As an industry, we in the travel sector do diversity pretty well. Or do we? On the one hand, we encourage clients to explore different destinations and promote global cultures. But a closer look at traditional travel businesses and the diversity ends there. Women are just not reaching the C-suite positions.
According to 2016 research on the status of women in the UK travel and tourism industry, the sector employs 70% women, but fewer than 50% hold managerial roles and fewer than 20% are in general management positions. Fewer still sit on boards.
Given the industry is not struggling for female talent lower down the scale, why is it losing its female talent at the upper end? Somewhere, something is going wrong.
International Women’s Day on March 8 – when the achievements, challenges and prejudice against women around the world is thrust into the media spotlight – is an opportunity to look inward and reflect on why a female-heavy workforce is not making its way to the top of the management pyramid.
If the travel industry fails to address the glaring gender issue, it will be the loser. A growing body of research demonstrates gender-balanced teams produce better business outcomes and create a more sustainable future for an organisation’s entire workforce.
Critically, with Brexit looming, the industry needs to attract the best possible talent, from school leavers, graduates and senior women, while at the same time ensuring it inspires those already working in the sector.
There are, of course, businesses that have recognised the need to address this challenge head on. Step forward easyJet, which has led the drive to attract more women pilots with an initiative to increase its female intake to 20%, having smashed its original 12% target in year one.
Meanwhile, Hilton will mark International Women’s Day with a globally streamed initiative from its key European hubs where senior leaders will be encouraged to bring along a star of the future. Avis Budget Group is another brand that has focused its attention on gender diversity, with a clear objective to attract more female clients.
Despite these global businesses setting out their commitment to gender diversity, too many continue to pay little more than lip service. Of course, businesses must employ the best people for the job, but they also need to work harder to address the causes of losing female talent.
As we launch our third annual awards for women working in travel, I lay down a challenge to the travel industry – identify your female stars; look inwards to see who can be championed as a future leader; support them with mentors and role models; and ensure their achievements are recognised by their peers through industry recognition programmes.
Karen Gill MBE is a co-founder of everywoman