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Poor gender diversity “single most critical risk to business”

A panel at a Hilton event discussed the need for flexible working and acknowledging unconscious bias

Failing to achieve gender diversity is one of the single most critical risks businesses face today, agreed a panel speaking at the Women at Hilton – International Women’s Day event last week, in partnership with Everywoman.

Flexible working, female coaching initiatives, and addressing unconscious biases head-on were identified as three key steps businesses should take to help more women in the hospitality industry reach senior management positions.

Speaking on the panel, Patricia Page-Champion, SVP and commercial director at Hilton, shared how flexibility in the workplace helped her personally get the balance right between work and parenthood. But she urged leaders not to assume they know what types of flexibility employees want. “Employees have different needs and leaders need to be flexible towards them as individuals,” she said.

“A little while back our teams in the revenue management consolidated centre were asking for more flexible working opportunities. Rather than us choose new hours for them, we asked the team to solve the issue themselves and choose their own flexible options – something we found was more successful than if we’d dictated to them.

"The same is true for individual women: some may need time off in the morning to take their children to school or in the evenings to be at home with their families.”

Ben Bengougam, senior vice president of human resources EMEA at Hilton, told HR magazine after the event that “flexible working should not be seen as a benefit, it should simply be a standard available to all”.

Also speaking on the panel, Caroline Rose, UK country integration lead at TNT Express Services, outlined the responsibility of leaders to help their female employees become more resilient, particularly those working in male-dominated industries or functions.

“We need to inspire women to bounce back from challenges and roll with the punches,” she said.

Dedicated female-only coaching programmes were also discussed. Bengougam pointed out that women often only receive executive coaching once they’ve already reached senior positions. This realisation led Hilton to launch its Coaching on Call initiative in 2017, which provides more junior female employees with coaching to help them move up the ladder.

The criticality of coaching and training to female career progression was also highlighted by Everywoman co-founder Karen Gill, speaking to HR magazine at the event: “We need to unlock confidence and the mindset in women that ‘yes I can do that job',” she said.

She also emphasised the importance of “women having networks that they can call upon during difficult points in their careers”. “Having female role models is a key part of this. After all, you can’t be what you can’t see.”

Other panellists and speakers talked about the need to address unconscious biases.

“We all have unconscious biases. Think how many of us ask a pregnant woman if she is planning to go back to work after having her baby,” said Everywoman expert Pippa Isbell, speaking onstage.

“The important thing is to acknowledge these biases. Don’t pretend to be colour-blind or gender-neutral. It is OK to recognise the different attributes that men and women have and have candid conversations about this diversity and how it can bring the best out of individuals and the organisation.”

Isbell shared three tips on how leaders can become inclusive, including their behaviour setting a powerful example, how they treat members of their teams, and how they manage relationships between team members.

Many panellists and speakers agreed that while objectives to change diversity figures and the gender pay gap should be set, the answer isn't quotas.

“Setting progressive business targets is great, as is the gender pay gap [reporting], as it’s shining a spotlight on what the issue really is,” said Gill. “But change can’t and shouldn’t be led by legislation and quotas alone. It has to come from the internal culture wanting to make that change.”