Opinion: Putting Gender on the Agenda

Tricia Barnett of Equality in Tourism

Tricia Barnett of Equality in Tourism

All eyes are currently turning towards World Travel Market next week. Here, Tricia Barnett, director of a new organisation called Equality in Tourism which is presenting at WTM, talks about her belief that by adding gender equality to your existing CR strategy, you can offer added value.

"Equality in Tourism is dedicated to ensuring that women have an equal voice in tourism and an equal share in its benefits. Our report, Sun, Sand and Ceilings: Women in the Boardroom in the Tourism Industry, reveals that although women make up the majority of the tourism workforce in most countries, they are woefully under-represented at executive levels of the world’s top tourism companies.

Our survey of 78 companies across four of the major sectors of the tourism industry in the UK – hotel groups, international tour operators, airlines and cruise ships and international professional associations - found that only 15.8% of board members are women and more than a quarter of companies have no women on their boards. Equality in Tourism argues this needs to be improved.

We believe that a more balanced representation of women on the boards of tourism and hospitality companies would be an excellent place to begin to address gender inequality. It would send a message to female employees and customers that they are valued and can lead in the sector. Tackling gender imbalance on company boards would also demonstrate that the tourism industry takes issues such as fairness, diversity and sustainability seriously.

There are economic and business reasons to support such a change. Shares of companies with a market capitalisation of more than $10 billion and with women board members outperformed comparable businesses with all-male boards by 26 per cent worldwide over a period of six years, according to a report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute (2012).

Net income growth for companies with women on their boards has averaged 14 per cent over the past six years, compared with 10 per cent for those with no female director, according to the Credit Suisse study. The study showed a faster reduction in debt at businesses with women on the board as the financial crisis and global economic slowdown unfolded.

Of the boards of 20 major hotel groups surveyed by Equality in Tourism in 2013 as part of its wider research, women constituted 17.22 per cent. The total amounted to 149 men and 31 women. The highest representation was Carlson with 7 men and 4 women. The lowest was Sol Melia with 11 men and no women.

Our research identified only two hotel groups with women in the most senior positions: The Carlson Group has a woman chair and a woman who is both president and chief executive and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts a woman president. Our data was taken from the public domain in April and May 2013.

Five key, and well-established barriers identified by our report (and other studies such as the UK government's Davies Report, People 1st and the Cranfield Report*) prevent women from entering senior management and executive positions. These are the difficulty of combining work at a senior level with caring responsibilities, a dominant masculine organisational culture, preconceptions and gender bias, a lack of networking and exclusion from informal networks of communication, and a lack of visible women in senior positions. Women are often passed over because they do not meet preconceived ideas. A combination of recruitment, workplace and societal issues combine to impede women’s progression to executive positions, reinforcing the lack of gender diversity on boards and perpetuating the problem of female under-representation in decision-making circles.

The need to create a fairer opportunity for women to contribute to and benefit from business practice at every level is part of a global trend that all companies will recognise."

The full text of “Sun, Sand and Ceilings: Women in the Boardroom in the Tourism Industry” is available on the Equality in Tourism website.

Equality in Tourism

Equality in Tourism

For those companies looking to address inequality, Equality in Tourism can offer guidance to companies by providing an opportunity to add gender equality to current strategies. A first step is to understand the issues in depth, which they can facilitate through training and awareness-raising, gender auditing and strategic development.

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