A call to move gender diversity from female fight to industry fight – Hospitality Net World Panel – Hospitality Net

Even though women make 50% of the workforce in hospitality, gender equality remains a myth in our sector. There is a significant gap in terms of rank, pay, role and general progression in women’s leadership positions and female representation falls as women rise in their careers with only 5% going on to make the top job of CEO. Beyond the facts and figures, if we need to be on the frontlines of change, we really need to get a grasp on the biggest challenges the current CEO’s face in fixing the problem. Because CEO’s who think gender diversity isn’t a problem only make it worse and simply hiring more women will not solve the problem.
Why is gender diversity at the top still a challenge? How are you driving change in your organizations from the very top? What are the biggest challenges you face as a CEO or C-Suite executive and what would you like to see more of – quotas, universal standards for measuring and monitoring, legal enforcements?
The glass ceiling in our industry depicts an overarching problem pan-regions, cultures and countries. Being a woman CEO in our industry, a space traditionally and predominantly occupied by male executives, for me, has not been a challenge but created an incredible opportunity to lead by example and to drive change. Here are the numbers: 95% of our executive team are women, we have just opened a mixed-use property in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia under the leadership of a woman General Manager. Our property that has opened in Aqaba in the heart of the pandemic is also led by a woman at the helm. BUT they weren’t chosen because they are both women, they were just a great fit for the role. I believe in this conversation, we should all, men and women take responsibility, in a practical manner. As women, we might be more self critical when it comes to our skillsets, and not always position where we should be compared to our male colleagues, and as women we group together, but we are much better in “selling” each other’s’ skillsets and qualities than our own. Women to hire women, finding talented and suited women through other women’s recognitions and advocacy might be a key to success.
Any change comes with a conscious effort, and so is setting targets, but also making this part of KPIs and bonus schemes, as should be sustainability, hiring of the new generation, and local collaborations. Do I believe in forced quotas? It’s probably a measure that will help or push the non-believers, but I do believe much more that it is about creating new ways of hiring, new ways of connecting and supporting each other, regardless of the gender, and along with this comes a more balanced workforce.
While elevating women to leadership positions is important across the hospitality industry, it is of even greater significance to Sonesta, given our recent and future growth plans. We have an expanded platform and even more opportunity than ever before to include female leadership who can make a difference within our team during this period of rapid growth.
At Sonesta, we believe that gender diversity begins at the C-suite level where female employees can see female leaders thrive, but that’s not where it ends.
I joined Sonesta as the Chief Operating Officer in November 2020 and since then, we have welcomed two more talented female senior leaders to our team who also offer a wealth of expertise: Chief Commercial Officer Garine Ferejian-Mayo and Chief Marketing & Brand Officer Elizabeth Harlow. Working alongside these women we have collectively contributed to Sonesta’s bottom line, but more importantly, we are currently refining the company’s strategic vision with a focus on empowering our female employees. That plan goes beyond just hiring more women, we need to invest in them by teaching, nurturing, and providing opportunities for them to grow.
When I look at the numbers, in the last 18 months we’ve moved from just 19 women of 52 general managers in the U.S. to over 100 women of the current 224 general managers. An example of another way we’re increasing opportunities for broader diversity is a program we’re partnering with AHLA to develop, that will create an apprenticeship program for junior leaders interested in becoming hotel general managers. Nominations for the 50 apprenticeships are now underway and the new Sonesta diversity in leadership program begins in January. 
As a female leader, I have been faced with more challenges from women in leadership than men, I think women need to do a better job offering a hand to the women who follow them. Mentorship is so important in this industry! I find men are really much more likely to look for opportunities to help a peer, and indeed count several men among my mentors who helped me on my journey. That also means that women in leadership roles need to look at thoughtful solutions to help illustrate to the women they’re promoting that their boss understands that balance is still possible. Many women are intimidated into thinking that they can’t have a family or home life and still be a senior executive. We need to do a better job of creating that path for the women who come after us to find their way. 
Gender equality in today’s day and age should be a given and absolutely no grounds for discussion. Unfortunately, it is not in the (hospitality) World and the reasons are many, with different interpretations and explanations. 
