LOS ANGELES—W Hotels Worldwide has reignited its “What She Said” series, a thought-leadership platform of notable speakers at select hotels around the U.S.
In its debut in 2016, the goal was simple: “To celebrate the voices and wisdom of women who share our passions for fashion, music, design, fitness and more,” said Anthony Ingham, global brand leader, W Hotels Worldwide.
“When we launched the program at SXSW with Clique media group, and then shortly thereafter at W London – Leicester Square with the iconic Diane Von Furstenberg, we aimed to provide a place for dynamic women to tell their stories,” said Ingham.
Since then, the world has changed, as gender equality has been pushed further to the forefront of conversation, Ingham noted. “We are proud to say that we offered women a place to be heard long before others may have been listening,” he said. “We now have a popular global series that continues to celebrate individuality, inclusivity and honesty.”
Film director/producer/screenwriter Ava DuVernay kicked off the “What She Said” series at the W Hollywood with a discussion focused on gender equality. The series, with varying topics and speakers, will be hosted at W hotels around the world now through this summer.
“Ava spoke to her career and her personal experience as a woman of color in the film industry. That’s what ‘What She Said’ is all about,” said Ingham. “We don’t expect the speakers who join us to have all the answers to the many challenges facing gender equality today, but we do hope they share experiences and advice that have helped them on their own path. Ava was inspiring, informative and honest—we could not have asked for a better partner with her and the Disney team behind A Wrinkle in Time.”
Speaking about a continued need for diversity in the film industry, DuVernay said, “There are some moments that are happening. But I’m an anomaly, Ryan Coogler [Black Panther] is an anomaly, Barry Jenkins [Moonlight] is an anomaly and Dee Rees [Mudbound] is an anomaly. When you can name us all on two hands…that ain’t change.”
She added, “These are moments that are not sustainable unless there’s systemic change. We kind of sit on the top of a broken system. Until that system is fertile ground for real growth, then we will just kind of sit on top of it as sparkly, shiny things for people to feel good.”
Selecting speakers and topics is a collaborative effort, with some coming out of the individual properties. In terms of process, each candidate is evaluated to make sure the speaker’s passions align with the brand and ensure that there is a strong, honest and unique point of view that guests will want to hear about, noted Ingham.
“We work with so many incredible women every day—within the Marriott family and with our collaborators,” he said. “Though we sometimes have a specific topic in mind, partnerships and speaking opportunities for ‘What She Said’ tend to present themselves organically. Many of our events are run by individual hotel teams who have connections to inspiring women in their region.”
Ingham further explained that W Hotels seeks to engage with speakers and moderators who naturally embody the brand’s goals.
“We’ve worked with editors from top media outlets, art curators, CEOs, musicians, comedians—the list goes on,” he said. “’What She Said’ is a thought-provoking, educational and entertaining series because of the women who have contributed their time and wisdom to the discussions and we plan on continuing with many more.”