Hiring data show top-level women still a minority in hotels

“Women’s empowerment is not just a moral imperative; it’s an economic no-brainer. And, we know that eliminating discrimination, eliminating inequality will actually boost growth, diversify economy and reduce inequality”. Christine Lagarde – managing director of the International Monetary Fund

In our tourism development work around the world, the subject of empowering women in tourism has been widely cited both as a challenge and an opportunity. As the World Travel & Tourism Council appoints its first ever woman CEO, former Mexican Minister of Tourism and Sabre Mexico CEO Gloria Guevara Manzo, we believe that it is worth revisiting the subject.

While more than half of the tourism workforce is comprised of women, few have risen to the management level. Well under a quarter of all managers in tourism are women. As the World Travel and Tourism Council recently reported in its "2017 Travel & Tourism Economic Impact Report," the industry will generate nearly 84 million new jobs by 2027. So, there should be plenty of possibilities for more equitable opportunities for women in travel and tourism.

Last year, Travel Weekly reported that the numbers [of women in management] “range from as low as one woman on an executive team of 25 at Las Vegas Sands (4 percent representation), to as high as 33 percent at American Airlines, where there are three women on the nine-person management team.” They also cited other examples such as only “three women on the management team of 11 at Priceline Group (27 percent); two women on Disney's 14-member management group (14 percent); one woman on Delta's nine-member management team (11 percent); one woman out of 13 (8 percent) on Hilton's executive committee; and two women on the 10-member executive committee at Amadeus (20 percent). At Carnival Corp., five women are among the company's 21 senior executives, and two of its nine board members are women.”

A March 2015 white paper “Women in Tourism & Hospitality: Unlocking the Potential in the Talent Pool” produced by the Hospitality Industry Pipeline Coalition, summarizes the challenge as universal, with women comprising 70 percent of the tourism and hospitality workforce but less than 40 percent in managerial positions, less than 20 percent in general management roles and less than 8 percent in board positions. And yet, as cited below from the Female Factor consulting firm, women make 70 percent of all travel decisions.

A 2015 study found that companies with high gender diversity report higher financial returns.

Why are these numbers important? A 2015 McKinsey study, "Diversity Matters," examined data for 366 public companies in Canada, Latin America, the United Kingdom and the United States. It found that:

  • Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
  • Companies in the bottom quartile both for gender and for ethnicity and race are statistically less likely to achieve above-average financial returns than the average companies in the data set (that is, bottom-quartile companies are lagging rather than merely not leading).
  • In the United Kingdom, greater gender diversity on the senior-executive team corresponded to the highest performance uplift in the data set: for every 10-percent increase in gender diversity, earnings before interest and taxes rose by 3.5 percent.

In short, aside from acting on gender equity as a proper corporate social responsibility accomplishment, as McKinsey’s study shows, it also makes a lot of business sense. It is especially important in today’s market considering that at least 70 percent of travel buying decisions are made by women, according to Female Factor. A travel business that is known for treating women employees more equitably would have a more positive image especially among women customers.

Several organizations and companies are addressing the challenges and making more opportunities available for women in travel and tourism. One such U.S.-based organization is Women in Travel and Tourism International, which was founded by Laura Mandala, who is managing director of Mandala Research. Another organization on the other side of the world, the Association of Women in Tourism Tanzania, exemplifies for Tanzania and other developing countries how the challenges are being met in a developing country. And, as described below, hotel companies such as Accor, Hilton, Banyan Tree and InterContinental Hotels Group are also acting by helping women to advance in travel and tourism.

The Women in Travel and Tourism International organization’s mission is to enhance the success of women in the travel-and-tourism industry through peer-to-peer networking, mentoring, lead sharing and giving back to the global travel community in meaningful ways. It is aiming to focus on advocating for women in the travel-and-tourism industry. They are conducting research to understand how women contribute to the industry. Their first study will look at where women work, how much they are paid and how they view their career prospects in the industry. They also conduct an annual conference and awards program recognizing women leaders in travel and tourism.