Let’s examine where this might come from and more importantly how to fix this;
Why is gender diversity at the top still a challenge?
Hospitality executives predominantly have an “experiential” background and academic education is scarce in our industry. Building on experience often is a repeat from the past towards the future. Evolution is therefore slow and adaptation of important issues like gender equality and others stays behind.
Also, we have to be realistic. We have a huge backlog and stigma to overcome, which has an impact on how we do or better should be doing things.  
Take job search as an important example; We first assess needs and create the perfect job profile/description. We then commence our search the same way we have done so for years. The automatic outcome will generate more male candidates than female candidates. We should start our searches with the objective to generate an equal number of qualified women as men. Without that specific switch, the percentages of men will always dominate.
Diversification is an important topic, gender equality is not part of this discussion!!! 
Standing tall and representing change is a must in the case of gender equality, nothing to feel proud of but basics.
How are you driving change in your organizations from the very top?
Overall the numbers at citizenM show extremely well in the gender equality mix. Both in our support offices and leading hotels the mix is fine.
Slow and embarrassing when looking at the result at c-level. It is indeed therefore that searches now need to generate equal women as men candidates.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a CEO or C-Suite executive and what would you like to see more of – quotas, universal standards for measuring and monitoring, legal enforcements?
We know and experience the great broadening of thinking when both female and male thinking is present. The gender equality numbers not stacking up over the years have also had its impact in less of that balance being present at the c-level. Now awakened leadership is definitely keen on shifting the equality gap to balance
Internal; promotions and growth should also help this equation.
Personally, I don’t believe in quotas or legal enforcement for gender equality. It needs to come from the heart, with focus, effort, and intent. Would I like continuous standard measuring, monitoring, and especially publishing of results of the various companies, a resounding yes please.
Some additional thoughts;
Often mentorship to women is hailed as a positive influence. I would say mentorship for everyone is important.  Sponsorship of women is possibly a stronger support measure and one that carries action and personal involvement for results.
“Respect” is indisputable, you either know and understand what respect means and live by it…or you don’t!
“Conscience” is another indisputable and either tells you right from wrong..or it doesn’t.
“Gender equality” also is indisputable and no there is no difference between women and men.
“There is a big difference between equality and equity, and that has been the biggest learning for me in the past years.
Last year, as we relooked at our management team’s structure, we knew we had to make changes and be more diverse.
We started recruiting for the Chief Operations Commerce Officer position, and we knew this person had to be a woman. We were looking for a senior C-Suite level executive with a customer-orientated, marketing and tech background, not just hospitality based.
For the first time, I was really confronted with my position as a middle-aged white man, and the impact I could start making by becoming aware of how few women who are skilled at this level are present in the workspace.
When you start working with a head-hunting agency, normally you receive dozens of CVs – but when you ask to exclude all men from the selection, then it becomes quite amazing how few women CVs come on the table.
I’ve also come across a beautiful quality in women: when you try to head hunt women, most of them don’t even pick up the phone to headhunters because they are quite loyal to their existing company, whereas every single guy picks up the phone to check what’s the best deal for him. It was an interesting learning, that speaks to the many qualities women bring to the workplace.
Eventually, we’ve invested one year of company resources to find the right woman for the position.
We, at TSH, are quite diverse minded, but I find it difficult as a CEO to find diverse talent at the leadership level, especially when the aim is to grow your business and grow it quickly.
We need to do more, and I need to do more as a middle-aged white man, to provide women a step up, a quicker path to get to leadership positions, because the difficulties they face are much harder, and there is absolutely no excuse on why there’s shouldn’t be 50/50 ratios between men and women in the workplace.
The biggest learning for me is that equality is different from equity: it’s not just about giving the same opportunities, lifting the ceiling and providing equal pay, but it’s about recognizing the different circumstances women face and allocating resources, opportunities and help needed to reach an equal outcome.
We as a company need to be aware of what equity means and how we give women a stepping stone to make sure they have the same chances as men.
That is why we have set up a Diversity and Inclusion committee, which is dedicated to ensure equity is at the root of how we recruit and hire, as well as promote, for all our positions.
