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Is the travel industry making progress on gender equality?

The UNWTO Global Report on Women in Tourism 2019 showed progress for women in the travel and tourism sector - but what do the numbers it serves up mean for hospitality providers?

The travel and tourism sector outpaces other global employment sectors when it comes to gender equality, according to the Global Report on Women in Tourism, released by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). But what do the numbers mean for hospitality providers? 

More women employees than other sectors

The study found that the sector, which has experienced over a decade of sustained growth, employs more women than any other, with women representing 54% of the workforce. This is significantly higher than in the broader economy at 39%.

One reason may be flexible work schedules. “Broadly speaking, the industry is not constrained by typical nine-to-five working hours, creating a more flexible environment for those who have to balance childcare commitments – a role traditionally taken on by women,” says Kelly Westwood, Group Talent Manager at Macdonald Hotels & Resorts.

One way hoteliers can provide additional help for women is by increasing paid time off for new parents. Hilton recently upped its policy by two weeks to provide 12 weeks of paid time off for new mothers based in the U.S. Meanwhile, Travelodge recently announced a drive to hire 3,000 new workers across the UK, explicitly focusing on recruiting new parents. 

Putting more women in leadership roles 

The report found that while women make up the majority of the global tourism workforce, they hold less than 40% of managerial positions, less than 20% of general management roles and less than 8% of board positions. Expanding hospitality leadership programmes across the hospitality landscape may be one key to helping bridge this divide. “Most large companies nowadays have leadership programmes to support the development of women.” says Alessandra Alonso, founder of Women in Travel (CIC) and co-host of the International Women in Travel & Tourism Forum. “These are very important because the larger chains are the ones that have the highest number of staff and therefore can make an impact.” 

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Woman working at hotel restaurant
More women employed than men, but most women still relegated to lower-level roles. Photo credit: Louis Hansel, Unsplash

 

“Training and education are essential to helping more women climb the career ladder,” says Westwood. “At Macdonald Hotels & Resorts, we have invested significantly in our training programmes in the past few years and as a result have seen more females take on senior positions than ever before,” reports Westwood. “This includes at a general manager level which has traditionally been a male-dominated role.” 

Can greater awareness help close the wage gap? 

Across all sectors, women still earn less than men, but the study found the wage gap is narrower in tourism, with women earning 14.7% less than men, compared to 16.8% in the broader economy. Despite this, women still receive a significantly lower mean hourly rate than men across regions. 

“It is quite common that those in the majority - in this case men - would be blind to many of the challenges faced by the minority,” says Susan Fleming, former Senior Lecturer at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. “They simply aren’t noticing the barriers because they aren’t impacted by them.” By highlighting these differences, industry and organisational leadership might be prompted to take more action to address the barriers.

That recognition could begin by embracing salary transparency - or at least by collecting more detailed data. “If you want to close the gender gap, you need to know where it exists - by level, by industry, by occupation, and even by office/hotel property,” says Fleming. “I think that the UK’s law requiring larger companies to share more granular data on the pay gap is an excellent first step to closing it. Once you have a starting point, you can then craft policies to address the gap and hold leaders accountable for making progress.” 

Macdonald Hotels & Resorts has embraced transparency on this issue, prominently displaying yearly gender pay gap reports on its website and conducting annual staff surveys that include gender information. But more - and better - data must be combined with action. “Positive change must come within the organisation itself,” says Westwood. “We have had great success in championing females to take on more senior and supervisory roles and have achieved this through constant evaluation of our practices, exploring new training schemes and supporting all staff to achieve their own goals.”

According to Alonso, while the report confirms progress for gender equality, the travel sector can do more: “We are a fantastic industry that is set to continue to grow over and above what most other industries are doing,” she says. “Unless we recognise and learn from and share with each other, we are not going to succeed in reflecting our communities, in embracing customers who come from all walks of life, and in creating a diverse workforce that is so fundamental to innovation and healthy businesses."

 

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Person using laptop
Hero image: credit to Jesús Terrés, Unsplash
Takeaway
  • The travel and tourism sector outpaces other global employment sectors when it comes to gender equality, with more women employed than men, but most women are still relegated to lower-level roles
  • Hospitality leadership programmes for women have an important role to play for both large hotel chains and independent operators 
  • Knowing where wage disparity exists - by level, by occupation and by office/hotel property - is a first step toward crafting policies to address the wage gap and hold leaders accountable for progress
  • Stronger data must be combined with positive action from within organisations, through the constant evaluation of training and support practices that are provided to women

 

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