Margaret Walker-Shaw’s career in housekeeping has taken her around the world, from Europe and Asia to Saudi Arabia and Bora Bora. She started out in Chicago, IL, as a housekeeper at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at age 19. “I had gotten married young, at 17, then had a baby at 18, so I needed to support my family,” she said.
More than 40 years later, Walker-Shaw is the executive director of hotel operations, internal maintenance, and vendor relations at The Venetian Las Vegas, a hotel and casino in Las Vegas, NV. She oversees housekeeping of all public spaces as well as the 7,092 suites in the hotel. She also selects and tests news cleaning products for the housekeeping staff.
Prior to The Venetian, Walker-Shaw spent 32 years with Four Seasons Hotels, where she made her way up the ladder from housekeeper to a housekeeping director by age 25. She was an integral part of new hotel openings, setting up housekeeping and training at 59 new hotels in 28 countries.
Walker-Shaw relished the opportunity to share her best practices with people around the world. Although most of her experiences were positive, as a woman she ran into a few problems in countries with patriarchal cultures. “I’m an outspoken, strong woman and can usually command the respect I need,” Walker-Shaw said. “The only times I noticed a problem were in Japan and in Saudi Arabia. People in those countries weren’t used to taking instructions from a woman; they were used to men being in the authority role. A male had to translate my instructions before people would follow them.”
Walker-Shaw is a firm believer in methodical, standards-based training. “My training when I first started was not what I thought it should have been. There were no manuals, no instructions,” she recalled. “I was assigned to a buddy who trained me in what she did, but it was not what I would do. I’ll never forget she told me, ‘You don’t have to change the sheets every day, just brush away the hair. You don’t have to fill the tub with water to clean it, just shine the top.’”
As a director, Walker-Shaw made it her priority to create a housekeeping manual, complete with industry standards, policies, and procedures. “These procedures are all important, from making the beds to cleaning the floors and shampooing the carpets,” she said.
Walker-Shaw’s diligence in establishing cleaning standards, and her no-nonsense management style, propelled her to success during her career at the Four Seasons, and after as a consultant, before she was hired on full-time at The Venetian in 2008. “I manage by being firm, fair, and factual,” she said, adding, “I’ll throw in friendly, if you let me.” She also credits her positive attitude and goal-setting habit in propelling her career forward.
“I knew early on that I wanted to go beyond cleaning rooms, so I set a plan,” she said. Despite some road bumps and health setbacks along the way—she was diagnosed with breast cancer after moving to Las Vegas, but is now cancer free—her overall plan has worked out well, leading her to where she is today.
How she elevates other women in the industry:
As a mentor to her staff, Walker-Shaw, who is a certified executive housekeeper with IEHA, a division of ISSA, conducts leadership lessons. “I tell women that, number one, you need to believe in yourself first. I suggest that they find a mentor, not a friend, but someone who will tell them the truth. Then they need to set goals. “I made it and I tell the young generation they can too,” she said. “Keep pushing forward, strive for your very best, and don’t give up.”