On International Women’s Day 2021, we are highlighting research by Dr Maria Gebbels MIH, Dr Wenjie Cai, and Dr Xiongbin Gao, which offers three practical recommendations to fight gender inequalities in the workplace and support female career development in the hospitality industry.
According to a 2019 World Tourism Organization report, women account for more than 50% of the labour workforce but earn 14.7% less than men and hold less than one-fifth of leadership roles in the tourism industry – particularly the hospitality sector.
Gender imbalance still exists in many organisations, including the hospitality industry. To increase the number of female leaders, the research proposes three key recommendations.
Culture of an open dialogue
Businesses need to create and foster a culture of an open dialogue, based on an inclusive listening environment, where issues of gender can be freely discussed by all employees, irrespective of gender. This will lead to a more inclusive and equal organisational culture.
To enable such a cultural shift, the research proposes the following techniques:
- LEGO Serious Play, which requires participants to build LEGO models to represent their feelings and emotions.
- Mandala involves collectively drawing a mandala circle to increase group- and self-awareness of gender issues.
- 360-degree feedback, a method of performance appraisal that does not adhere to institutional hierarchy.
Appointing a lead for diversity and inclusion, and implementing compulsory unconscious bias training will also begin to destabilise existing organisational structures.
Male allies: Bringing men into the equation
To advance female career development, organisations should encourage and formalise male allies, who can support and are willing to speak out against sexist behaviour and gender discrimination. Hospitality businesses need to challenge the patriarchal norms and the masculine dominated culture in leadership and HR processes. Human resource departments and the administration should regularly revisit career progress criteria, leadership models, job descriptions and appraisals to include both masculine and feminine leadership traits.
Businesses must start providing sufficient support to male employees who are willing to take on more domestic and childcare duties. This support should be reflected in organisational policies of remote e-working, flexible working arrangements, paternity leaves, support groups and initiatives with non-profit organisations.
Educate the future workforce
Hospitality education institutions should integrate the subject of gender into tourism and hospitality curriculums more explicitly. Issues such as the gender pay gap, discrimination, domestic labour division, disadvantages faced by women to develop their careers, and sexual harassment in the workplace should be openly discussed and debated.
In addition, the research suggested featuring more women leaders as role models in the form of case studies or as guest lectures to inspire female students to pursue a career in management or leadership. The connection between the industry professions and academia is essential to prepare the next generation of women managers and future leaders who champion gender equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and beyond.
This article is based on a research article titled: Let’s not just “talk” about it: reflections on women’s career development in hospitality, published in a highly prestigious academic journal: International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management (October 2020). Findings were also published in The Caterer, HR Magazine, and Personnel Today.
You can also watch a recording of an IoH webinar presentation discussing this research.