Covid-19’s impact on the hospitality, travel and leisure industry could be “a watershed moment” for diversity and inclusion, new research has concluded.
The report, Guarding Against Unintended Consequences: The Impact of Covid-19 on Gender and Race & Ethnic Diversity in Hospitality, Travel & Leisure, predicts a short-term negative impact on diversity and inclusion via unintended consequences of furlough schemes, restructuring, a shift to remote working and threat of recession.
The research is a partnership with The MBS Group, PwC and Women in Hospitality, Travel & Leisure. It follows conversations with more than 60 of the sector’s leading businesses, a PwC survey of 1,500 HTL employees and real-life case studies and insights from WiHTL’s Collaboration Community.
“As a sector, we do have the opportunity to turn Covid-19 into a watershed moment - an opportunity to move the dial positively on Diversity and Inclusion,” said Elliott Goldstein, MBS Group managing partner.
“Put simply, businesses that fail to prioritise D&I – especially now – will suffer as they find themselves outrun by their more forward-thinking competitors, whose leadership is fully representative of their consumer base.”
However, the report found D&I had dropped down the priority list for boards and senior leaders over the last six months. Only 15% of companies interviewed reported D&I being raised at board meetings regularly, with 42% saying it had come up infrequently and 43% not at all. The report also found diversity has fallen down the list of shareholder priorities.
“D&I leaders have been furloughed, let go or diverted to other parts of the business. Cost-cutting measures have meant that many of the action plans designed to improve diversity and increase representation have been paused or had their budgets cut,” the report said.
The report predicted Covid-19 was also likely to have a negative impact on gender diversity. A higher proportion of women (65%) have been furloughed, put on reduced hours or made redundant than men (56%).
In turn, 67% of employees from ethnic minorities have been furloughed, put on reduced hours or made redundant, compared to 62% of white colleagues.
The research found more women and people from ethnic minorities have accepted voluntary redundancy packages than men due to caring responsibilities, or because their roles are more easily transferable to other sectors.
“Many leaders have reported that those in non-sector-specific roles, which tend to have higher proportions of female and diverse candidates, may choose to exit the business in favour of lower-risk industries.”
The report added: “To further exacerbate the issue, mass restructures have decreased the number of visible female and ethnic minorities role models in the sector, long understood to play a key role in motivating diverse employees to progress and encouraging diverse candidates to enter the industry.”
More positively, the report said Covid-19 had shown businesses flexible and remote working policies “can be highly effective”.
“As the lack of flexible working policies has historically been a barrier to progression for women, this development could wave in a new era for those with caring responsibilities,” it said.