May 19, 2024

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What it takes to be a female General Manager in a male-dominated market?

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It is evident that women in hospitality are still lesser represented at senior managerial levels. Although hospitality is not unique in struggling to recruit women into leadership roles, it is unlike others, in that there is a large enough pool of female hospitality graduates and female talent to do so, with more women than men initially entering the industry.

They are, however, failing to progress to the highest ranks and companies are failing in leveraging all available talent.

I believe that promoting gender equity in the workplace isn’t about hiring women for the sake of it, or reaching a quota in an attempt to make a difference; it is about making sound management decisions, in realizing that each gender contributes different skills and qualities to a business. In an industry such as ours, where women also make up a significant portion of the clientele, the benefits of employing more women in senior level positions extend to that same customer base.

We are witnessing a shift in leadership style, changing from the old-fashioned “I know it all” perspective to one that is focused on soft skills. And us women are, by nature, caregivers, and in that mindset, are predisposed to multitasking, looking after a hotel as if a home and building on emotional connectivity with colleague, guests and customers. We tend to focus more on the interpersonal components of a service interaction. I can list many contributing factors that we can bring to the industry such as: a high level of emotional intelligence, an eye for detail and aesthetics, patience, empathy, fairness and flexibility.

The challenge today is not that companies do not want to propel women to the higher leadership ranks; rather, they do not know how and are failing to retain the female talent. The genuine, best intentions are there, but the results are poor.

Diversity and inclusion practices are very high up on IHG Hotels & Resorts list.  In February 2021, IHG launched “Journey to Tomorrow”, a series of ambitious new commitments to make a positive difference for our people, communities and planet over the next decade. A part of the Journey to Tomorrow, is the RISE programme. This programme is open to women who are successful in their current roles and are looking for a more challenging career path. Aimed at increasing the number of female General Managers in IHG Hotels & Resorts hotels, the programme has been spearheaded by IHG’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Board since September 2019. Each participant has access to a mentor and sponsor who are dedicated to the programme. In a 12-month period, this program is designed to build confidence, expand networks, and promote career advancement.

Diversity and inclusions practices aside, the challenge that still remains is convincing them to stay on this career path. The unique features of the hospitality environment, such as the long hours travelling, relocation, demanding shifts, put a great strain on women trying to balance a career and family. We are literally ‘married to the job’, and family, more often than not, wins this power struggle.

Add to that, that due to child-rearing and family-making time, women might need to put a temporary halt on their career at their peak or just when they are being identified as High Potentials. And this makes it difficult for them to get back in the game when they have been outstepped by men during their absence.

As a General Manager, my contribution to gender diversity and championing change from a ‘’gender focused lens’’, would be establishing an ecosystem that nurtures:

  • Development with mentorship programs,
  • Consideration of non-traditional roles that can be filled by women, such as executive chef, and positions in engineering and security. Women reach high-level roles in departments that have become stereotyped, such as HR, PR, marketing and sometimes finance. This experience isn’t sufficiently diverse to reach senior ranks within our industry.
  • Review of performance and talent management, with gender appropriate benchmarks, leveraging and appreciating women’s behavioural framework, as opposed to pressuring women to fit the expectations of how men lead and deliver results.
  • Custom-made benefit practices; setting an infrastructure that makes it easier to integrate career and family, such as a choice of services and benefits that are attractive to mothers (for example, generous parental leave, schedule flexibility, family car).
  • Explore ways to implement this culture, such as addressing part-time options, daycare benefits, and unpaid hours options

But mostly, it is imperative to eliminate the pre-conception that if a woman works part-time or from home, she is not fully committed to her career.

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