Turning fairytale stereotypes on their head, these ladies save The Prince – day in, day out. Strong team leaders across the entire complex, these women embody the values, strength and resilience required to excel in Melbourne’s ever-evolving hospitality landscape. In honour of International Women’s Day, they dish the dirt on female careers in hospitality…


What inspired you to begin a career in hospitality?

Madeleine Svensson (Sous Chef): My inspiration definitely comes from my childhood watching my grandma cook. She influenced me to try new things, create with my hands and from an early age make people happy through food.

Rowena Fitzgerald (Marketing Manager)I actually studied journalism at uni. All my classmates were focused on news and current affairs and dreamt of reporting for 60 minutes. Meanwhile, I was desperate to be a restaurant reviewer.

Eventually I found a job in a PR agency that specialised in food and drink and felt like I had won the lottery!

Sarah Bolitho (Event Sales Manager): Funnily enough, my Mum suggested that I like to party so why not try organising them!  


Do you think Australia is ahead of the curve in regards to women’s involvement in hospitality?

Emma Jonsson (Venue Manager): Absolutely, compared to a lot of other countries. I’m from Sweden and have mostly worked in Norway, which are countries quite similar to Australia. But when I’ve travelled, I’ve really noticed a big difference. In a lot of countries, women don’t even work and especially not in hospitality.

Hayley Armstrong (Hotel Manager): All the properties I have worked in have had a very strong female management presence. I have been lucky to work under some amazing women general managers who have taught me a lot.

Sarah Dempsey (Prince Public Bar Manager): Not yet, but working toward it. I think realistically we need to see changes from the top down. We need to maintain momentum and keep pushing toward equality.

Jess Harker (Operations Manager): Yes and no. I find that being ahead of the “curve” for women in the industry is more relevant when considering roles that were formerly seen as “male”. Everyone used to think the manager or the maître d’ of a restaurant could ONLY be the man in the suit (as with chefs, distillers, winemakers).

This is such an ‘old-school’ notion. It’s brilliant having names (and personal mentors) like Madeleine Morgan and Miss Pearls redefine the role of women in the industry and show that our abilities as managers, chefs, business owners – anything (!)- is not determined or masked by our gender. In Australia I think the industry has really embraced gender equality but there are still consumers out there with quite old-fashioned points of view.


How do you think the hospitality industry could encourage more women to get involved?

Sarah D: From the outside, you would think that the industry overall is pretty evenly split, but when you take a closer look it becomes apparent that women are underrepresented in senior roles. Although some companies are working hard at creating diversity and equality, there is always room for improvement.

The first initiative is to offer more opportunities for progression. Keep working toward closing the gender pay gap. We need more support groups such as WOHO (Women in Hospitality) or Coleman’s Academy that offer mentorship programs and seek to share industry knowledge by creating a network of inspirational role models. 

Jess: Changing the idea of “hospo hours”. There has been a shift in culture in hospitality, most noticeably in the last few years. A conscious effort to reduce daily contact hours and workloads in other industries has definitely impacted the way operators look at the Food & Beverage industry.

Recent pay scandals involving wage theft and unpaid overtime has helped business owners understand the old mentality of flogging staff for excessive hours doesn’t yield productive outcomes. This is a great shift for people in the industry in general, but particularly great for women hoping to start a family but may be fearful to do so if they pick hospitality as a career. Once the industry can recognize that offering a work-life balance is a possibility for all staff then I think it will become appealing for even more women to get involved.

Sarah B:  Yes, the more women the better – it’s a fantastic, inspiring, creative and ever-changing world. I think it’s important that women know that the ‘hospitality industry’ is more than just food and beverage outlets – it encompasses areas of events, weddings, festivals and parties – there is something for everyone!

Social media has helped show the amazing and diverse side of hospitality. I know I spend hours trawling through events worldwide and become fascinated with the women behind the scenes. How they create and then execute their clients’ vision is truly fascinating!  


What advice would you offer for women who wish to start a career in hospitality?

Madeleine: Passion. Honestly, if you don’t have passion for what you do on a daily basis, you should probably question that. Be passionate about hospitality, food, cooking, creating and guest service, then you can go as far as you want, there’s no limit. Trust your gut feeling and your hard work and dedication will pay off.

Rowena: Don’t hesitate. The hospitality industry is filled with passionate people who live and breathe what they do and you’ll constantly be inspired, challenged, welcomed and rewarded. It sounds like a cliche but it’s true.

Hayley: Show you are dedicated to the role and everything else will follow. The people who I have seen go the furthest in hospitality have always been the ones who have been committed to their staff, guests and had a vision for the business.