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Women in CSR: Laura Noctor, InterContinental Hotels Group

By Andrea Newell

Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.

TriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.

Laura Noctor: I am the Global Director of Corporate Responsibility for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). IHG is one of the world's leading hotel companies – we have 687,000 rooms in over 4,600 hotels in nearly 100 countries and territories around the world. We operate nine hotel brands including InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, and Holiday Inn Express.

I joined IHG in 2008 as Global Director of Corporate Responsibility (CR). Since then, I have worked across our entire CR agenda. I project managed the initial development of IHG Green Engage - our online sustainable environmental management platform, led our team’s stakeholder engagement activities including our CR Report and more recently have taken on a broader role, driving our sustainable communities programmes globally. One of my focus areas is the IHG Academy. The programme involves our hotels creating partnerships with local community or education providers and offering work experience opportunities with the aim of helping participants to become more employable. Another programme, IHG Shelter in a Storm, supports employees, hotels and communities impacted by disaster and leverages the unique role our hotels play in society. I manage a fantastic team, and together we work to convey the benefits of these programmes and make it as easy as possible for our hotels and colleagues to get involved.

3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?

LN: The CR function was still fairly new when I joined IHG; actually I was just the second person to join the team which is now comprised of 13 people globally. This growth reflects how the company is really investing in CR. We’re part of a broader Business, Reputation and Responsibility department which brings together range of functions including, Legal, Audit, Global Standards and Risk. Together, we help manage the reputation of IHG and our brands, and look for positive ways to address complex social challenges in a way that is also great for our business and key stakeholders. All our programmes are rooted in creating shared value. I’m immensely proud that we have shifted from setting up CR policies and programmes to focusing on really embedding them across the business. There is always more to do but the good news is, we now have great momentum, for example over half our hotels use IHG Green Engage and we have over 300 IHG Academy programmes in over 50 countries.

3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.

LN: I am inspired by my nephew who is just nine years old. For him, sustainability is not even something he thinks about, it’s just what makes sense. It’s amazing to see how the green agenda especially has changed over the years to become so mainstream. It also shows us how we need to be innovating products today to meet the needs of tomorrow’s consumer.

3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?

LN: Be present. I think it’s really easy to be distracted nowadays by 24-hour communications. I love travelling, (not surprising for someone who works for a hotel company!), and when I go somewhere new, I try and make an extra special effort to absorb what I am seeing, hearing and experiencing. Last year I was lucky to travel to Iguassu Falls which was breathtakingly beautiful. I just paused to empty my mind and take it all in….

And of course this skill is really important to my day job. Especially in developing my network and making myself fully available to those I manage so I, in turn, can help them grow.

3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?

LN: Surviving the London marathon - I found it really tough going. From mile 18 onwards it really did feel like a battle of the mind to get passed the finish line. The crowd was amazing and it really made me appreciate how powerful the simple act of encouragement can be. Since then I have certainly thought about how I can encourage others. Our team spent time in 2013 focusing on a strength-based approach to leadership. Our monthly "strength call out" exercise is helping us make time to get into this discipline. It’s an approach I would really recommend.

3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?

LN: I’d like us to get better at really conveying the huge economic impact of the hotel industry which often goes unsaid, particularly in terms of jobs. Our average hotel employs 75 people and is supported by 10 partners and suppliers so we have a huge opportunity to change lives. Hospitality is also unique in that people can work their way up from entry roles to senior management, learning on the job. Through the IHG Academy we’re telling this story in a way that inspires people to get involved.

3p: Describe your perfect day.

LN: My perfect day must include the following: good food, drink, sunshine and travel. I would start the day with a cup of tea upon waking, followed by a lovely jog in the sunshine. A leisurely breakfast, and then onto what I would call a "serious power shopping trip" - New York would be an ideal destination. I’d close out the evening with a cocktail at sunset followed by a lovely meal with my husband.

Andrea Newell headshot

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

Read more stories by Andrea Newell