By Krystal Hartman
Stop by any of the four Böëna Wilderness Lodges, and you may notice there are a lot of women running the show. In fact, this collection of four exclusive ecolodges has become a bastion of female empowerment, with women in half of the top management positions.
The corporate manager, the commercial director, the sales manager, the sustainability coordinator, the general manager of one of the lodges and two head chefs … all women. This is a bit unusual in this country, and it speaks to the company’s desire to find equilibrium among the genders, ages and socioeconomic origins of its senior staff.
“We like to let women have good participation in the contribution of talent,” said Luz Cáceres, the commercial director, who is married to Böëna cofounder Roberto Fernández.
“We try to maintain an equilibrium, not just to have a lot of women, but to find a balance between men and women, because that can be very advantageous,” Luz said.
“But we like to give more women the opportunity, especially single mothers responsible for sustaining a home. It’s a dynamic that we’ve enjoyed implementing, and we’ve found the talent.”
At Böëna we believe it’s important for women to have opportunities for professional growth and development in a sustainable development. Objective No. 5 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals is to achieve gender equality, eliminating all forms of discrimination against women and girls all over the world.
Here are some of the women working in the upper ranks at Böëna.
Maureen, 32, is a native of Tres Equis, a small town near Turrialba, who serves as Böëna corporate manager, one of the top positions in the company. She lives in San José but travels every week to one of the four lodges: Pacuare Lodge on the famous rafting river, Tortuga Lodge in Tortuguero, Monteverde Lodge in the cloud forest, Lapa Rios in the Osa.
“I work with the managers of the four hotels, coordinating, developing strategies and standardizing processes,” she said.
Maureen has been with the company for seven years, working as a duty manager at Pacuare and as general manager at Lapa Rios before being elevated to the top management spot this year. She has grown into the role quickly, developing her abilities and skills with the teams she manages. Maureen has degrees in ecotourism and business administration from two Costa Rican universities, UCR and UNET.
Asked about women in management at Boena, she said, “There’s a lot of representation because of the philosophy of the business. We’ve never been discriminatory in that sense, and we look more at people’s capabilities, independent of their gender.”
Kattia, 32, is from El Carmen de Biolley, near San Vito. Just last February, she became the general manager of Lapa Rios, a spectacular ecolodge on the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula (replacing Maureen after her promotion).
Kattia also studied ecotourism at UCR (with Maureen, in fact) and has a degree in the science of education, specializing in innovation and technology in virtual education.
Seven years ago, she worked briefly for Aventuras Naturales, the San Jose office that handled bookings for Pacuare Lodge, working in operations and reservations.
She left for a management job at a nice hotel in Jacó, but Luz said she and Roberto knew this woman was going places.
“We always had her on our radar,” Luz said. “And finally when Maureen, the manager of Lapa Rios, became the corporate manager, we called Kattia. These are people I admire a lot, because they’re very hard-working and they’re climbers.”
Kattia said, “In total, I have three female leaders from 11 departments, so it’s been a nice challenge incorporating more women into the hotel.”
One woman is in charge of reception and concierge services, one is an administrative coordinator who oversees financial issues, and one is the head chef (read on).
“I’m very happy to work for a company where feminine power is held in high regard,” Kattia said. “Women are in key positions in the business, so I’m proud to be a part of this.”
Dayana Robles Sánchez
Dayana, from Puerto Jiménez, leads the kitchen at Lapa Rios at the tender age of 22.
She came here four years ago on a two-month internship from school, competing with two male cooks for a job in Lapa Rios’ excellent restaurant. She said she noted some bias against female chefs, yet the cooks of the night shift said Dayana was very good and they wanted to work with her, so she was chosen. She soon rose to head chef.
“I’m in charge of a team where the majority are older men,” she said. “I’m the youngest, and there are three women and 10 men.”
The restaurant serves about 45 people a night in the high season. Dayana likes making risotto and orzo, but the most popular dish here is fresh fish — seabass, mahi-mahi and róbalo. She often prepares them in fish tacos by day, and for dinner bathes them in a broccoli and spinach cream, or another sauce made of corn and yucca.
Guests at Lapa Rios have the opportunity to try the cuisine of some of the most gastronomically sophisticated places in the world, all at a top-level restaurant in the middle of the jungle.
“They’re amazed by the food served at Lapa Rios,” said Luz. “And that’s led by a 22-year-old girl.”
Milagro, 43, is head chef at the El Jardín Restaurant at Monteverde Lodge and Gardens. A native of León, Nicaragua, she has spent 17 years working at the lodge.
The hotel has a capacity of 80, and some nights she’ll serve 30 people, some nights 60. She oversees a staff of 12, of which only four are men.
Milagro likes making the black risotto, which is flavored with squid ink. But the most popular dish here is the tenderloin, which comes in an exquisite sauce made of blackberries and coffee beans.
Several women hold important jobs at the lodge, she said, including a management assistant and human resources professional, a duty manager and the dining room manager.
Luz, 57, born in San José and raised in Turrialba, is the commercial director for Böëna (and the wife of founding partner Roberto). In this capacity, she’s responsible for sales, reservations, public relations and strategies for keeping the four hotels full.
Luz is an ace at human relations and public relations, and she has a great feel for interior design and decoration.
Luz studied tourism at the UACA in Curridabat, then earned another degree from the University of Colorado at Denver in hospitality and meeting planning. Then she spent a year working at a Hyatt-Regency in Denver.
But she returned to Costa Rica to work in ecotourism, and on this path she met Roberto. She married him in 2000 and started working with him in 2006. At the time, the only property they had was Pacuare Lodge.
“It took us about 15 years to form Böëna,” Luz said. “It was slow growth, but for me, Pacuare has been a laboratory of learning. With more maturity we see some of the mistakes we made in the past, and what was successful, and we can innovate with the new lodges we have.”