In Tanzania, tourism is an important source of livelihoods and employment for women, yet they face an array of gender-specific constraints ranging from occupational segregation to salary gaps and harassment in the workplace. In 2011, the Association of Women in Tourism Tanzania was formed to help get women more involved in the tourism industry.

“Women have been invisible and unheard for too long, yet they are the backbone, strength and wisdom of our country,” said Mary Kalikawe, owner of Kiroyera Tours and chair of AWOTTA. “There is a very big gender imbalance in the sector, especially in lucrative positions, say taxi drivers—there are no female taxi drivers in Tanzania whereas this is a facility used by all tourists, tour guides too, a big skew towards men due to the nature of the job and on the boards for advising government. Again very few women, so there is very little heavyweight representation for them.”

Hospitality companies like AccorHotels and Hilton are creating programs to help train and mentor women in the workforce around the world.
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AccorHotels developed “Women at Accor Generation,” a network that spans across the group’s 3,600 hotels in 92 countries and has 4,200 members worldwide. WAAG has many different objectives, including mentorship and training programs to help women advance in the company. It is also a forum to combat internal gender discrimination and improve the workplace for women. For example, in Accor’s Asia Pacific region, WAAG worked with the leadership to develop flexible work arrangements for women returning to their jobs after childbirth—which had been a barrier for returning to work. Since 2008, the Solidarity AccorHotels Endowment Fund supported 36 back-to-work projects that have helped 8,000 women in 19 countries. In Asia, six projects supported 1,400 women in China, India, and Myanmar. 

In 2015, AccorHotels became the first and only hotel group to join the HeForShe solidarity campaign initiated by UNWomen. In the same year, the group also committed to have at least 35 percent women GMs by the end of 2017, with a longer-term goal of eventually reaching 50 percent. In December 2016, the group held its first ever “Women Empowerment and Integration Forum” in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, that aimed to encourage and inspire young Saudi women to reach the highest levels of professional development.

“As the leading hotel operator in Saudi Arabia with 20 hotels and 40 in development, we are committed to empowering young female talent; enhancing their skills and helping them reach their full potential within the workplace," said Amar Belgat, director of human resources & training at AccorHotels Saudi Arabia and Egypt. "We are dedicated to hiring more than 5,000 Saudi nationals over the next five years out of which 30 percent will be made up of female employees." In the region, the group was the first to develop the Saudi Management Training Program that was designed to encourage Saudi nationals to enter the hospitality industry, with the second round as the first program to include Saudi women

Banyan Tree Holding Limited—encompassing more than 40 resorts and hotels, 60 spas, 70 retail galleries, and three championship golf courses in 28 countries—created a company culture that focuses on capabilities and merit-based promotions. The group tries to hire from local communities as much as possible, and invests in continual training to empower its workforce. In global top management, there are 31 women and 43 men, and among non-hotel based heads of department, there are 83 women and 91 men. Its retail arm, consolidated under Banyan Tree Gallery, engaged with local community crafts producers and provided them with a global outlet for their products. The gallery team engages directly with these craftswomen to decide production schedules that do not impinge on their familial responsibilities. In December 2016, Banyan Tree Holdings and AccorHotels entered into a “heads of agreement,” a long-term partnership in which both parties will collaborate to develop and manage the Banyan Tree Hotels worldwide

In China, InterContinental Hotels Group launched a “Best Offers from the Hometown” program to address the pressures of the “one child policy.” This program allows talented employees to return to their hometowns to care for elderly family members while continuing their careers at IHG. This helps women with their family responsibilities, but also benefits local communities by bringing their professional experience home. 

