marriott womens arg
Courtesy of Jessica Swannie.

When Jessica Swannie joined Marriott after graduation, she was pleased to find a space where women leaders were not only welcomed — but also celebrated. Now, years later, Jessica oversees communications for the President of the U.S. Eastern Region and helps to enliven a culture of inclusivity as the Co-Communication lead for the Women’s Associate Resource Group.

At Marriott, “putting people first” extends far beyond guest service.

Putting people first is empowering our associates to be their authentic selves, celebrating what makes us unique, and providing environments built on principles of inclusivity and belonging.

As the Communications Lead for the Women’s Associate Resource Group (ARG), I have had the opportunity to enliven our people-first culture. One of many Marriott ARGs, the Women’s ARG is dedicated to unlocking the full potential of women associates and encouraging women to tap into their superpowers to grow their careers and contribute to the company.

marriott women's arg inside look

Courtesy of Christina Chan

Led by Executive Sponsor Peggy Roe, Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer, the Women’s ARG introduced me to our incredible Co-Chairs, Christina Chan, Chief Financial Officer, APEC; and Anne Smith, Vice President, Loyalty Marketing – Marriott Bonvoy.

I caught up with Chan and Smith as they shared insights on the importance of the Women’s ARG at Marriott and their hopes for what’s to come.

Merging Passion with Action

Smith has been passionate about women leadership throughout her career — studying it, observing it, fostering it, and being a role model.

“Female leadership has progressed in so many ways and changed focus over the years. Across industries, there are still issues of equality and equity but there are also data-backed examples of advantage, with many studies pointing to how companies with women represented in senior leadership perform better than companies where women aren’t represented,” says Smith, who’s based at Marriott’s headquarters in Bethesda, MD.

anne smith marriott women's arg

Courtesy of Anne Smith

“Women have superpowers—they just need to be identified and unleashed. And in hospitality, which still faces perceptions of being male dominated, it’s especially important for women to see multiple paths to rise and lead, Smith adds. “So, when Peggy asked me to be a Co-Chair, I was thrilled. This is a personal passion and vocation.”

Chan, who has worked in disciplines predominantly occupied by men, has experienced firsthand the power of a strong support system in career growth.

“Throughout my career, there’s been support from others from both men and women leaders. For me to be able to grow to where I am today, I got a lot of support from other leaders. I really want to be able to do the same for other women…whatever I can do to really continue to support them and their career journey,” says Chan, who’s based in Singapore.

marriott women's arg inside look

Courtesy of Christina Chan

Chan is confident the Women’s ARG will give women a forum to speak their minds and challenge the status quo.

“It is important for us to have support to build the confidence of women because women tend to have less confidence than men,” Chan says. “The Women’s ARG is about giving women an environment to share without being judged and to show more visibility into what women can do.”

Smith also believes in the power of connection in safe spaces to amplify career goals and create an environment of encouragement.

“Despite advantages that have taken place around the world, we are still on a journey in terms of how women are perceived — or perceive themselves — in the workplace. In a space that affords psychological safety and connection, we can share our stories, goals, and challenges with one another to lift each other up or simply celebrate where we are going,” Smith says. “In the process, we build a network across individual women who can then pay it forward to other leaders around the world.”

Women — and Men — Supporting Women

Throughout their careers with Marriott, Chan and Smith experienced strong support and informal mentorship from other leaders that helped them rise to their current roles.

“Support from women at Marriott happens every day,” Smith says. “I have a team that is predominantly women, and I see them support each other, ask for support, celebrate victories, and show empathy for professional and personal struggles. It is a heart-open culture, and it’s mind-blowing and powerful.”

marriott women's arg inside look

Courtesy of Anne Smith

“I have always had a small group of close, trusted colleagues,” Chan says. “I can be very open with them and share how I feel…get their thoughts and input. They are not necessarily mentors, but they’re people who will listen, and I can trust them to provide me encouragement.”

Chan, whose career primarily spans finance and asset management, found career support from men within her discipline.

“You have leaders who will sit you down and say, ‘what would you like to do? Here are a few suggestions for you,’ because they are truly a leader of people who want you to grow,” Chan says. “Men have supported me through my career and each one of them has had something I could learn from.”

“I’ve had a series of what I’ll call ‘sages’ who have offered their wisdom and guidance,” Smith says. “An early bit of guidance that really impacted me was from my chief marketing officer when I was trying to decide how quickly to chase my next promotion, which was, ‘Anne, if you join the rat race, the best thing that can happen is you’ll be the winning rat. You need to chase your goals. Not someone else’s.’”

Connecting Women Within Marriott

Both Smith and Chan hope the Women’s ARG will provide continued encouragement and positivity within Marriott.

“I hope we can give visibility to all the work that is already underway across the company to foster leadership and connection among women,” Smith says.

marriott women's arg inside look

Courtesy of Christina Chan

“I am excited to foster an environment for women to feel they have a safe space to speak up and to provide encouragement,” Chan adds. “As a leader who has a great number of women team members, I feel it’s always important to be a great listener and support them along the way. I want to give them the encouragement so that their inner voice does not become their enemy and prevent them from taking the next step in their career journey.”

Both leaders intend to bridge efforts throughout the company and its associates across the globe.

“It’s an important tenet of our mission to be global in our approach, not U.S.-centric, Smith says. “I hope the Women’s ARG helps existing efforts to be seen so that we can learn from one another and that we can use our forums to have courageous conversations about women at work around the world.”