Diversity and inclusion is not just for International Women's Day, says Tea Colaianni

08 March 2021 by
Diversity and inclusion is not just for International Women's Day, says Tea Colaianni

Childcare and furlough have seen women disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and safeguarding their careers is a year-round job, says Tea Colaianni

Throughout my career I have been determined to support the career progression of women across our industry. Once I had moved on from my executive career, I felt a sense of duty and responsibility to mobilise C-suite executives into action.

The Diversity in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure (WiHTL) journey began with a piece of research to uncover where companies across the sector were in relation to diversity and inclusion (D&I). The research highlighted that while there were undoubtedly some pockets of excellence, there were too many organisations that were not even at the beginning of their journey.

This and a conversation with Keith Barr, chief executive at IHG Hotels & Resorts, who said that "as an industry we should not compete when it comes to diversity, but we must collaborate instead", inspired me to create the WiHTL collaboration community. The community to date positively impacts over 2.2 million employees globally and has a bold and ambitious mission to make a positive difference to five million women and people from an ethnic minority background by 2025.

Despite the devastating impact the pandemic has had on our industry, there are many companies in hospitality that have engaged with and supported our work. There are many that have continued to invest in equipping their leaders with the tools and insight to be inclusive leaders, looking after the wellbeing of their employees and reviewing their inclusion practices when the instinctive (and necessary) reaction for many has been to cut down on resources for their D&I agenda.

We have to acknowledge that women have been disproportionately affected during the pandemic. More women than men requested to be furloughed, with many citing childcare commitments as the main reason. The consequences will be significant, as taking time out of work during this period may have a long-term impact on these women's development and chances for progression, as well as their earning potential.

To mitigate this impact, we need a package of support in place from the government to rebuild the confidence of those women who have been out of work fully or partially for the last 12 months, balancing childcare with domestic chores, adapting to the Zoom era and caring for elderly relatives while facing an uncertain future. As with the support provided via the Kickstart and apprenticeship programmes, we need similar funding to encourage companies to hire women who have been out of work during the pandemic and facilitate their return to the workplace.

Postponing the deadline for the gender pay gap reporting until October this year (after reporting was not required in 2020) may give some companies more time to get the numbers together and prepare an action plan, but it might also send a signal that this isn't a priority. We need to take this seriously and put in place tangible actions to address what might be a widening earnings gap in real terms.

Today, on International Women's Day, we launched our second Global Female Leader Programme, which will see high-potential female leaders interact, connect, be inspired and progress through a series of interactive sessions over a five-month period. Over 500 leaders joined our celebration of IWD on the theme of Choose to Challenge, and we delivered an inspiring ‘Face Forward with Impact' session, empowering women to take control of their narrative.

In addition to a programme supporting leaders to re-engage with their employees in an inclusive way and a series of webinars on how to be an ethical leader in a vastly different world, we are also supporting more than 150 people through our Ethnic Minorities Future Leaders (EMFL) Programme, which we launched in January in partnership with McDonald's. The EMFL is the best example of industry collaboration in action as it was borne out of discussions within our Race and Ethnicity in HTL Committee.

On 12-13 May we will host the first ever Festival of Inclusion in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure. With more than 60 speakers on topics from gender to race and ethnicity, from LGBTQ+ to social mobility, from age to disability and wellbeing, the objective of the festival is to celebrate diversity across the industry, showcase examples of tangible initiatives that have a positive impact, raise awareness of the benefits of inclusive cultures and the perils of lack of diversity, inspiring people, whatever their background or circumstances, to join and progress within the industry.

I believe no single company can make progress on its own: collaboration in the diversity and inclusion space is the way forward. I encourage organisations to join the ollaboration community and stand together in support of inclusion, choosing to challenge not just on International Women's Day but all year long.

Tea Colaianni is the founder and chair of WiHTL – Diversity in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure

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