At Dream Hotel Group we believe in good talent. Our goal is to hire, train and retain the best in the business. We pride ourselves in supporting growth and opportunities for all gender identifications. We lead from the top: all of our verticals are led by women vice presidents, and one of our five in the c-suite is a woman. In New York and some of the toughest other markets in the industry, more than half of our hotels are led by women – women comprise more than half of our general managers, directors of finance and department heads. Throughout the country, leadership also includes transgender and transexual individuals.
Quotas and legal enforcement are not the answer at this point. Supporting growth opportunities and flexible work schedules, mentoring and training, and intentional efforts to foster growth among diverse leaders and to train others in what to look for and to foster that growth is the key. The world is changing and the issue is being discussed and raised more than ever before. Companies are being watched more closely and gender bias will negatively impact a company’s image. More c-suite gender diversity will become the norm over the next decade, but this complex issue is not going away so soon.
At Radisson Hotel Group (RHG), we are proud to be a company that actively encourages women to excel in their careers through our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. At the present time, the hospitality industry is comprised 70% of women[1], showing an incredible potential for female leadership, however only 8% of women in hospitality hold senior positions, demonstrating a substantial gender disparity. It is vital to bridge this gap in gender representation at the top of the hospitality industry.
DEI initiatives are a key part of this commitment. It’s only when every person in our diverse workforce feels empowered to speak up and feels valued for their individual characteristics, that we can achieve this goal. The hospitality industry has traditionally been a senior-led male-dominated industry. It´s no secret that bigger industries and companies take longer to adapt to change. In the case of DEI, this is especially true, as it requires a change in the prevailing culture. We believe that DEI is not only about establishing abstract targets, numerical quotas or nice policies – DEI should be the forefront and heart of our culture.
In RHG’s case, we already have a strong foundation in place, but we need to continue working on this cultural journey. We have increased our percentage of women in leadership positions  by 70% in the last three years from 16.5% in 2018 to 28.7% in 2020. Furthermore, in 2020, women comprised 41.4% of our team members, 20% of our General Managers, and 57% of our support office teams.. In some areas these percentages are much higher, like in Nordics, where 47% of our team members, 43% of our General Managers and 61% of our support office members are female. We are committed to surpassing the 30% mark of women in leadership positions by 2021 across all our operating markets.
We also believe that we need to showcase our talent and actively celebrate our diverse workforce as part of our communications strategy. For example, this year we launched a campaign called “Radisson Pioneers” to highlight our incredible female team members from all over the world who have achieved pioneering milestones in the hospitality world.
We are proud to be the first company to hire the first-ever female General Manager in Saudi Arabia, Maram Kokandi, General Manager at Park Inn by Radisson Jeddah. Today, all the 23 operating hotels in Saudi Arabia have more than 190 female employees, who are almost all Saudi nationals, representing 14% of the total hotel employees.
Lastly, there are many things we could do as an industry: we need to come together and establish minimum targets to ensure leadership in the hospitality world is no no longer a male-dominated arena, create a DEI Advisory Council that drives our vision with help from the public sector, and encourage collaborative action within responsible hospitality focused networks such as the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance and the WTTC. These are only the first steps, but we are already seeing changes, with further improvements to follow in the coming years.

[1] Data from Hospitality Insights: Gender Diversity – a True Value Added for Companies
The challenges of the past 18 months have reinforced to me that the special culture we have at IHG Hotels & Resorts is fundamental to the wellbeing and development of all our people across the globe, who represent the enormous diversity that make the world such a wonderful place.
I’m proud of the steps we’re taking to recruit a higher proportion of women into senior roles, as we continue to represent the diversity of our guests, owners and colleagues. We’re doing this in many ways both directly – such as through our Rise development programme for aspiring female hotel General Managers and Operations leaders – and indirectly, with our recent moves to offer hybrid working and extended paternity leave, initially in the UK and US, helping to remove some of the barriers for women that have been in place too long. Our employee networks – grassroots groups for colleagues with shared interests – are also incredibly important to making lasting change at IHG. Our Lean In group for women and EMbrace group for colleagues and allies of ethnic minorities meet regularly and share ideas with leadership on how we can make our business an even more inclusive and welcoming place.
