Brandie Deignan, is managing director of Black and White Hospitality, which owns, operates and franchises eight Marco Pierre White restaurant concepts. She speaks to Emma Lake about why she thinks it's important for businesses to mark International Women's Day on 8 March
You've spent your career in hospitality, do you think more needs to be done to improve gender equality in the sector?
No country in the world is on track to achieve gender equality by 2030 and when you look at that status quo, it really puts a perspective on things. While there are historical complexities in the causes of gender equality, I think ensuring that everyone in hospitality understands what the challenge is, how it can manifest itself and the consequences, is a crucial first step. Research has shown that women in hospitality often leave the sector mid-career and do not return.
How do you think employers can combat this?
The mid-career exit phenomenon does need fixing for sure. This can be combated, in my view, by creating the environment and subculture that really encourages retention. This is what ‘saved' me when I thought about a mid-career exit. There is a good degree of flexibility in some roles but also a lot of rigidity in others.
When opportunities arise, employers need to rethink the rigidity of career trajectories, especially at mid-level. I also think employers can combat this by providing mentoring opportunities to women before mid-career exit alarm bells ring. Guidance from others can be one of the most powerful tools women can have at their disposal.
Should hospitality businesses be actively focused having a 50:50 gender split in the boardroom?
Gender balance in the boardroom – I can't wait! But it's not all bad news. We have come a very long way – a fact I believe we ought to celebrate. When I first started working in hospitality, years ago, I remember how very masculine the industry looked and felt through my lens. Finding a female board role model to add to the various amazing male board role models I had and admired was hard – a bit of a needle in a haystack.
I genuinely can only remember Karen Forrester at TGIs in those days in hospitality (sorry if I've forgotten anyone else). But how times have changed. We have many great female hospitality business heads and our boardrooms are also looking neater and nicely balanced. That said, we all know we can do more and need to drive sustainable change.
Did you have mentors that helped your career progression?
I attribute my professional growth to mentorship. I had my first mentor when I was a graduate trainee at Hilton a very long time ago and, since then, at each step of my career, I have had mentors. I currently work with two mentors. We meet at least twice a year, which gives me four diverse sessions a year.
The ultimate aim, in my opinion, of having a mentor is to benefit from their experience and guidance without having to suffer the consequence of going through that experience first-hand.
How does Black and White Hospitality mark International Women's Day?
We use the opportunity to celebrate women across the whole business. We are not big enough to have a women's network, but we do try and use the day to listen to and showcase all our women at every level of our business.
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