In 2014, Hilton signed the “CEO Statement for Support for the Women’s Empowerment Principles” developed by UNWomen and the UN Global Compact. The group is committed to support community partnerships that invest in women and girls through education, training and professional development. The statement was signed to underscore Hilton’s commitment to support capacity-building that is sustainable into the future, in three key areas:

1. Women in Leadership

  • Executive Committee Diversity Networking Program: All committee members participate in the mentorship program, with more than 75 percent of the mentees being women.
  • Women's leadership development: Assists women in addressing their strengths and challenges, as well as navigating the dynamics of strategic business leadership.
  • Women's team member resource groups: The WTMRGs are company-initiated voluntary groups of team members who collaborate to advance the goals of the company, promote professional growth through networking and mentoring, provide leadership development opportunities and offer their perspectives to the company. More than 470 women participated in the WTMRGs located in their corporate offices both in the United States and the United Kingdom.
  • Africa and Indian Ocean Women in Leadership Conference (March 2017): Hilton hosted this conference, which focused on educating, empowering and mobilizing women within the organization. This is part of the company’s diversity and inclusion strategy, which aims to appoint its first female GM in South Africa.

2. Women as Business Partners

  • Supplier diversity program: Started a decade ago, the program cultivated relationships with more than 4,400 women- and minority-owned businesses. To date, Hilton has invested more than $500 million USD in women and minority business enterprises.
  • Entrepreneurship skills training: Since last year, Hilton has invested in an entrepreneurship training program for rural women in China.

3. Community Partnerships

  • Room to Read: Since 2012, Hilton has partnered with the organization to fund the education of more than 550 girls and build dozens of school libraries and schools in Asia, which in turn have benefited more than 35,000 children and their families.
  • Protection of human rights: In 2011, Hilton Worldwide became the second U.S.-based hotel company to sign the ECPAT Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct, which focuses on the protection of children from sexual exploitation in the travel and tourism industries. In 2013, the company launched a partnership with Vital Voices to support a global network of women-led nongovernmental agencies working to stop child trafficking.
Economic empowerment through education is also an important part of increasing the number of high-level positions occupied by women in hospitality.

As the examples show, the industry is making progress in helping women advance professionally. There is certainly more work to be done, however. Initiatives outside the industry are also helping women in travel and tourism, as well as in other industries. In fact, as co-author Dagania Steinfeld found in her graduate research at Oxford University, similar challenges and opportunities are found around the world in nearly every other sector. Steinfeld’s field research in Liberia found, for example, what AccorHotels, Hilton and other companies found: the importance of education and capacity building to overcome poverty and progress professionally.

The United Nations recognizes that the economic empowerment of women is an essential factor in achieving the sustainable development goals, so the UN Secretary-General established the High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment (March 2016 – March 2017), for which the Secretariat was directed by Margo Thomas.

“The panel was established,” Thomas said, “with the mandate to identify priorities for concrete, effective, scalable and transformative actions that address critical constraints to the economic empowerment of women as well as to inform and inspire transformative actions. The panel’s reports make substantive recommendations for addressing the systemic constraints affecting women workers and entrepreneurs, including adverse norms and perceptions, discriminatory laws and regulations, access to finance and digital resources and property assets and the unfair distribution of responsibilities for family care and unpaid household work.”

The UN High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment has produced the following publications, which provide a detailed “call to action” to expand women’s economic opportunities:

Leave No One Behind – A Call to Action for Gender Equality and Women's Economic Empowerment

Leave No One Behind -- Taking Action for Transformational Change on Women’s Economic Empowerment

Thomas, who previously served as a senior official with the International Finance Corporation’s Advisory Services and worked on trade and competitiveness across several sectors including in travel and tourism, is enthusiastic about the potential power of this industry to contribute to sustainable, economic development globally. “While the industry certainly has its challenges,” Thomas said, "the tourism value chain has significant catalytic potential to economically empower women workers and entrepreneurs around the world.”

Co-author Dagania Steinfeld is a specialist on issues related to women and international development. While pursuing her master’s at Oxford University, she conducted extensive research on women’s legal and economic empowerment.