From key movements like Times Up and #MeToo, to bold leaders like Oprah Winfrey, Malala Yousafzai, Rosa Parks, Ellen DeGeneres and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, long gone are the days of relegating women. And because women always know how to throw a good party, the whole world comes together every March to celebrate their accomplishments with International Women’s Week, and in America, the greater National Women’s History Month.
With International Women’s Day just days away (on March 8th!), we wanted to highlight a few badass ladies here at Virgin Hotels—Mary “MJ” Jones, Cerise Rooftop General Manager (Virgin Hotels Chicago); Megan Abraham, Lead Bartender/Mixologist at Commons Club (Virgin Hotels San Francisco); and Kristen Norvet, Director of Entertainment (Virgin Hotels Dallas). Read below to find out what they had to say about being a woman in their respective fields, the lady trailblazers who paved the way for them and their advice for any woman trying to find her place in the world today.
What female has inspired you, in either your personal life or your career? Did she do or say something in particular that inspired you?
Growing up, my mother, aunts and grandmother all showed me what working hard looked like and they did it so gracefully. I never really understood anything about a “glass ceiling” until college, when I was taking business classes. I started noticing I was one of only three women in a room of men, and it started to hit me that I was the odd one out. I got frustrated a lot in class because I felt like no one listened to me, or like I would only get asked questions about “women in the office” or “if I believed there was a glass ceiling.” It was a very eye-opening time. I started to realize I was going to have to work twice as hard to make people see me. I called my mom a lot, and she never told me to be quiet or keep my voice down. She always told me to get louder, take up space, make them listen and fight for what I believe in. She told me that they would start to listen, but I had to be the one to make them. I took her advice, and by senior year, I was having guys in class ask me for help on projects. That felt good.
What advice would you give to other women who want to become a General Manager?
Find a mentor! Ask for help, and if you want something, you have to put it in the ether. A lot of times, there will be openings for positions and teammates will ask why they weren’t considered. I always follow up with, “Did you apply to the job?” and there’s usually a puzzled look because they didn’t realize that you’re not just asked for a promotion or a move. Then I bring it into a bigger conversation— “Where do you see your career going? These are the steps to take next time.” No one knocks on the door with a promotion. You have to go out and get it.
What makes you so proud to be a woman today?
I’m proud to be part of a time that is starting to see all women, ones that are constantly evolving to change the definition of what it means to be a woman and not just politely trying to fit into society’s definition of what it should be. It keeps getting better—we just have to keep supporting each other. Progress.
What’s it like being a woman in the bar world?
Women are continuing to rise in all industries, and the bar world is no different. I think 2020 will be our best year yet. I find there are so many opportunities to add to the breadth and depth of the bar world, and at Commons Club I get to show up and be myself. I can put fun, crazy, whacky spins on things that might have otherwise been viewed as the norm – like afternoon tea. I’ve lead Upside Down Tea with our culinary team, creating craft boozy teas that are sometimes feminine and still celebrated for their craft. Sure, women get hit on behind the bar too, and I’ve just learned that clear boundaries and owning my position is the key to most things really.
To get to where you are, you had to have other women inspire you. How do you pay that forward and inspire the women who work with you?
I was in a lot of plays growing up and had so many inspiring acting teachers as role models like Cynthia Meyers, Kerri Shawn and Beth McBrien. What struck me about these women is that, in addition to being kickass performers, they were also dynamic teachers who impact and inspire kids in ways they won’t even know. So much about life is about coming alongside each other and helping others on their way, just as people before me have helped me on mine. I try to do that now with the bartenders and bar backs on my team at Commons Club. Just today, I saw an inspirational quote by Rumi from one of my mentors, Kerri. It sums it up perfectly: “It’s your road and yours alone. Others can walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.” Empowering others to shine is the greatest gift.
What advice would you give other women trying to make their mark in the industry?
Never give up. Follow your passion and spend your time doing things that satisfy you. I can’t even tell you how many places I offered to volunteer at or just help with inventory. People would turn me down. (Who turns down free labor?!) They just wanted me to come in and have fun and make people happy, but I wanted to do more. You have to know your value. I am sweet as pie, but I am not to be messed with. Set limits, draw lines in the sand, ask for what you want and put out a product you would love to enjoy yourself. Sincerity is infectious and there is no greater weapon than your smile.
What female has inspired you, in either your personal life or your career? Did she say something special that inspired you?
Grace Jones, all the way: “There was always someone else in the way, until I worked out how to make myself the one who was in the way of others.”
Also, Betty White: “That’s nice, dear.” I use that one all the time!
What advice would you give to other women just breaking into the industry?
Take up space—you owe it to the world and to yourself. Avoid “shoulds.” And when confronted with racist, sexist, classist remarks, make them explain themselves. Ask them: “What do you mean by that?” Put them on the spot.
What makes you so proud to be a woman today?
Not what, but who: Elizabeth Warren. Lizzo. Stacey Abrams. Ty Stiklorius. Megan Rapinoe. Greta Thunberg. Other women persevering and succeeding in male-dominated fields, and speaking truth to power, make me so damn proud to be a woman today.
Writer: Jennifer Agress