This international women’s day is all about breaking barriers and this year, we're shining the spotlight on some of the leading women in Greater Manchester’s visitor economy.

After what has been an incredibly challenging few years for the visitor economy, we spoke to some of the women that are helping it to get back on its feet and inspiring the next generation of women to join an industry that truly is the lifeblood of our region.

Here’s what they told us.

Sheona Southern is Managing Director at Marketing Manchester and is responsible for promoting Greater Manchester on a national and international stage to visitors, investors and businesses. When discussing the importance of International Women’s Day she said: “As a female leader, I’ve experienced first-hand the challenges women face at work and I’ve witnessed the difference that championing women and creating equal opportunities can make to organisations.

“Diversity across all levels brings the power to innovate and thrive, with differing perspectives paving the way for change and I’m proud to see businesses across Greater Manchester setting the course – especially within the visitor economy – but this must go further.

“Celebrating International Women’s Day and the brilliant women across our region is vital as with more female role models in leadership we can challenge bias, break barriers, and encourage and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.”

The visitor economy in Greater Manchester covers a wide breadth of sub-sectors including museums, hotels, food and drink, events, sport and performance. In such a varied and exciting industry, many female role models are stepping up and breaking barriers.

Zofia Kufeldt is the Programme Officer at the People’s History Museum, the national museum of democracy. When discussing her experiences as a female working in the tourism sector she said, “I have always worked in a collections or curatorial role which historically has been a male-dominated profession with ‘Keepers’ of collections but I think the male-female ratio in this area is balancing out. In previous roles, I have had occasions where people have deferred authority to male colleagues, seeking their advice or permission from them, which is very frustrating, and I have received a fair few letters and emails addressed ‘Dear Sir’ and still do!

“Advice wise, I’d say join networks like Space Invaders North who are campaigning for equal space in heritage for women to find friendship and support as well as role models if there are not any in your organisation.”

Aine Graven is Head of development at the People’s History Museum. She said “My advice to my younger self is to get involved in as much as you possibly can – museums are such intersectional organisations which brings opportunity you don’t find elsewhere. I’ve learned so much from throwing myself into all aspects of museum life, from spending time with the visitor experience team to walking the galleries and chatting with visitors, to joining engagement strategy conversations and going to online events. It's all amazing learning that is so difficult to find in one place.

“I feel very lucky to work as part of an all-female leadership team, it's not something that happens very often and I’m especially proud to lead our commercial income generation with an all-female team!” Aine said, “I think inspiring the next generation comes from creating opportunities for people to get involved.

“At People's History Museum we recognise the importance of providing space for voices that are often marginalised, that’s why we co-curate our programmes to ensure people with lived experience of an issue have the opportunity to tell their story and shape the narrative. This ethos is something we are applying to all aspects of the museum, including recruitment and I’m really proud to work alongside so many amazing women on our team.”

Assumpta McDonald is the General Manager of Hyatt Regency and Hyatt House Manchester hotels, there she fosters a culture of inclusion and equality for all. She said, “If I was to offer my younger self some advice about entering the tourism industry, I’d enthusiastically insist that I follow my instincts and travel the world, be even more adventurous than I thought I was being, and when it comes to studying, study hard. In that order.

“Travel is as much about the places as it is about the people and the experiences and for those reasons, it offers the most fulfilling, rewarding career. It’s an enormous privilege to have worked within the global hospitality and tourism industry for 30 years,” said Assumpta; “I’d do it all again, in a heartbeat.”

Emma Fox of Show Me Manchester is a leading tour guide with Manchester Guided Tours. When considering what advice she’d give to her younger self as a woman beginning a career and starting her own business in the tourism sector she said: “Make connections, get to know other people in the venues, hotels, hospitality, museums, get to know how you can help each other, promote each other.  Get busy online, on social media, in the same way, promote each other and Manchester, lift other women up. Be the best at your job every time, experiment and be different, be flexible, be yourself, be customer focussed. And as a tour guide get some good, warm, waterproof clothes!” 

Stephanie McIver, is General Manager at The Refuge by Volta, a leading Manchester restaurant located in the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel. She shared with us her career history and thoughts on the hospitality industry.

“My very first job at 14 was as a waitress at the local pub, along with every other female member of staff. ‘Men on the bar, women on the floor’ was very much the narrative, and something which I was willing to challenge at every opportunity.

“I do believe things have Improved for women, there are more female restaurateurs, Chefs, General Managers and bartenders now more than ever. I don’t believe that it is still seen as a solely a male domain. It’s a matter of passion and skill. However, on occasion when somebody asks to speak to the manager, they do expect to be greeted by a male member of my management team!

“I believe that if we as women collectively in hospitality continue to challenge and push the boundaries, we can show that not only there is a place for women, but careers can be made.”

Lucy Noone Blake is the Co-Founder and Director of Pear Communications as well as chair of the Maray Restaurant Group. We asked her whether there were any women within the visitor economy that she has drawn inspiration from throughout her career.

“I consider myself hugely lucky to work closely with Jacqui Griffiths, General Manager of The Stock Exchange Hotel on Norfolk Street. Jacqui runs the tightest of ships with the gentlest of touches - her presence can be felt everywhere in the hotel from the flawless guest experience to the well-oiled machine running away in the back of house. The hotel houses a world class restaurant from Tom Kerridge whose presence and team she integrates beautifully, no detail is missed.

“As a woman in hospitality, having a figure like Jacqui not only to look up to but as a mentor, somehow available to help on tricker issues of finances and building my own business, she is truly the embodiment of women building staircases for other women to climb.”

Sally MacDonald is the Director at the Science and Industry Museum, one of Greater Manchester’s most visited attractions.  When discussing how we could inspire the next generation of women to get into the tourism sector, she said:

“Manchester has inspirational women everywhere, with some truly dynamic women making a difference in tourism and the visitor economy. It’s incredibly rewarding helping to promote one of the world’s most exciting cities. As we rebuild post-pandemic, it’s more vital than ever that the next generation of inspirational leaders come from all backgrounds and all parts of the city and that we draw on our key strengths of collaboration and celebrating multiple voices, industries, pathways and careers to ensure this happens.”

The Science and Industry Museum is currently hosting the world-first Cancer Revolution: Science, Innovation and Hope exhibition and have put together a fantastic blog celebrating amazing women in science.

Jessica Southworth is Director of Sales and Marketing at Hotel Football. When asked whether there were any women in the tourism and visitor economy sector she looked up to, she said “On a regular basis I am inspired by many women, not only for the careers they have carved themselves but for them all equally having self-belief and not allowing anything to stand in their way. To name a few from our city; Liz Taylor (TLC), Holly Moore (Make Events), Stephanie Ledigo (Go PR), Lisa Forshaw (Lisa Forshaw PR), Lisa Morton (Roland Dransfield), Karina Jadhav (Menagerie), Michaela Wakeman (EA Relentless), Isobelle Panton (UA92), Stacey Anderson (UA92), Beccy Gibson (Tempt Marketing), Abbie Hart (Sixty Eight People), Abi Dunn (Sixty Eight People) – I watch these women every single day and I am honoured to have them around me.

“If I had to give advice to my younger self, I’d say Don’t be afraid to ask questions, no question is silly it is all learning, and the best leaders start somewhere.”

Greater Manchester is home to some exceptional women leading the way in various industries. This International Women’s Day, we’re proud to be celebrating those who are breaking barriers and challenging bias.

Know an incredible woman working in tourism in Greater Manchester that you think should be included in this blog? Tell us about them here.