Barbara McMahon headshot no glasses_web

Loews Annapolis general manager paves the way for women in hospitality

Growing up, Barbara McMahon’s father told her she had four career options. She could either be a mother, teacher, nurse or a nun. But as a child in the ‘50s, McMahon didn’t know that society had limitations for women. She thought she could be mayor or even president of the United States.

Today, as general manager of the Loews Annapolis Hotel, McMahon gets to fulfill that dream in a unique way.

“A hotel is like its own little city,” said McMahon. She describes the hotel’s training facility like a school system and its leadership team as the hotel’s government and like a city, the hotel is always crawling with people — about 500,000 every year.

“Like in many businesses, in the hotel business, you have the ability to change people’s lives,” she said.  “We work with all sorts of people coming from all different walks of life”

McMahon decided she wanted to go into the hospitality industry after spending a summer during college working as a waitress at Howard Johnson’s in her hometown of Brunswick, Maine.

“I loved it. I loved being entrepreneurial,” she said. “The money I made in tips was dependent on me.”

How she got started

After finishing her bachelor’s degree in public relations from Boston University, McMahon went to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where she earned a degree in hotel and restaurant administration and management.

She enrolled in a prestigious hotel management development program through the ITT Sheraton Corporation. The two-year program gave McMahon the chance to learn about every aspect of the hotel industry, from culinary to engineering.

In the 1970s, it was rare for women to work in hospitality.

During that program, McMahon felt that she was being treated differently than her male peers.

“The male trainees were being provided better opportunities than I was.”

She went to her supervisor, a man who McMahon described as being ahead of his time.

“He understood that in order for people to have the same opportunities upon completion of the program, they needed to be able to have access to the same jobs.”

McMahon was able to get those opportunities — even though they were during a lot of bad shifts.

Being in the minority

In those days, people starting out in hospitality were expected to move every 18 to 24 months. McMahon married later in life, at age 34, which gave her the flexibility to move around the country in the beginning of her career. She traveled from Boston to New York City to Oklahoma City to Pittsburgh, where she stayed for 35 years and was general manager at several Marriott hotels.

“Marriott was one of the companies I worked for that really understood the importance of having a diverse leadership,” she said.

McMahon was an anomaly of sorts in the hospitality industry. Already a male-dominated business, the industry tended to funnel their few women employees to jobs in human resources or sales. McMahon was an operations manager.

When McMahon attended a national meeting for operations managers, she was one of a few women there. That came with a surprising advantage.

“I never had a line for bathroom breaks,” McMahon said, laughing.

In Pittsburgh, McMahon was married and had children, which got her to walk in her employees’ shoes. During the first snowstorm when McMahon was in Pittsburgh, she realized that she and her employees had the same worries. Everyone was worried about getting child care so they could get to work.

“I found myself much more sensitive to my employees,” she said.

McMahon said she always encourages her employees to carve time out to make it to their children’s events and other activities.

She tells them, “It won’t be me sitting with you when you’re old.”

Creating a family-friendly workplace helps change the perception that women are held back at work because of family obligations. That change has allowed more women to enter the workforce over the past few decades, even in the hospitality industry.

“You will find women in every single office, every single job,” she said. “You will also find women as general managers.”

There’s now a line for the ladies’ bathroom at general manager conferences.

Raising your hand

McMahon advises women who want to break into the industry to get as much experience as quickly as possible so they can fully understand the total operation of a hotel.

“The more experience she gets, the more value she has,” said McMahon. “Don’t be afraid to take on jobs that aren’t glamorous.”

Part of getting more experience is raising your hand when people ask for volunteers, even if you don’t think you have the skills.

Outside the workplace, McMahon recommends women in business learn to play golf, because that’s where men make their business deals. You don’t have to be good at it.

“Just make sure you’re a great putter,” said McMahon.

When it comes to making a name for themselves in any industry, McMahon advises women to speak up.

“Never hide behind, ‘It’s because I’m a woman.’”

This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Path To Excellence: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Path to Excellence magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Path to Excellence.

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