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Holidays, hotels and eating out: the purchasers are women so why aren’t the leaders?

Too many CEOs in the hospitality industry have not made public commitments to diversity. It’s time for them to step up

Women in hospitality

Earlier this week, it hit the headlines that Easyjet’s new CEO Johan Lundgren had taken a voluntary pay cut. The reason? To match the salary of his predecessor Carolyn McCall, who has moved to broadcaster ITV.

Lundgren is a great example of a leader from the hospitality, travel and leisure industry taking a very public stand on the importance of gender diversity. It is this kind of public statement that I want to see more of from CEOs, and what I am promoting in my role as chair of the Women in Hospitality, Travel, and Leisure 2020 working group.

This independent cross-industry body aims to improve gender diversity– and diversity more widely – across the industry. It’s not about pointing the finger, lecturing or telling leaders they haven’t been doing well. Rather, it’s about there being an opportunity as an industry to come together and become more attractive to women and diverse groups of people.

It’s not about pointing the finger, lecturing or telling leaders they haven’t been doing well. Rather, it’s about there being an opportunity as an industry to come together and become more attractive to women and diverse groups of people

It’s long overdue and sorely needed. PwC research conducted for the WiH2020 Review shows that while there are some great examples of leaders making their passion and commitment to diversity very public, there are many more that are not leading in this area. Recent research we carried out with Korn Ferry found women only make up 26% of senior management roles in this sector, a number which falls to 20% once the female dominated world of HR is excluded.

However, the industry is so diverse at junior levels. Research conducted by Oxford Brookes University found the majority of students studying hospitality, travel and leisure are women (60% to 70%) – they enter the sector in great numbers but are just not making it to senior positions. The nature of the work (long hours, lots of travel and often managing multi-sites) can make it hard for those juggling a career and a family. But the industry needs to step up to that challenge and come up with creative solutions. For example, there’s very little evidence of returners’ programmes in our industry and these would be hugely beneficial to encourage women to come back after a career break to a dynamic, engaging, fun industry which offers rewarding career opportunities. That needs to be rectified.

We need change to improve the reputation of the industry as a whole, and this means collaboration is vital: getting CEOs, chairs, NEDs and other C-level executives to come together to share ideas. That can be a challenge, with executives naturally defensive or protective of their assets and strategies. Working together to improve the image and reputation of the industry will amplify the impact of individual initiatives and create greater opportunities.

For all industries, improving diversity is the right thing to do, and for ours it makes particular business – as well as moral – sense. Our customer base is so diverse, and research shows that when it comes to deciding where to go on holiday, what hotel to stay in or what restaurant to eat in, women are in charge. Women have that decision-making power, so why wouldn’t we want more women in leadership positions? Add that to the fact that having diverse contributions makes corporate decision making more robust, and what board member wouldn’t agree to invest more in this area?

And it’s critical that much of this drive comes from the very top, rather than being delegated to the HR department. Ensuring Boards and Executive Committees are equipped to represent their customer base and the diverse society we live in is a critical business issue and requires ownership at the helm of organisations. By engaging leaders from large organisations and household names, we can create a ripple effect through the sector. I am convinced that only by working together we can ensure that the hospitality, travel, and leisure industry can lead the way.

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