Youth Career Initiative Inspires Change for Young Women

Green Hotelier Talking Point: Diversity and Responsible Businesses.

Continuing our Talking Point theme asking how can the tourism industry be more responsible and encourage greater diversity, our next guest post comes from ITP's Emili Budell. She says women need support to create strong careers in the industry.

In a 2013 report on women and employment in the hotel, catering and tourism industry, the ILO found that whilst women represent the majority of the industry’s global workforce, they are underrepresented in leadership positions and on average receive lower pay than men. The tourism industry represents a wide-ranging opportunity for economic development and employment; particularly in emerging economies. Global tourism and hospitality now provide about 1 in 10 jobs worldwide and steady growth is predicted in the coming years. Nevertheless, in developing countries, hotels often face a challenge to recruit from the local labour force. The ILO report says the “large proliferation of chains... has important consequences for labour, since the running of large chains necessitates professional operations and management standards”, which in turn requires appropriate skill sets that may not always be provided by the local educational infrastructure. The report states that “sustainable development is achieved through the contributions of both women and men.” Women in developing countries however have even less opportunities to find work than their male counterparts, let alone seek to build a career. The picture worsens for the younger generation, with global youth unemployment at an all-time high. Issues such as poverty, poor access to education and teenage pregnancy hinder young women from becoming empowered economic actors. In Brazil the tourism industry employs many people, but what Brazilians call the generation “nem nem” (“not not”; an equivalent to the term “NEET” - Not in Education, Employment or Training) – represents a staggering 19% (9.6 million) of 15 to 29 year-olds. 70.3% of these disadvantaged young people are female. So what can be done to inspire change? While gender inequality is a complex issue, part of the solution lies within talent development and recruitment that is more inclusive of women. The ILO report equates the “failure to overcome gender inequality gaps” with “a major waste of potential talent.” The hospitality industry needs a pool of talented people with the right skills, particularly in emerging economies.

Creating change through mentoring and role models

The Youth Career Initiative (YCI) reaches out to disadvantaged young people in marginalised communities around the world in order to improve their chances for a better future. Young women make up a significant proportion of the participants; in many locations they are the majority. The programme conveys skills that are required to work within a successful business by placing carefully selected candidates into a 24-week long training delivered by four or five star hotel properties. YCI also has a strong mentoring component where senior hotel staff spend time with the students not only as teachers but also as role models and career guides. One of these mentors is Rosana Okamoto, General Manager at the JW Marriott in Rio de Janeiro. Most YCI participants in Brazil are female, and Rosana says that she sees very good career prospects for them. She confirms that the local lodging industry is one that most embraces women, and also emphasises the importance of company initiatives to promote female participation such as Marriott’s Women’s Leadership Initiative. Rosana recognises that despite this positive starting point, discrepancies between male and female career progression persist, and as the main champion implementing the YCI programme at her hotel, she ensures that all YCI students undergo the company’s cultural diversity training at the start of their placement in order to raise awareness of equality and diversity issues. Awareness and mindset are just as important for young women’s advancement as a favourable environment. Rosana says: “Besides supporting the annual implementation of the programme, I donate my time. I take this opportunity to talk with the youngsters about a career in hospitality and its challenges, telling them about my own professional and life experience. I hope I can inspire them to fight for their professional objectives and to transform their dreams into reality.” In Jordan, the tourism industry is quite developed yet young women face considerable barriers to access, such as high unemployment rates amongst young males and traditional attitudes which frown on women working in hotels. YCI’s local coordinating partner the Jordan River Foundation speaks of a “culture of shame”, that they are trying to counter through field visits, success stories and media outreach. In addition to providing role models and mentors, YCI offers young women the opportunity to thrive in a safe and supportive environment. Feda’a Tarsha, a YCI graduate of 2012, and one of only five females to graduate in six years, says, “Many people don’t approve of a woman working in a hotel. I think in order to work in a hotel you need to have a strong personality. The programme increased my confidence in my abilities. It helped me to find out more about myself.” YCI gives young women the chance to make choices and have real ownership of their futures. The programme also creates pioneers and role models for other young women to inspire change. One year after Feda’a’s graduation, she was awarded the Employee of the Year Award 2013 at the Four Seasons Amman where she had trained as a YCI participant. She says, “I had a wonderful experience that I want every ambitious lady to have, so they can know what they can do and find themselves like I did. I would like to tell all young women that they can be whoever they want to be, and to never give up on their dreams.”

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