A limited focus on diversity, inflexible working hours and inadequate support following career breaks are preventing women taking senior roles in the hospitality industry, a report has found.
The review titled Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure is calling on companies to sign up to a charter to support the progression of women into top jobs.
Tea Colaianni, chair of the Woman in Hospitality 2020 working group, told The Caterer: "Lots of women come into the sector but then they vanish, they disappear, they get to middle management then they move away and they don't come back.
"We are in a much better position than a lot of other industries. We've got the pipeline we've got the women coming in.
"We've got to make sure we support them and retain, develop and improve them so they don't drop off that middle management level when they start a family."
She continued: "There is a font of talent, energy, experience and skills that get lost and if people can retain that it's for the good of the industry."
Research carried out by the group found that women hold 26% of senior management positions in the hospitality, travel and leisure industries, falling to 20% when HR roles are discounted.
Women were found to be well represented in junior and middle management roles across the sectors but a stark gender gap emerged in more senior positions.
Colaianni explained that the report's authors found "very, very limited" examples of programmes and initiatives supporting women returning from a career break.
She said: "If there are programmes we really struggled to find them."
Among other reasons for the under-representation of women in senior roles, cited within the report, are unconscious bias, a "blokey" culture within the industries, a poor record of managing the talent pipeline and a lack of confidence among women to seek promotion.
The reports puts forward ways in which businesses can attract more women into higher roles and suggests companies set themselves targets and publish their results annually.
It recommends offering more support to women returning from career breaks, promoting shared parental leave, establishing mentoring programmes and using technology to facilitate more flexible working.
Colaianni said: "There is clear and compelling evidence that creating a strong gender balance across an executive team delivers benefits by reducing stale thinking and opening up new growth opportunities. This is why we have drawn up the Diversity in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure Charter to build accountability and transparency to create effective change in the sector."
Debrah Dhugga, managing director of the Dukes Collection hotels, has given the charter her support.
She told The Caterer: "Gender equality in the hospitality industry is something I feel passionate about supporting, which is why I have been mentoring women in business for over 10 years now. I want to see women finally break through the glass ceiling in what I feel is still a male-dominated industry; to embrace their femininity and take ownership of their career development. I would like to see more women's networks being created that help female employees understand their career opportunities."
As one of the only female MDs in the sector in London and a mother Dhugga said she has worked to develop flexible working schemes to support parents and sole breadwinners develop through the company.
The gender pay gap has also been a focus for Dhugga who stressed the importance of creating a working environment that treats genders equally.
She continued: "I believe women as well as men provide intrinsic value in shaping your business. Part of my role as MD here is to push Dukes forward as an industry leader internationally, applying a modern approach which many of our competitors still have to catch up.
"I therefore support this charter and see it as a positive step closer towards addressing the issue of misrepresentation of women in the hospitably industry which, I believe, still has a long way to go. However women must want to do it, it's a two way journey not one sided. Believe in yourself and ask questions along the way. Senior leaders and government must encourage the younger generation to join the hospitality industry, it's an amazing career and the opportunities are endless.
"Your work fills a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe in and set out to achieve the very best in what that maybe be no matter what is your gender."
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