International Women’s Day 2024

International Women’s Day is a significant marker in many people’s calendars as a day of reflection, change, and hope for the future. Hotel Designs Editor Sophie Harper ponders on what the day means to her and other women in the hotel design industry.

In 1976, American historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote in a scholarly article, “well-behaved women seldom make history” – a quote that has been repeated exponentially in recent years. I have personally quoted it more times than I care to admit, drumming up amusing mental imagery of all those scandalous, outlandish women making waves and wreaking havoc throughout history. Great, but what about all the women who weren’t raising hell? These days I’m just as much, if not more, interested in the women who were meticulous, passionate, and wanted to change the world through science, medicine, and technology, who honed their craft and gave back to the world.

We have a way to go yet, but acknowledging the progression towards a more equitable, inclusive, and diverse culture is important, and suggesting that good behaviour will ultimately be unrecognised, or that the women who did so much to change history were simply troublemakers, is detrimental to their work and many other women’s successes.

It’s easy sometimes to focus on the pitfalls and failings of society, of industry, and individuals, but there are so many more positives and achievements we could be celebrating instead. The biggest change we can continue to make is supporting each other more, lifting each other up and recognising that not all superheroes wear capes (and not all brilliant women are societal agitators).

We asked some of the hotel design industry’s leaders and creative movers and shakers to tell us what’s on their mind this International Women’s Day.

The Maverick… Maria Vafiadis, Founder & Managing Director, MKV Design

Maria Vafiadis

“In the 30 plus years I have worked in London, I have seen a huge shift towards diversity in the hospitality design sector. In fact, I would say that our design industry is now one of the most inclusive business sectors to be found. However, that is not enough. It still remains the case that design decisions are mostly taken by men and, worse, once our creative work leaves home to make its way through the implementation chain, it enters a world that largely has no women at all at decision making levels. I believe that this is to the detriment of the process as well as the final outcome.

In general, women are pragmatic problem solvers; they are also sensitive to creative values which tend to be side-lined in masculine cultures. Our need is for inclusivity across the entire supply chain and my hope is to see a few people who might currently feel excluded, empowered to make it to the top table, thus becoming role models for those who would then follow them.”

The Women’s Champion… Chris Tucker, Board of Directors & Past President, NEWH

Chris Tucker

“This International Women’s Day, we celebrate the strides made by our hospitality industry in promoting equality and fostering opportunities for all. This progress owes much to the courageous women in our history who dared to speak up and act, catalysing transformative change.

In 1984, four visionary women established NEWH – The Network of Executive Women in Hospitality – to champion the advancement of women in our industry. What began with just four voices has since blossomed into a driving force for positive change, both within our industry and society at large, expanding opportunities for women across diverse career paths.

We owe a debt of gratitude to those trailblazers who dared to challenge the status quo, paving the way for women today to pursue their aspirations without constraints. These are truly remarkable times for women, brimming with boundless opportunities for success.”

The Mentor… Elizabeth Walton, Associate Director, ReardonSmith Architects

Elizabeth Walton

“It is vital for the future of our sector that everyone who contributes to the design and construction of our hotels feels they are heard and supported by their peers, employers, and industry colleagues. Sadly, such inclusiveness remains an issue for women as they progress in their career, navigating the complex path of taking on more responsibility at work, choosing to have a family, or pushing for equal acknowledgment in the boardroom. Although gender parity of qualified architects amongst the under ‘30s is in sight, it reduces over the next generations until women in senior management are still far too rare within the profession.

It is therefore essential that relevant support networks exist for females as they progress in their careers and, for me, mentoring, by women for women, is key. In order for this to be a success, it requires the mentor to make time in a busy day to be available to support, and most importantly, to listen. It is a process, however, which benefits both mentor and mentee.

I am passionate about the power of on-going learning and positive communication to unleash change and hope that in offering support to younger women in architecture, they too will take on a supporting role for others in the future. It will take some time to achieve true equality and diversity all the way to the top, but this is one way of changing the statistics for the better.”

The Visionary… Tatiana Sheveleva, Co-founder and Partner, Chapi Chapo Design

Tatiana Sheveleva

“I love International Women’s Day – it’s important to embrace our role in this world – we’re beautiful, strong, and we need to be celebrated. I think it’s good that people are talking about this topic more and that social media is helping spread the message.

I have been lucky, I was raised by a very strong woman and very respectful father, so when I was a little girl I didn’t experience any discrimination, I didn’t even realise such a thing existed, but as a businesswoman that’s when I started to experience it and it came as a bit of a surprise! Has it gotten any better, I’m not sure, but what has got better is me – I have learned, I have developed, I have changed – changing the world is a more difficult challenge.

In Kazakhstan International Women’s Day is a holiday and we don’t work. We celebrate with spring flowers and each other. I’m driving to see my family today, it’s a big deal for us. I want to thank the women around me, my mum, sisters, niece, and my daughter, for supporting me for many, many years, for women everywhere supporting other women – thank you.”

The Go-Getter… Lina Zakzeckyte, General Manager, Hart Shoreditch

“At Hart Shoreditch, championing our local entrepreneurs is at the heart of all we do, and we are supporters of equal opportunity for all genders. Across all of our collaborations with female business owners as well as our hotel team, we aim to inspire and empower women to achieve success.

We pride ourselves on having an extensive portfolio of partners who are women, like interior designer Rezzan Hasoglu, DJs Roxa Damas and Dina Micka, and artist Avalele. Most recently, a collaboration with East End local, Samantha Jameson, founder of Soapsmith, not only enriches our guests’ stay with high-quality amenities but also underscores our commitment to showcasing her craftsmanship and her remarkable business to our local and international guests. For 2024, we hope to continue these collaborations by offering local workshop series, networking events in our vibrant lounge area as well as panel discussions. Our internal team should also be highlighted, including Sameena, Akvile, Katerina and Ineska. We all work hard to make sure the hotel is a huge success. In the upcoming months, there are several initiatives in the pipeline that will spotlight women and support their creative business endeavours, further solidifying our commitment to championing women in our industry and beyond.

Championing women, not only in the hospitality industry but across other intersecting industries such as beauty, is crucial for promoting diversity and fostering innovation. By embracing diverse perspectives and ideas, we can drive greater creativity and excellence.’’


In an increasingly diverse landscape, Hotel Designs is proud to champion the voices of women and shine light on not only their incredible work in design, but also to talk about the topics that most affect their everyday working environments. Hear from more of our inspirational design talent in our Women at the forefront of innovation article.

Main image credit: Courtesy of Vonecia Carswell