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Hospitality must do more to improve gender equality

Hospitality faces a complex and unique set of problems when it comes to the representation of women, according to Women in Hospitality chair Tea Colaianni

Women only make up 26% of senior management in the hospitality sector, a figure that drops to 20% when HR roles are excluded, according to research carried out by PwC for Women in Hospitality (WiH).

Colaianni, chair of WiH and former group HRD of Merlin Entertainments, is working alongside Korn Ferry, People 1st, Oxford Brookes and others to achieve 33% female board representation in hospitality by 2020, a target set by the Hampton-Alexander Review.

Colaianni admitted that hospitality is not unique in struggling to recruit women into senior positions. However, the industry differs from others in that while there are far more women than men entering the field they are failing to progress to senior positions, Colaianni explained.

“This isn’t an issue with diversity in the traditional sense. Hospitality and travel certainly has no problem in attracting women; who make up 60% to 70% of female grads from hospitality management programmes. But we see issues starting to arise in trying to convince women to stay,” she told HR magazine.

“When women get to a point where they start families and are not able to commit to the same long hours or demanding shift patterns, there’s nothing in place to give them the flexibility they need to stay in their roles, nor are there any initiatives to encourage them to return to work. One of the key factors in this is a lack of family-friendly policies.”

Colaianni added that hospitality has not yet adopted a serious response to the lack of gender equality in senior roles.

“This also stems from a lack of leadership across our sector. Very few CEOs make their stance on improving gender representation clear. They need to articulate that this is not just about doing the right thing; from a business perspective diversity should absolutely be a priority and should be taken seriously,” she said.

Colaianni pointed out that improving diversity and inclusion is vital to the industry's success and to attracting talent, with research from PwC showing that 80% of Millennials believe an employer’s policy on D&I is an important factor in deciding whether to work for a company.

However, Colaianni said she didn't believe HR has sole responsibility for driving change. “Much of HR is made up of women who would obviously like to see a change. It’s very difficult for HR to make an impact when it hasn’t got the support it needs from CEOs or sponsors,” she said.

In light of its research, WiH has developed a charter it is asking companies to sign.

“We’ve had a lot of interest, and have seen large organisations like Hilton and Odeon signing the charter, which has been extremely encouraging. But progress has still been slow. Ideally I’d like to see every [hospitality] company on the FTSE 350 signed up,” said Colaianni.

“If HR wants to help they have to start by getting their CEO on board and getting them to sign the charter. I believe we can make it happen, but only when there’s the passion, commitment and drive to do so.”