but it’s this shift in community thinking and action that I’m most encouraged to witness.
I feel privileged to introduce Hotel F&B’s 25 Women to Watch. These are women who persevere daily—assuredly despite countless questions about their readiness—and are making indelible marks within our business.
Member, Hotel F&B Corporate Editorial Advisory Board
VP, F&B Experience -The Americas, Marriott International