Where are the female leaders?

Kelly Barnes
3 min readJun 8, 2021

The lack of women in top hospitality management roles has lagged not only that of the rest of the travel industry but much of the business world, save for maybe Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Looking at the top 10 hospitality companies, the picture is clear: It continues to be a club of old men.

It’s an issue that many hospitality companies still don’t like to talk about, but it’s clearly on their minds.

Photo by Roland Samuel on Unsplash

Where are the feamale leaders? This is a question especially alarming considering the fact that more than 50% of the hospitality sectors workforce are female. Just before covid, during the International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) in Cannes, France, for example, on at least two occasions, luxury hotel executives preparing to give briefings in the press center turned to introduce their attending lineup of all-male general managers only to hesitate, then make an uncomfortable joke about the obvious need for diversity.

Recent reports lists cultural bias among the factors generating the wide gender gap, which experts and insiders attribute to hospitality being a very old industry with long-standing traditions and generational issues that in many instances are just now being addressed to promote more diversity.
“It’s a very white, male industry,” said Lalia Rach, an industry consultant and former dean at New York University’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. “Is it changing? Yes. But it is changing glacially. The sea of change is far too slow.”

Rach said that those numbers don’t mean the hospitality industry is hostile. “It means you have a very old concept that is so embedded that it takes effort, it takes activity, it takes time to change things.”

Debrah Dhugga, who said she is the only woman at the general manager or higher level at a London luxury hotel, agreed.

“It’s very traditional,” she said. “I think it goes back to the old days where it was always male-dominated. When you think of old pubs and hotels and the main master keeper of the keys, I think, it just goes back. Equality in the industry is still an issue, without a doubt. It’s getting better, but there’s a lot of development that still needs to happen.”

Stakeholders in the hospitality sector say that like any industry, it is not exempt from discrimination, harassment or bias of any kind, be it gender, race, sexual orientation or anything else.

Weaving “equality thinking” into decisions affecting employees requires patience and persistence. It is easier when it is practiced regularly. Our view is that the process is also dynamic by nature, constantly evolving. Therefore a goal you set today may no longer be appropriate or represent your best efforts even six months from now . Flexibility is necessary so that goals match the reality of your hospitality organization’s progress in other areas.

Once an organization’s efforts bear results more people who yearn for equality will seek out the natural reward of working at a hotel, restaurant or foodservice establishment, club, casino or cruise line where promises are kept and each person is treated equally and fairly.

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Kelly Barnes
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Journalist specialising on Luxury Travel, Sustainability and Female Leadership — my blog “theFemalePerspective” shares another view on current topics