Cracked, Not Crushed: The Glass Ceiling of Gender Parity

by and Mar 8, 2018Hotel Finance, Strategic Advisory, Travel & Tourism

A s the world celebrates ‘International Women’s Month’; a movement established to realize complete gender parity; the reality of executive gender balance is far from that. The disparity in gender balanced leadership has driven many initiatives globally and prompted a mountain of research verifying what should really be common sense: an investment in gender inclusive growth is positively correlated to firm performance. Credit Suisse Research Institute’s frequently quoted report concluded that organizations with female directors outperformed those without women directors in average growth, price/book-value multiples, and return on equity. Even so, despite all the statistics available on just how leadership diversity significantly increases company profitability, only around 5% of the Fortune 500 companies are led by women.

“An investment in gender inclusive growth is positively correlated to firm performance”

The travel and tourism sector is uniquely positioned on gender parity as nearly 70%[1] of the workforce are already women. Unlike industries such as engineering and manufacturing that struggle to attract a female workforce even at an entry level, the tourism sector enjoys a distinct lead in achieving gender parity. Despite having a healthy gender ratio overall, only 40% of women in tourism are in managerial positions, under 20% in general management roles and fewer than 8% occupy board positions.[2] These statistics have considerably improved over the years. It thus, becomes extremely important to celebrate the women who have broken the invisible but apparent glass ceiling. With an increasing number of talented women in senior leadership positions, the question, then is not how to attract them but how to retain female talent that can grow into C-suite or board level positions.

There are many variables that sponsor the notion of ‘glass ceiling’ and hamper female progression in the workspace. The most prominent though, are culturally ingrained dynamics and unconscious gender biases that fuel unhealthy stereotypes such as limiting job descriptions of female employees to those that require ‘soft skills’. While these impressions about gender biases may continue to persist, it is undeniable that women themselves need to take charge and thrust forward in their careers. There is enough research to support that men tend to be better advocators of themselves, whereas women are more likely to shy away from self-promoting actions. Some facts: Men are twice as likely to ask for a promotion or raise than women are and just as likely to get one. Women, on average, earn 79 cents for every dollar men make.[3] While men are promoted based on potential, women get opportunities based on past accomplishments. These facts aren’t to say that women are inherently placed to a disadvantage, just that they need to be prepared and undaunted to put themselves out there and grow into leadership or board level positions.

Admirably, there are more than a few trailblazing women that have ‘leaned in’ and grown to high ranks in their respective organizations. Sonia Cheng, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Kathleen Taylor and Niki Leondakis have held or continue to hold CEO/President positions at prominent hospitality firms. Likewise, there are multiple female leaders in vital VP positions in hospitality and 30 of them are recognized here. Clearly, one section of the industry has been quicker in embracing female leadership; the cruise line sector. Three prime cruise companies; Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Crystal Cruise; have all had female leadership at the helm of the business in recent years. Moreover, one of the largest organizational bodies in travel and tourism; the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), appointed Gloria Guevara Manzo as its new and first female President and CEO.

Trailblazing Women in Hospitality

The business benefits of gender balance are abundantly clear. It strengthens decision-making by providing a wider perspective, diverse range of talent, steering growth and innovation, and in most cases, echoing a company’s own buyer base (Fun Fact: 70% of all family travel decisions are made by women).[4] Organizations such as AccorHotels, Hilton Worldwide and Intercontinental Hotels Group recognize this and are actively taking initiatives to improve gender parity. AccorHotel’s ‘HeforShe’ movement in collaboration with UN Women, has two primary agenda’s. First, to attain a 50:50 ratio of men and women General Managers, and second, to bridge the extensive pay gap that continues to persist even today. In 2016, Hilton signed the White House’s ‘Equal Pay Pledge’ that mandates an annual gender pay analysis and review of promotion procedures to eliminate subconscious barriers and biases. Similarly, IHG announced its new programme, RISE, that offers career development plans specifically for aspiring female leaders. The good news is that in additional to the above-mentioned firms; there are a host of other companies that have made a natural effort towards inclusion. Some examples of this include Priceline Group that has three women on a management team of 11 (27%); Amadeus with a 20% representation and American Airlines sited as high as 33%.
“This [gender balance] is not a women’s issue. This is not an activist outburst. This is not a diversity issue. It is a socio-economic issue impacting business and economic performance.”

Reaching a gender balance equilibrium will require a monumental cultural shift. This can partly be initiated by emphasizing the correlation between corporate performance and gender balance. Intuitively and statistically, higher female representation in leadership roles catalyses a growth in overall female led positions within organizations. Consciously or otherwise, people are more likely to hire people like them. Female applicants also, typically, prefer joining companies with higher proportions of leaders who are women, as they are perceived to offer gender neutral opportunities for progression. This cause and effect sequence may just be an effective and organic route to gender parity. The writing on the wall cannot be any clearer. While the need for change is evident from social movements like the #TimesUp and #MeToo campaigns, with regard to a professional environment, this is not a women’s issue. This is not an activist outburst. This is not a diversity issue. It is a socio-economic issue impacting business and economic performance, and thus affecting all parties involved. The conversation on women’s diversity and inclusion is front and centre, even at platforms such as the World Economic Forum (WEF) this year. WEF research attests, that unless we modify our approach to these issues today, it will take 117 years to achieve gender parity on a global level. Yes, the path to gender equality has a long road ahead, but we are getting closer and closer to ‘crushing’ the glass ceiling of gender parity.

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