Gender is by no means the only diversity issue in our industry but, on the basis almost 51% of the UK population is female and the number of women holding the most senior jobs in the boardrooms of Britain’s biggest companies has barely changed in the past ten years, this is surely where we need to start.
Building a gender-diverse leadership team with an inclusive culture is not a “tick-box” exercise, it is a vital component of how successful businesses are run today – and we know it directly correlates to improved financial performance.
Women bring a different point of view and often have more diverse backgrounds. Their perspective can be refreshing and studies have shown female executives typically have higher levels of emotional intelligence and social leadership skills.
There are now more opportunities for women to take a seat at the board table, but progress in certain quarters remains painfully slow. More proactive measures are required to provide ladders to help women progress, particularly to board and C-suite level. Sadly, in many instances, those women who have broken through the barriers have done so through their own perseverance, determination and readiness to compromise than any proactive measure by the industry to facilitate career progression for women.
However there are positive signs – more than three-fifths (62%) of FTSE 100 companies in hospitality, travel and leisure have achieved their target of having one-third (33%) of women on their boards and, importantly, there are now no all-male boards in this sector in the FTSE 350.
However, four-fifths (80%) of the hospitality sector still comprises SMEs and far more focus is required there to tackle the enduring “macho” culture and poor work-life balance that still exists. Only 11% of non-listed companies in hospitality, travel and leisure have female chief executives.
Serious improvement is required among the larger firms too – only 7% of FTSE 350 chief executives in the sector are female and, when Kate Swann steps down from her position at SSP later this year, that figure will fall to less than 4%.
Something needs to change – so what can be done to make the path easier?
Promoting flexible working, having agile systems and establishing support networks are all incredibly important factors in improving the retention and promotion of women but, to be effective, they must be extended to everyone. Men also stand to gain from proactive change in the pursuit of gender equality in the workplace.
We also need more role models – senior women and men prepared to stand up for the right behaviour when it comes to prioritising family values, understanding caring responsibilities and encouraging a healthy work-life balance, living those values themselves and sharing their learnings and experience.
Odgers Berndtson hosted round-table discussions last year, sounding out industry leaders on what could be done on a practical level to get more women into senior leadership roles. Virtually every senior female executive we spoke to referred to the impact a mentor had made – whether as a formal mentor or coach, a previous boss or even a family member – in helping them get where they are today.
With the help of CGA and UKHospitality, we gauged attitudes in the sector. Our survey found more than four-fifths (82%) of business leaders agree there should be more women on leadership teams in hospitality, while almost two-thirds (65%) believe it’s important to have a mentoring scheme in place – yet almost half (48%) have no plans to implement one.
Encouragingly, more than two-thirds (71%) of respondents think a sector-wide initiative would help get more women on leadership teams.
CGA research earlier in 2018 confirmed just how far the industry has to go on the diversity of its top teams. The ‘Diversity in Hospitality Leadership’ report, produced with Odgers Berndtson and UKHospitality, found that nearly two thirds (63%) of sector leaders think there is a diversity problem in leadership, and fewer than one in seven (14%) think enough is being done to promote inclusion. The problem is especially acute on gender, with four in five (82%) respondents to CGA’s survey agreeing that hospitality needs more women on leadership teams.
Armed with this knowledge a group of like-minded women got together and with the support of our respective organisations – Odgers, UKHospitality, Elliotts and BT Sport – we launched the Plan B mentoring programme in October.
Plan B is well underway and aims to provide women who aspire to senior leadership roles in hospitality with outstanding mentoring, advice and motivation from objective and supportive mentors. By providing that practical advice and support, the hope is these women will go on to become executive and non-executive board-level directors.
We want women to believe in themselves and their ability to contribute at the most senior levels to the success of their organisations. Hospitality is a true meritocracy – and we should be leading the way.
Holly Addison is head of consumer digital, telecommunications and hospitality at executive search firm Odgers Berndtson.