Hospitality organizations have been at the heart of numerous studies focused on gender issues, as women, whether guests, employees or leaders, confront and deal with dilemmas related to this hot topic. Chirine Salha, senior consultant at Ulysses Consulting, discusses what needs to be done to level the playing field in the hospitality industry
It’s overwhelmingly evident that women in hospitality are still negligibly represented at senior managerial levels. ‘In the hotel world, globally, women directors occupy approximately 24 percent of all board seats at publicly listed companies. The best-ranking hotel group is InterContinental Hotels Group with a 40 percent female board director representation’. IHG was also listed in the 2017 Hampton-Alexander Review as one of the top 10 companies in the FTSE 100 for female representation across the board.
Although hospitality is not unique in struggling to recruit women into leadership ranks, it is unlike others, in that there is a large enough pool of female hospitality graduates and female talent to do so, with more women than men initially entering the industry. They are, however, failing to progress to the highest ranks and companies are failing in levering all available talent, regardless of gender.
Why gender diversity
In an industry such as ours, where women also make up a significant portion of the clientele, the benefits of employing more women in senior level positions extend to that same customer base. They bring a different perspective in serving and designing products for the fairer sex. So promoting gender equity in the workplace isn’t about hiring women for the sake of it, or reaching a quota in an attempt to make a difference; it is about making sound management decisions, in realizing that each gender contributes different skills and qualities to a business.
Women focus more on the interpersonal components of a service interaction. In Hospitality News Jun-Jul 2018 Issue 118, most of the 35 influential women in hospitality agreed that a high level of emotional intelligence, an eye for detail and esthetics, patience, empathy, fairness and flexibility were the main advantages and contributing factors women can bring to the industry. They are, by nature, caregivers, and in that mindset, are predisposed to multitasking, looking after a hotel as if a home and building on emotional connectivity with staff and customers.
A correlation between woman in executive levels and corporate performance, better business results, being fair and bringing a positive image to the company are the compelling reasons to strive for gender equality.
Diversity and inclusion practices
Therefore, if we view the best-in-class hospitality organizations today through a gender specific lens, diversity and inclusion practices are very high up on most hotel companies’ lists. These companies are committed to developing productive working relationships between various stakeholders and accommodating different talents. It is not that companies do not want to propel women to the higher leadership ranks; rather, they do not know how. The genuine, best intentions are there, but the results are poor.
The retention challenge
Attracting female talent is not the issue; the challenge is convincing them to stay on this career path. The unique features of the hospitality environment put great strain on women trying to balance a career and a family, and its nature makes it among the most difficult environments for women seeking career advancement and personal satisfaction. We are literally ‘married to the job’.
With regards to retention challenge, companies suffer from women who quit the industry before they reach their full potential, mostly because they feel they cannot combine family and career. Faced with this dilemma, family always wins the power struggle. When women reach the stage where they want to start families or look after elderly parents, they are no longer able to commit to the same long and irregular hours or demanding shifts. Frequent travel requirements or relocation also add to the stress for women, and there are very few alternatives offering the flexibility they need to stay in their careers, nor are there any initiatives to encourage them to return to work at a later stage in their lives.
Women reach high-level roles in departments that have become stereotyped, such as HR, PR, marketing and sometimes finance, but this experience isn’t sufficiently diverse. It is a known fact that exposure and experience across various departments are the real added value to reach senior ranks within our industry.
Establishing an ecosystem of gender diversity
Companies are increasingly faced with declining employee loyalty and employee retention. To tap into the female talent segment, they need a comprehensive ecosystem of gender diversity measures to implement change. This should include:
– A gender-bilingual corporate culture cascaded down through from CEO and gaining commitment from executive management by setting yearly goals.
– Development with mentorship programs, by allocating role models and mentors to guide, provide career advice and champion change. This will also create an atmosphere of trust and openness for female staff to express themselves and communicate with transparency.
– Celebrating difference and embrace individuality: women and men tend to have different and complementary leadership qualities, a diversity that should be celebrated, as opposed to being neutralized with your typical leadership evaluation tools that are more tailored towards men’s managerial style than those of women.
– Review of salaries and compensation scales for fairness and equality.
– Consideration of non-traditional roles that can be filled by women, such as executive chef, and positions in engineering and security, employing talent based on role requirements.
– Review of performance and talent management systems, with gender appropriate benchmarks, leveraging and appreciating women’s behavioral framework, as opposed to pressuring women to fit the expectations of how men lead and deliver results. Women must find and develop their own leadership style in order to progress. For women to be successful, they do not need to act like men or be evaluated like men; this is where a gender-neutral environment is embraced.
– Custom-made benefit practices; setting an infrastructure that makes it easier to integrate career and family, such as a choice of services and benefits that are attractive to mothers (for example, daycare, schedule flexibility, saving plans and family car). These benefits should embrace the different needs at different stages of the female employee’s career and personal life.
– Explore concrete ways to implement this culture, such as addressing part-time options, daycare benefits, a generous parental leave program (both maternal and paternal), and unpaid hours options. It is imperative to eliminate the concept that if a woman works part-time, she is not fully committed to her career. IGH has achieved a 95 percent return to work after parental leave from its female talent, by implementing a generous parental leave program (Pinnacle People, 25/03/16).
– Have a wider window of opportunity for reaching the top: women might need to put a temporary halt on their career at their peak or just before their peak when future ‘High Potentials’ are being eyed and identified for development. This often coincides with their child-rearing and family-making time, making it difficult for them to get back in the game when they have been outstepped by men during their absence.