Women in hospitality

30 August 2007
Women in hospitality

Being a woman can help you get on in the hospitality industry, but there are still hurdles to get over. Personal performance coach Charlie Damonsing explains

The hospitality industry is still seen by many as a male-dominated environment, especially when it comes to middle and upper management. While women make up 60% of the sector's workforce, only 42% of managers are women, according to the British Hospitality Association's figures for 2005. As you look further up the tree, there are fewer and fewer examples of women commanding the top jobs in the industry.

While there are many reasons why women naturally make very good managers in hospitality, there are also several factors that prevent them from progressing to the top.

Now, though, with rapidly changing employment legislation and more flexible working practices, the industry has a great opportunity to recognise the contribution of women and embrace the changes required to bring them through into the top levels of management.

Work-life balance

Whatever industry you are in, the crucial time in a woman's career is when there are decisions to be made about prioritising family life and work. Many women do not progress to the top of their profession because having a family and working cannot be balanced correctly, and the family wins out.

Women working in the hospitality sector in the 1970s and 1980s, along with those in most other industries, found the work environment a particularly tough place. But today, even the hospitality industry is in a much stronger position to adopt the flexible working practices that make family and career more manageable. Part-time work, flexible hours and job-sharing are already seen as part of industry life.

Personnel departments and managers must be encouraged to listen more to their staff, and be prepared to try new working practices. If staff can have a decent work-life balance, the business is more likely to retain its experienced and capable managers.

Several women head chefs who are now in their late 20s and early 30s do not see a conflict between family and work. They are confident that they can have their career, then start a family, come back to work afterwards and continue to progress in their job.

There are several ways that women can help themselves to get ahead in the industry.

Ask yourself what you do well and get feedback from your staff and colleagues - you may be surprised by what they value you for. Acknowledge your skills and develop your confidence.

It's important to set boundaries. If you are capable, it is likely that you will be asked to do things which are not strictly part of your job. Be careful of taking on too much that is not within your remit, or you may find yourself ignoring your own responsibilities.

Learning to say "no" is also a key skill. In this business it is easy to say "yes" to staff and guests far too often. The more you say "yes", the more people will ask for your help.

Goals are also good to check your progress against - be they one-year, five-year or weekly - while "working smart", or being clever about what work you do and when you do it, can help you find the best times to do specific tasks.

If you are a manager, it's important to remember that you should manage - your job is to lead the team or business, to plan and to look ahead. You cannot do this if you spend too much time "doing". Take a step back and ask yourself: "Is this the best use of my time?" Don't forget to delegate - this is also a skill and the more you do it, the better you will become at it.

Finally, a mentor or role model can be very useful and provide a sounding board and advice for younger women coming up through the ranks.

Employers can also help bring women into management by exploiting the potential of flexible working and being open to job sharing and part-time working.


It is also important to support women when they are doing a good job. Managers need to be aware of the contribution of all their staff and to develop those with potential.

Finally, employers should do what they can to help with childcare support. The most common time to lose female managers is when they have children and subsequently have to balance the needs of their family and work.

Employers need to become smarter about offering childcare support to help managers juggle their responsibilities, such as after-school clubs, a crèche, or different shifts during school holidays.

Pushing forward, holding back

Women make good managers for four key reasons:

Communication Women are naturally good communicators. They often know intuitively how to deal with people, including staff, guests, suppliers and business partners. They recognise other people's needs and create a friendly environment.

â- Teamwork Women are good team-players, and know how to get the best out of their staff. They are good networkers and build long, mutually useful relationships.

â- Attention to detail The catering industry is all about detail. Knowing what is important to the guests and having an eye for the small things is a crucial skill in hospitality.

â- They stand out In senior management meetings, there are likely to be only a few women, so they stand out, and others are more likely to remember what they say. However, women are held back from achieving in the industry because:

â- They don't shout about their achievements Women tend to be more modest than men, so often do not get recognised for their hard work.

â- Work-life balance For many, the lack of work-life balance is the main barrier to career progress.

â- They have to prove themselves more As women rise higher up the career ladder, there is still a feeling that they will have to prove themselves more than their male colleagues to get the next promotion.

â- "I want to see the manager!" Many guests and suppliers still assume that the manager will be a man. There are always occasions when a guest says: "I want to speak to the manager," and a woman must explain: "I am the manager." Many people still think that women are less able, and less likely, to hold a position of authority.

For more on personal coaching visit www.personalbestperformance.co.uk

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