According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 51.2% of the workforce in the hospitality sector—one of a handful of industries where women are a majority. Despite this level of representation, the upper ranks of hospitality leadership look much different. Only 30% of leaders in the sector are women; for every female chief officer, there are three men with the title.
For Reetu Gupta, former CEO and President and current Ambassadress at The Gupta Group the billion-dollar hotel and real estate developer, leading with love and compassion is key to succeeding in what remains a male-dominated field.
“My spirituality is what helps me engage in the ongoing self-reflection you need to thrive in hospitality leadership,” she explains. “Whether it’s thinking about new ways to incentivize hires in the post-pandemic age, or our philanthropic work, I always start from a place of compassion. It’s what my parents instilled in me from an early age.”
Life Lessons in Self-Love & Diversity
Gupta’s lifelong commitment to her family company has given her a unique perspective on the evolving industry. At eight-years-old, she was answering office phones and learning administrative tasks, and by high school she was working in her family’s new hotel in downtown Toronto.
Despite their deep commitment to their company, Gupta’s family’s brand wasn’t named after them until relatively recently. “There just weren’t a lot of brown people in the industry back then, and the Gupta name wasn’t well known,” she explains. “I was usually the only female in the room, and if I wasn’t, I was always the youngest, and the only Indian.” In 2012, she changed the company’s name to The Gupta Group, to create a new legacy.
“I’m proud of our name,” she says. “For us, this change embodied what was important to us as a larger culture. The Gupta Group is a place where anyone can and should belong.”
Gupta has taken a similar approach in creating her own title, Ambassadress. “It’s unapologetically female,” she explains. “Corporate leadership positions simply don’t look the same as they did in the past. But, we can celebrate the parts of leadership that have been devalued historically by embracing that change.”
Internal Reflections for Employee Well-Being
It isn’t always easy to navigate the evolving hospitality industry, but Gupta credits her self-care routines with helping her maintain the self-confidence necessary to keep going when things get tough. It’s all about tapping into your inner voice, she explains.
“The first thing I do every morning, between 5 and 6:30 a.m., is meditate. I simply close my eyes, and allow my heart and soul to connect to the universe,” Gupta says. “The peace and clarity meditation brings us can have a powerful effect on our capacity to support and love both ourselves and others.” It’s an effect that is crucial for collaboration and guiding teams through an industry that is rapidly evolving, and one Gupta hopes to share in her new book, Auspicious— out September 21.
Experts agree. Mindfulness trainer Michael Chalskalson, author of The Mindful Workplace and Mindfulness in Eight Weeks, says that mindfulness practices can play an important role in corporate leadership and team-building. As he explains, “the left hemisphere of our brain is about getting things done: doing, achieving, building. The right hemisphere is about meaning, context, purpose.” Per Chalskalson, our increasingly digital world has allowed the left hemisphere to take over and essentially imprison our more introspective mind.
“Life becomes arid and starts to fall apart when we only think with our left hemisphere. We eventually…cannot lead effectively,” Chaklslalson says. He emphasizes that mindfulness techniques that reframe and refocus our attention are crucial for the next generation of leaders.
Gupta understands this too and has been trying to bring the benefits of mindfulness and meditation to a wider audience. For over a decade, she’s been teaching complimentary meditation classes at her family’s hotels — fostering community, trust, and compassion in the process.
Creating Opportunity For Women in Hospitality
Gupta’s approach to leadership is integral to her work on diversity and equity. Her lifelong experience in the hospitality industry has given her a first-hand view into which approaches are most effective for fostering diverse workplaces. She says it starts with recruitment.
Companies that look for talent in the same pools they always have are less likely to discover new potential leaders. “If you’re going to your own network, most likely the talent is like you,” Gupta explains. In order to change the face of hospitality industry leadership, she thinks recruiters and executives must be willing to look beyond their immediate communities and get creative.
At the same time, Gupta is trying to tap into the diverse talent the hospitality industry has to offer beyond the executive level. By developing internal talent, Gupta believes she can build a bench of rising stars for eventual leadership positions, who look and think differently from the old guard. Empowering middle managers and downstream managers to help identify and develop these all-stars through leadership training has been paramount to her mission.
These kinds of merit-based hiring and promotion practices have had a notable impact on her company. Gupta notes that women make up 70% of The Gupta Group’s executive leadership, and just over 50% of their managers.
“We have team members from over 65 different countries. That diversity of perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds is so essential in the hospitality industry. It’s something we’re truly proud of as an organization,” Gupta says.
Gupta’s focus on growth is best defined by her open-minded approach to new ideas, such as figuring out ways to support workers who prefer the perks of remote or hybrid work. “It’s what team members are demanding, and hotels have to change with the times,” Gupta explains. As time moves forward, Gupta’s continued focus on self-reflection and self-love will likely be vital to her company’s evolution, if not a model for the industry at large.