Launching women into hospitality senior leadership

20 Nov 2018

Launching women into hospitality senior leadership

Holly Addison explains why a more targeted, systematic approach to mentoring women could crack open the hospitality industry’s glass ceiling.

The hospitality industry represents a serious challenge for diversity and inclusion. There are plenty of women in entry-level and management-level roles but the numbers dwindle in the c-suite and the boardroom. Furthermore, the women who have been appointed to hospitality industry board positions tend to be non-executive directors from other industries.

Indeed, only three FTSE 250 hospitality firms had female executives, according to a recent survey. And this is in an industry that is the third largest private sector employer in the UK, double the size of financial services and bigger than automotive, pharmaceuticals and aerospace combined.

Empower, support, challenge

In 2017, Odgers Berndtson helped launch a “Charter for Change”. The first step was to seek input from leaders in the hospitality industry in order to come up with a set of initiatives that could be implemented to try to launch more women into senior leadership roles.

Many of the female leaders Odgers Berndtson contacted mentioned that one of the most important factors contributing to their promotion and progression in the industry had been the encouragement of a mentor, whether formal or informal. Building on that input, in October 2018, Odgers Berndtson launched the Plan B Leadership Mentoring Programme in collaboration with UKHospitality, Elliotts and BT Sport.

Having a mentor to emulate is inspiring and motivational.

The aim of the programme is to match high potential female employees with an industry mentor who can provide targeted advice and support. Having a dedicated mentor in their corner can help anyone—but especially women who may not have as many informal industry role models—to achieve their potential.  

In short, the programme is designed to empower, support and challenge high-potential women in the industry to reach higher and realise more ambitious career goals.

Effective, targeted mentoring

Why should companies implement a formal, targeted mentoring scheme?

In many instances, informal mentoring relationships form organically and that’s great when it happens. But often, in the hospitality industry especially, women can feel very lonely at the top and there may not be many obvious role models in sight.

In addition, many women may not feel comfortable asking to be paired with a mentor. They may fear that this could be perceived as a sign of weakness or a desire to be given special treatment.

A formal mentoring scheme that is pursued and sanctioned by a company’s human resources professionals can flip the script on this by fostering an environment that embraces mentoring and makes it commonplace.

Companies that make mentoring part of high potential employees’ personal development plans will reap multiple rewards. 

They can expect a more engaged and contented workforce and better retention at management levels, not to mention improved gender diversity in senior leadership roles. 

When a woman is experiencing imposter syndrome in a male-dominated environment, their mentor may be able to recognise and address the issue, especially if they have previously experienced the same feelings. Addressing such roadblocks head-on may help to dispel feelings of self-doubt and remove obstacles that may be preventing a woman from visualising herself in a more senior role.

A rewarding relationship

A successful mentoring relationship will create value for both mentors and mentees. Taking part in a mentorship programme provides valuable experience for mentors of both genders too. Essential leadership skills like active listening, relationship building and effective communication are honed in a mentoring context.

Issues addressed during the course of a mentoring relationship may prove to be challenging and emotional for both parties. Encouraging someone to reach beyond her professional comfort zone is not always smooth sailing. But in a supportive environment, where questions can be asked and professional self-exploration encouraged, a lot can be achieved.

Levelling up

Importantly, mentoring should encourage high potential female employees to believe in themselves and in their ability to contribute to the success of their organisations.

When companies invest in mentoring schemes, they are signalling their commitment to a more diverse and inclusive culture. From hiring to mentoring and promotions, seeking to close the gender gap at the highest levels of the hospitality industry will take a concerted effort, but the goal is worthwhile and achievable.