The Prince Hotel operations manager Jess Harker looking directly into camera

The Prince Hotel’s operations manager Jess Harker shares her journey from a 14-year-old working her first job to heading up a leadership team that’s predominately women.

When did you get your start in the hospitality industry and how has the industry evolved since then?

I started at 14 years and nine months as soon as I could get a job whilst at school! However, I only got into serious venues in 2010 when I started with (formerly) Melbourne Pub Group during university working in gastro-pubs and restaurants.

In the ten years since, I have noticed a huge shift in the industry — but only in recent years. Culture seems to be the biggest part of the change; with businesses focusing on staff well-being, better work conditions and greater opportunities for internal growth. Obviously recent cases of non-compliant businesses have helped influence this change, but more notably I believe employers are starting to see the advantages of maintaining low staff turnover and a positive work-environment, and how it impacts their businesses in terms of growth and increasing their top-line sales. This is something we are truly seeing the benefits of at The Prince Hotel.

What was your pathway to operations manager and did you have women in leadership roles to look up to?

After I started falling in love with the industry when I was 20, I gave up my studies to focus on my future in hospitality. This was aided by my mentor, then-venue manager and now my current general manager Reg. He taught me how to supervise, how to train, how to manage staff and how to become a venue manager, which I eventually achieved at 24-years-old. Shortly after, I left the group for three years, gained experience as a general manager of a cocktail bar, managed a high-turnover venue for another large restaurant group and then returned when Reg brought me back to The Prince Hotel in my current role.

I don’t think this role is something I would have pursued nor think I was capable of doing had I not had mentors in my life. Reg was and is certainly one of them, but I also had the privilege of working with Miss Pearls (Madame Brussels), someone who is revered in the industry as a woman of strength and power. She taught me how to embrace my femininity and encouraged my growth through self-confidence. The same could be said for Madeleine Morgan, who was the face of Circa, the Prince during its multi-hatted days. She was someone who injected life into a business whilst maintaining an incredible level of professionalism.

How can we encourage more women to go for leadership opportunities in the hospitality industry?

Encourage more women to find mentors, support other women to push the boundaries and increase networking within different areas of the industry!

We started a series of lunches at the Prince Hotel called ‘Women of Influence: Women in Hospitality’, where we invite panelists to discuss what women face in the industry, challenges they’ve overcome and how they’ve grown and made it to their respective roles. So far this has been a great success, which has helped to develop new business relationships and personal friendships between groups of amazing and diverse women. Stay tuned as we’ll be looking to do our third event later in the year.

How does having so many women in leadership roles across The Prince Hotel affect workplace culture?

We have roughly 30 managers in the building and about 20 of them are female. I think it was early last year Reg and I looked at each other and went, ‘woah…there are a lot of girls here!’ and laughed because we never intended for it to be this way, it’s just how it happened. It’s been super conducive to support our efforts in fostering a positive and nurturing workplace culture, because their ability to develop and encourage their respective teams is more in-line with the ‘new-world’ version of hospitality where positive reinforcement is key (as opposed to ‘old-world’ where people were trained through negative reinforcement).

How do you all support each other day-to-day?

We have a really open, transparent, ‘family’ culture. Seeing as we spend more time with each other than with our own families, housemates, partners etc., we have worked really hard to cultivate an environment where we all share our ‘wins’ and ‘losses’ both professionally and personally and make everyone feel comfortable. Communication within that transparency is key; our venue managers are consistently working in conjunction with our head office teams to help make everyone’s jobs easier. The idea is that every department exists to support each other department. No one will ever not know the answer to a question in the building!

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