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Etymon Career Chat: CEO Lisa Hobbs on Being a Female Leader in Hospo, How She Got Here and Her Top Tips For Women Entering the Industry

Look around Australia’s major hospitality groups and one thing is clear: there aren’t many women in their boardrooms. It’s an industry that’s been notoriously male-dominated, from its chefs to its sommeliers all the way up the hierarchy to those in the C-suites. Etymon Chief Executive Officer, Lisa Hobbs, is one of the exceptions.

She started out in marketing and communications before shifting into a similar position in the finance industry, then made the leap to technical product roles at banking giant Credit Suisse. When the GFC hit, though, Hobbs decided a change was in order and made the move to hospitality, first as Chief Operating Officer at Dedes Group, where she was then promoted to CEO.

“What appealed to me in hospitality was the people and that it’s a people business,” says Hobbs. “I had managed teams before, however working in hospitality with so many people across different teams was, and still is very fulfilling.”

She’s headed up Etymon since 2020, and is tasked with piloting the launch of 20 to 30 venues in Sydney over the next five years, as well as expanding to China, LA, London and Singapore. Here she shares what it’s like steering hospitality businesses as a woman, Etymon’s no-tolerance discrimination policy, and her tips for women hoping to make their mark in this notoriously male-dominated business.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in the top job at hospitality companies?

Transitioning from finance to hospitality and generally being taken seriously in the hospitality industry was more of a challenge than being female. It was about earning my stripes from an industry perspective.

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges for females in the industry, as there are, and I am very passionate about supporting females to become more senior in the industry.

What changes have you seen during your 13 years in hospo?

Many changes from a cultural perspective which is pleasing. Whether through scrutiny as an industry to encourage all employers to treat and pay people fairly to recognising systemic issues within parts of the industry which make it a less attractive place to work in or plan a career within.  Having values and a great culture is now as important as the guest experience. Hospitality employees are often looking for a better culture to work within.

The call for more women in hospitality, and more particularly at senior levels has become louder. This is important because it acknowledges that men and women bring different skills, experience, and perspectives to a team, and in hospitality that’s really important, as it’s all about teamwork. Additionally, it means we can address some of the industry shortfalls that make it difficult for females to work within the industry as a career.

We now see more mentoring especially for women in hospitality. This has partly been pioneered by Women in Hospitality, of which I was a director for four-plus years. It is fulfilling to see women wanting to join together to network and tackle the lack of women in the industry and to support one another.

Does Etymon have policies or structures in place to combat discrimination?

Etymon’s policies are not centred on gender alone, as there are many forms of discrimination, and we tolerate none of them. Diversity and inclusion is one of the best ingredients you can add to your culture. A workplace where everyone feels supported, no matter who they are or where they come from is what I encourage. I try to always set the tone from the top in terms of culture, including formally inducting all Etymon staff when they begin with us and hosting leadership seminars within the business throughout the year.

It’s about educating and encouraging people to be open-minded, and about honest conversations when things are going wrong or there’s behaviour that should not be tolerated.

Can you share some tips for women aiming to enter the hospitality industry – whether as chefs, front-of-house, or working their way up to CEO?

Back yourself. Women often don’t go for that next career move for fear that they don’t ‘tick all of the boxes’ or meet all of the requirements.

Be prepared to take a step back in order to move forward into a senior role. Not every career move you make is in the direction of more status and remuneration.

You never know what you can achieve until you try it. I didn’t know I was making the right decision leaving finance and jumping into hospitality. Imposter syndrome was alive and well (!).

Talk to people and promote yourself.

Align with other senior females and form connections. There are quite a few senior women in the industry with loads of experience, who I am fortunate to say are friends and colleagues, and keen to help other women!

Have a mentor, lean into the change required to grow your career and be open-minded about any training and development you may need to undertake.

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