Despite the case for more gender-diverse boards being made many times over, there is still some way to go. A new initiative aims to address those inequality issues in hospitality.

Boards made up of just men, from the same socio-economic backgrounds, will never be the optimal forum for challenging and productive debates. What’s more, it has been proven that gender diversity on executive boards strongly correlates to improved financial performance.

The good news is that today, more women than ever before are on the boards of the UK’s largest companies, but there is still some way to go.

Measuring progress

Launched in 2016, the Hampton-Alexander Review aims to ensure that talented women at the top of business are recognized, promoted and rewarded. They set FTSE 350 businesses a target of having 33% of all board and senior leadership positions held by women, by the end of 2020.

Figures released in 2018 show that in the FTSE 100, 305 positions, or 29% of all board positions are held by women. That’s up from just 12.5% in 2011.

However, smaller companies are lagging behind.

If FTSE 350 companies are to meet the target, nearly half of all available board appointments in the run-up to 2020 now need to go to women.

Far too many FTSE 350 companies still have no women, or only one woman, on their board. These mid-sized companies significantly lag behind the larger ones and are particularly relevant to the hospitality sector.

Revealing attitudes

In early 2018, the Investment Association and the Hampton-Alexander Review wrote to the FTSE 350 companies that were falling short of their gender diversity targets.

Disturbingly, in the course of doing their report, the team picked up some shocking comments from the Chair or CEO. These painfully reflect the extent of cultural change required.

  • ‘I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment’
  • ‘My other board colleagues wouldn’t want to appoint a woman on our board’
  • ‘We have one woman already on the board, so we’re done’
  • ‘Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board’

It’s clear that we need more strong-willed, confident and empowered women coming through the talent pipeline to tackle these underlying issues and break through to board level.

At the same time, we also need the support and commitment of the many more enlightened business leaders in our sector, to bring about a plan for action.

Charter for change

At Odgers Berndtson, we participated in the Women in Hospitality Review and have since been working with several like-minded partners to launch a Charter for Change.

As part of this Charter, we have held many roundtable discussions and sought soundings from leaders across the industry around what action is required at a practical, granular level, to help get more women into senior leadership roles.

One resounding theme from senior female leaders, who had successfully broken through the barriers, was that encouragement and support from mentors (whether formal or informal) played a key role in helping them achieve their potential and ambitions.

Industry initiative

Most recently, Odgers Berndtson partnered with CGA and UK Hospitality to gauge attitudes among business leaders in the sector and to better understand what support is already in place and whether further mentorship might help.

In summary, this is what we found:

  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents think that there is a problem with diversity and inclusion in leadership.
  • Just 14% state that the industry is doing enough to change this.
  • Despite respondents saying that there is a problem, when looking at their own businesses, they are less likely to acknowledge that there is an issue.
  • Most (55%) of businesses do have a policy for inclusion and diversity for leadership. Interestingly, it is more likely to be from female respondents and HR directors.
  • Mentoring schemes supporting diversity and inclusion are not commonplace across the sector, with 70% of respondents stating they do not currently have one in place.
  • 61% of those who don’t have one, are not planning to implement a scheme.
  • Despite that, a significant majority of respondents do agree that it is important: 65%.
  • 71% of respondents think a sector-wide initiative would help with regards to women on leadership teams.

Clear support

There is clear support for a sector-led initiative when it comes to women in leadership and we know there is still much to do in the senior leadership pipeline to support our female talent.

If you are still not convinced, consider that companies in the top quartile for executive-level gender diversity had a 21% likelihood of outperforming their bottom quartile industry peers on profitability and a 27% likelihood of outperforming them on longer-term value creation.

That’s why, UK hospitality, in partnership with Odgers Berndtson, Elliotts, and BTSport, launched the Plan B Leadership Mentoring Programme – a pan-industry mentoring scheme for women in management - at an exclusive event at the BT Tower on 10 October 2018.

We already have over 70 signatories to the programme from across the sector, but of course, we need more mentors and mentees. If you would like to get involved, please get in touch.

Holly Addison

Holly is responsible for leading executive search assignments for clients across Consumer Technology, Digital, Hospitality, Events and Entertainment and has successfully delivered complex mandates...

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