AHLA Foundation expands ‘ForWard’ initiative for women in hospitality

The foundation also announced the winner of the Peggy Berg Castell Award

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ForWard initiative for women
The AHLA Foundation re-launched its ForWard program, which aims to advance women in hotel industry leadership and ownership. The foundation plans to merge the program with the Castell Project, a not-for-profit geared toward empowering women in hospitality leadership, which it acquired last year. Pictured is Anna Blue, president of AHLA Foundation.

THE AHLA FOUNDATION, is re-launching its ForWard program, created to advance women in leadership and ownership within the hotel industry, and plans to integrate the program with the recently acquired Castell Project, an organization focused on promoting women in hospitality leadership. Also, the foundation presented the 2023 Peggy Berg Castell Award to Julienne Smith, IHG Hotels & Resorts’ chief development officer for the Americas.

The integration of ForWard and the Castell Project will result in a unified platform offering resources, events, professional development, and community-building opportunities, the AHLA Foundation said in a statement.

“There is tremendous opportunity for us to do more to celebrate, champion, and create community for women,” said Anna Blue, president of AHLA Foundation, the charitable arm of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. “AHLA Foundation is uniquely positioned to collaborate across industry and invest in the women who are advancing hospitality.”

The ForWard initiative’s updated portfolio includes:

  • ForWard BUILD & ELEVATE (formerly Castell BUILD & ELEVATE): a year-long curriculum featuring skills-based workshops, career coaching, and leadership coursework aimed at establishing a strong foundation for career success.
  • ForWardThinking (formerly Castell@College): a speaker series designed to help hospitality students envision future career opportunities.
  • The ForWard Network: a community of women leaders that brings together ForWard Ambassadorswith the Friends of Castell and Castell Luminaries.
  • The ForWard Conference will continue as an AHLA Foundation event within this consolidated initiative.
  • The Peggy Berg Castell Award (formerly the Castell Award): This award, which recognizes exceptional women leaders in the hotel industry, has been renamed to honor the legacy and dedication of the Castell Project’s founder.

The integration of ForWard and Castell aligns with AHLA Foundation’s industry-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion objectives, enabling unified strategic direction and amplified program impact, the foundation said. It aims to broaden the ForWard Network on local and national levels, providing enhanced professional development opportunities for women to connect, both in-person and online, it added.

Recognizing a trailblazer

The foundation presented the Peggy Berg Castell Award to Smith at the Lodging Conference on Sept. 20. The award highlights women trailblazers who are paving the way for more women to rise to the top of the hospitality industry.

Julienne Smith, IHG Hotels & Resorts’ chief development officer for the Americas, received the 2023 Peggy Berg Castell Award from the AHLA Foundation during The Lodging Conference in Phoenix last week.

The foundation said Smith is actively involved in supporting women through mentorships and sponsorships, and she partners with organizations that help women navigate the hotel ownership process. She also led the development of IHG LIFT, an owner growth program in the U.S. and Canada focused on creating more hotel development support for historically under-represented groups within IHG and across the hospitality industry. Julienne also serves on the Global and Americas Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Boards within IHG, is on the AHLA Foundation Board of Trustees, and serves on several industry conference advisory and planning committees, including AHLA’s ForWard.

“Increasing representation of women as well as other diverse and under-represented groups in the hospitality industry is something I’m passionate about as it builds upon our already powerful foundation and will ultimately strengthen our entire industry,” Smith said. “I’m honored to be in the same company of incredible women who have previously been recognized with this award, and I’m very grateful to the AHLA Foundation for this recognition.”

“The beauty of this award is the spotlight it puts on the women in this industry who are championing and elevating women, continuing the tradition of Peggy Berg (for whom the award is now named),” said Anna Blue, president of AHLA Foundation. “Julienne’s leadership is inspirational; she’s leaving an important mark on this industry in so many ways.”

With the acquisition of the Castell Project by AHLA Foundation last year, the Castell Award was renamed the Peggy Berg Castell Award to give tribute to the legacy and commitment of the Castell Project’s founder. The award will continue under AHLA Foundation’s ForWard initiative.