There’s still much work to do, but we are making progress. In the UK, for instance, we have recently published our UK gender pay gap report. It shows we have increased the number of women in the top and middle quartiles of our UK corporate population over the past year, with 50% now filling Executive Committee roles or being the direct reports of EC members. On top of this, 60% of corporate promotions and new hires in the UK between January 1, 2020 and August 31, 2021 were female, while 38% of the IHG Board is made up of women.
The steps we’re taking come against a backdrop of debates around quotas and legal enforcements, which undoubtedly have a positive influence. However, there is one vital challenge that must be overcome if we’re ever to achieve true gender diversity – and that’s education.
Starting at a young age, people need to learn how gender relations are evolving and why abolishing negative gender, sexist and sexual stereotypes is so important. It’s not just the responsibility of schools and colleges, but employers, too, and I’ve been delighted with the reaction of our teams to the conscious inclusion training we’ve rolled out across the organisation in recent years.
Only through education in every setting will we truly achieve social and cultural change – the exchanges where you connect with people for who and what they are, their identities and what they represent, alongside the valuable contribution they make. We haven’t reached it yet, but we’re working hard to get there.
At Cycas, our goal is to be Europe’s leading hotel management company. Operating across multiple European countries, with their different languages, laws and cultures, has required us to build the most diverse and inclusive team in the industry.
I’m particularly proud that the majority of the people we employ across Cycas Hospitality are women. Within our hotels, women account for 62% of our Cycadettes and make up a third of our General Managers. This trend continues off-property, where 56% of our support teams are women, as are our four of my seven direct reports. What’s more, one of our three Board Directors is a woman.
These numbers are all the more special because, at Cycas, we believe firmly in meritocracy, rather than any kind of ‘positive discrimination’. That means every person we hire, at every level, is the very best person we can find for that role. It just so happens that, more often than not, the best person has been female.
And once we’ve recruited incredible talent, it’s just as important that we retain them and help them grow with us. Two of the women on our leadership team started working with Cycas over a decade ago as General Managers. Today, they continue to be incredible role-models for our next generation of male and female Cycadettes.
As a privately-owned company, Cycas has no quotas to meet around diversity: it’s just something we believe in. For me, diversity is about bringing together different life experiences, thinking-styles, talents and interests. Sometimes, these things do correlate with gender, ethnicity or demographic factors; however, my goal is always to build teams of people who complement each other and, by working together, are far more than the sum of their parts. Integrating diversity and inclusion into our company culture certainly isn’t about box-ticking.
It’s a great honour to lead the most diverse team in the European hospitality industry, and I know that diversity makes us even stronger as a team, particularly as each individual Cycadette got there on her or his own merits. Given Cycas’s track-record of delivering market-leading hotel performance, I can say with confidence that diversity has really proven the recipe for success. 
“The discourse on equal opportunities is very important for our society in general. In Germany, the share of women on the management boards of DAX 30 companies in Germany has risen from 0.5 percent in 2008 to almost 15 percent in 2020. Nevertheless, this shows that there is still plenty of room for improvement. Companies play an important role in terms of filling management positions as well as shaping the corporate culture they live by. Diversity management needs to strategically recognize, nurture, and leverage the personal talents and individual needs of employees.
We have committed ourselves to provide equal employment opportunities (EEO) to all applicants and employees and have also launched an initiative by introducing a quota for women in leading positions on the first and second management level. Flexible working time models ensure that family and career can go hand in hand. In terms of our corporate culture, we introduced guidelines for the use of gender-sensitive language within the DHfamily to promote diversity within our company and support our colleagues in communicating fairly and inclusively. Diversity is high on the agenda of many professionals and jobseekers, and we want to make sure that outstanding talent will always make it to the top at Deutsche Hospitality.
We have female role models in key management positions at Deutsche Hospitality but we, like many companies in our and other industries, still have a way to go. Legislation can speed up development. In my opinion, however, it is the ongoing cultural change within society and companies that fosters gender equality rather than legal enforcements. I am sure we will see the diversity we have at Deutsche Hospitality across all levels represented also at the top level very soon.”
In HN’s C-SUITE World Panel, industry leaders question C-Suite executives on timely topics which are expected to drive change in 2021 and beyond. Covered topics include human capital, diversity, information technology and sustainability.


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