Castell Project pushes women’s leadership movement

ATLANTA—A small group of industry veterans has launched a two-prong program aimed at giving women professionals within hospitality a boost up the leadership ladder, particularly those who’ve achieved a measure of success but are at a career crossroads as to how to move onward and upward.

Dubbed Castell Project Inc., the initiative has been in the discussion stage for about a year with enough momentum and support behind it now to advance its own goal of moving ahead.

“This program is for what we call ‘high-potential women’—and they’re mostly women in their thirties,” said Peggy Berg, president of Analiza LLC, who is serving as the project’s director. “In the competitive world of business when you start out, you can get promoted just by working harder and doing more. But there comes a point where the competitive field narrows and you have to compete in a different way. You have to ask for visibility and ask for promotions in a different way. And it’s at that point—that narrowing point—that this program seeks to provide tools for women to win the move up.”

Peggy Berg
Castell Project

Berg is best known in the industry as founder in 1989 and president emeritus of The Highland Group, an advisory firm for hotel owners, developers, investors, franchisors and lenders.

Castell Project is crafting what it deems are “essential advancement tools” for the distaff side along with a customized career-development track as part of the inaugural Castell Leadership Program workshop, which will be delivered May 1-3 at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Atlanta, and supported online as well with subsequent webinars, participant exchanges and progress monitoring.

“I go to investment conferences every year and I look around and I think: ‘Huh. There are very few women on the podium. It’s still that same configuration now that it was when [I] started some time ago,” said Berg. “It bothers me every year. Last year I counted and it was 7%. It’s not really the place we should hold on the podium.”

According to Debra F. Cannon, Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality Administration director and associate professor-hospitality at Georgia State University, some 65% of students going through hospitality programs at colleges and universities are women.

“We have this enormous talent pool moving in, so there’s pressure from the bottom and somehow it’s not getting through,” said Berg.

The “we” behind Castell Project includes Berg; Mary Beth Cutshall, SVP/acquisitions and business development, HVMG; Chris Daly, president, Daly Gray Public Relations Inc.; Karen Johnson, president, Pinnacle Advisory Group; and Eve Moore, VP/operations, Hotel Legacy Property Group.

A founding sponsor of the initiative is the Atlanta Hospitality Alliance, of which Cutshall is a past president. Georgia State University is the project’s academic and research partner. And while not a sponsor, the AHLA is lending support via its Women in Lodging Leadership (WILL) network.

The Castell Leadership Program includes five WILL cohort sessions and membership in WILL.

“If we count how many women are on the podium and how many women are in the C-suites and what their roles are and how it changes from year to year, it makes us really have more than just an uncomfortable feeling,” she said.

Via Georgia State, the project currently is fielding a survey online ( to get a better understanding of women’s perceptions of career advancement in hospitality. 

Cost for the one-year program is $3,400, and is limited to 25 participants per six months. The group is expected to include women in development, operations, finance and corporate.

The process of getting into the program, said Berg, starts when a “champion” nominates a candidate, or when  a woman recognizing her own potential asks her boss to nominate her.

Next steps include an interview by the Castell Project board, which will determine acceptance. In advance of the upcoming workshop, there will be a webinar focused on building a personal development plan and setting goals; some readings; and what is being called a “360 evaluation.”

“There’s team-building in this program, then there’s moving forward with the career-planning piece itself,” said Berg, noting post-workshop, much of the reinforcement will come from the participants’ interactions with each other.

“What we’ve set out to do is take a need that’s already been identified in the industry that’s not being filled as well as it could be and develop a program that has a package that can’t be beat.”

Berg said the project is creating awareness of the opportunity via presentations and emails, working in tandem with the WILL network, as well as calls to executives in the industry.

“We’re also getting it out through organizations like the Atlanta Hospitality Alliance,” she added, noting the Alliance, along with Marriott International and RLJ Lodging Trust, “have stepped up just with pure sponsorship dollars to help us get this off the ground.”

At press time, the Castell Project was three weeks into its launch and Berg said the program was 60% booked with a “solid list” of prospects. “I’m really proud and we’re really happy about it,” she said.

Already thinking ahead, Berg indicated in a year’s time she would like to be offering the program twice a year and publishing metrics on women at conferences and at different levels in the industry so trends may be tracked annually.

“I know men and women executives in the industry who’ve tried to bring up women, sometimes successfully, sometimes frustratingly. I think it can go more smoothly with the right skill set on the part of women who want to rise,” said Berg. HB

To see content in magazine format, click here.