Catherine Velie believes that the idea of “having it all” puts too much pressure on women. But she’s still found her own way to balance her role as general manager of the Delta Toronto hotel with marriage and motherhood — thanks to defined boundaries, a network that’s willing to lend a hand, and a supportive employer.
By Sarah Kelsey
“The pressure to say ‘I have to do it all’ is too much on someone — it’s a big phrase,” says Catherine Velie, when asked about whether women can have it all. “For me, it’s about finding a balance of where I need to be in each of my lives, prioritizing work and personal commitments and setting the example that it can be done.”
Her two lives — personal and professional — make for a busy schedule. Catherine is married and has an 11-year-old son, and she’s also general manager of the Marriott-managed Delta Toronto — one of few women in the industry in this leadership role. (It’s a changing landscape, however; women are increasingly being promoted to general manager roles, as they have proven their ability to run great hotels.)
“If you’re the leader who works early and leaves late, then you’re setting the example that that’s what you expect of your team. I believe that when you have to work, you work, but when you’re at home, you focus on your family.”
Her mastering of all things work-life balance is partially a product of the people she’s surrounded herself with. Her family and friends lend a hand if she’s in a bind, and she’s built a team of associates who can manage the hotel when she’s at home. Her boss — and the entire Marriott chain — also have supportive beliefs and policies that put staff members’ needs first.
“When you take care of your staff, they’ll feel empowered to take care of the guests,” she says.
Catherine got her start in the busy and competitive tourism field by attending hotel school in Québec at the Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec. From there she took a “carpe diem” approach to her career. She moved across the country for a job at the Westin Calgary, where she worked as the first female server on the evening shift before moving on to the front office. She then went on to hone her management skills at the Westin Grand Cayman before moving to Boston, where she eventually met her husband.
“I was always very vocal about what I wanted. In Boston I was a director of rooms, and I didn’t have a lot of food and beverage experience, but I needed both to become a director of operations — my goal at the time,” she notes. “I had a general manager who was a great leader and who exposed me to new sides of the business to help me grow and encouraged me to take on a new role as Director of Six Sigma. It was a tough year because I truly didn’t know a lot about what I was doing.”
“Through adversity you advance and you get stronger. You have to spend a lot of time doing things that make you uncomfortable.”
But the experience taught her the patience, confidence and leadership she needed to land a dream job: an opportunity to help manage the celeb-beloved W Los Angeles. She came to Toronto by way of Montreal, after she and her husband decided they wanted to raise their L.A.-born son in Canada. As the general manager of Delta Toronto (another Marriott property), she found a position that enabled her to be a mom and manager.
“I’m so grateful to Marriott,” she says of her career with the company and, most importantly, for her current role. “I feel they’re supportive of me as a general manager, but also as a woman and as a mom. Marriott’s support lessens some of the guilt I feel about balancing work and family life.”
The supportive environment is part of a company-wide focus on advancing women. Marriott consistently ranks high on FORTUNE’s 100 Best Workplaces for Women list, and has been on the 100 Best Workplaces to Work For list for 21 consecutive years. They also founded the Marriott Women’s Leadership Development Initiative in 1999 — well before the industry was focusing on gender diversity and inclusion — which has led to the growth of females in decision-making positions.
So what’s Catherine’s advice for young adults who want to get ahead — especially if she doesn’t believe in “having it all”? First, find a company that will support you in all you do — at work and at home. Second, find a mentor.
“Find that person you connect with — regardless of their location. You need to be able to be true and raw with that person. You need to be able to take their feedback, too.” A good place to start is with your direct boss. Catherine says she regularly has conversations with her associates about what’s next in their careers. Her ultimate goal is to empower and challenge them to move beyond their everyday.
“Through adversity you advance and you get stronger. You have to spend a lot of time doing things that make you uncomfortable,” she says, adding her biggest career growth years were when she felt like a fish out of water.
“I tell my staff, ‘I will help you, I will coach you, but I’m not going to do the work for you. You’re going to have to pull up your sleeves to get certain things done.’”
In the end she says women (and men) need to be vocal about what they want — in work and in life — and to find people who can help make those dreams happen.
“Don’t be scared. Don’t let fear stop you. Don’t be afraid to say what you need to say or ask what you need to ask. There’s always a way. We sometimes get stuck in our comfort zone, but stepping out of it will help you get further. It may be a challenge, but it will bring you a whole new perspective. It will make you a stronger person and a stronger leader.”
Marriott International, Inc. is based in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, and encompasses a portfolio of more than 6,000 properties in 30 leading hotel brands spanning 122 countries and territories. Marriott Hotels of Canada continues to rank as one of the top 50 best places to work in Canada by AON Hewitt and was awarded Hotelier Magazine’s prestigious Company of the Year Pinnacle award for 2015. For more information, please visit our website at www.marriott.com, and for the latest company news, visit www.marriottnewscenter.com. Connect with us on Facebook and @MarriottIntl on Twitter and Instagram.