Head to head: Can women have children and still reach the top?

09 September 2011 by
Head to head: Can women have children and still reach the top?

The publication of a report last week that proclaimed that it will take almost a century for women managers in the UK to be paid the same as their male counterparts is yet another concern for females aiming to make it to the top of the hospitality industry.

Women 1st has already found that while women make up nearly 60% of the industry's workforce, only 6% of positions at senior board and director-level go to females.

So, not only is it difficult for women to get into management, but the report by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) shows they are being paid less than their male colleagues for doing so. On average, female managers are now paid £31,895 per year, compared with men earning £42,441 for doing the same job.

Having children and raising a family is often given as the main reason why women do not have parity in terms of managerial positions and salaries as men. From a practical point of view, there are a host of reasons why this is so.

Becoming a mother frequently kills off a previous ambition to move up the career ladder - priorities change, with the lure of the chief executive role swiftly being replaced by the over-riding desire to be around to ensure your child reaches adulthood without going off the rails. Juggling childcare arrangements can be a constant nightmare, while the sheer energy involved in coordinating a school timetable and activities while simultaneously drawing up the company accounts is overwhelming.

Debrah Dhugga, general manger of Dukes hotel, London, is one of the few women who has reached the top of her particular sector of the hospitality industry whilst at the same time facing head-on the relentless challenges of raising children. With her 22-year-old daughter, Lauren, having just graduated in medicine from the University of St Andrews and her son, Kurran, 20, currently reading economics at Newcastle University, there is no denying that she has been successful as both a mother and a busineswoman. But she has had to make sacrifices along the way.

Meanwhile, Alison Frith chose to set up contract catering company, Artizian, over having a family. As managing director of the business, she says she could not have balanced motherhood with building up a business which today employs more than 320 employees and turns over £12m. She, too, has made sacrifices.

The route taken by Dhugga and Frith to achieve success has been different, but equally impressive and inspirational. Their stories show that reaching the pinnacle of the industry as a woman is possible, with or without children, so long as the individual is determinedly ambitious and has supportive employers, mentors, family members and a reliable childcare network in place if necessary.

I'm a hotel general manager and I have two children

Many women I know work harder than a lot of male colleagues, almost feeling they have to in order to prove themselves I myself have done this and still do. It's very easy in this job to work 12 hours a day, every day. A good manager should ensure the business runs just as well when they are not there. Women tend to suffer from guilt if they are not around and I still don't understand why that is so.

Historically women have not progressed as far as their male counterparts in the industry I cannot remember ever meeting a female manager when I started out in the industry. However things are now changing for the better. We need to tap into the skills and the experience of young women by convincing them to make themselves available for senior appointments.

I enjoy mentoring females in our industry, sharing my story and proving you can have a family and a career It is not easy and I would never pretend it was. You have to make sacrifices. I speak to schools and colleges about the importance of driving our industry as a career and not a job.

I like to create a diverse management team which often results in a better managed company, with a greater understanding of the needs of its customers and workforce, and a richness of ideas that is often lacking in an all-male environment. Companies with a diverse senior team take their decisions from a wider viewpoint.

Women are often their own worst enemies when it comes to succeeding in hospitality It frustrates me as sometimes women are not willing to sacrifice. When you are climbing up the career ladder, you have to be flexible and be prepared to travel. Sometimes women find this hard because of their commitment to a relationship or children.

If there is more than one salary in the household, consider them together as one and then cost in your childcare. You have to ask yourself do you really want a career as if you start thinking financially it's probably not worth it. And then there is the challenge of the hours.

I would lie if I said I never suffered from guilty mother's syndrome I missed out on school plays, carol concerts and sports days. However, I made sure I was organised at home so I did not have the worry of childcare. I employed a fantastic nanny who become an extended member of our family and supported me with my children until they were 14 years old. But there is not doubt that it was very expensive to pay for a nanny, nursery and school fees. I wanted to be a young mother and now it's great we all go out and socialise together. I don't think they suffered in any way and show that it is possible to work hard and be a mum.

Having a mentor can be beneficial to your success My current mentor works for the hospitality sector, but in the banking world. I also have a very experienced colleague in the industry to turn to for advice. These people are priceless.

Identifying someone you admire and respect in your industry is the first step to establishing a successful mentor-mentee relationship. Since launching Leading Ladies of London, I get regular telephone calls from females in our industry who just want some advice. Your mentor should see your needs as important, be able to assess your strengths and weaknesses and help you become the star you want to be.


â- Spent 10 years as area sales manager (north) with Thistle Hotels
â- Moved to Malmaison Hotels as director of sales and marketing in 1996 and stayed nine years
â- Appointed chief executive of Tom's Companies, overseeing two hotels, two restaurants, three spas and 250 staff.
â- Took a one-year break from the hospitality industry as director of retail and spa with GHD Hair
â- Appointed general manger of Dukes London in 2009 and UK representative of Seven Tides Hospitality

I forewent children in order to start my own business

Every day we make decisions based on the facts we are presented with at that moment in time Whether we make the right choices is frequently determined by how things pan out and how we feel at a later point. My decision in retrospect was setting up my own company, Artizian, over having a family. I always thought I would have children but kept putting it off, whereas in contrast, setting up Artizian always felt like the right thing to do and I am frequently reminded how I would have struggled with managing the business as well as having children.

Many can combine motherhood with building a business. I simply couldn't for many reasons, including the unplanned 48-hour stints I have had to work over the years.

Primarily I struggle with compromising and believe I would have had to compromise in balancing children and moving ahead in my career. This might have been different with the right infrastructure to support me. Today, I see that those who struggle in parenting are the ones without the right infrastructure to help them through.

Through my work, I continue to come across many women who are high achievers and are on the cusp of going places then choose to have a family When they return to work, I often hear that the time out has made them rethink their priorities and they want the right balance to suit their changing needs. It is certainly not a capability issue that is allowing male counterparts to progress further rather than choices being made.

Women tend to hold back on pushing forward in their careers, only applying for promotion when they believe they are truly ready Many refer to a glass ceiling, I can't say I have ever experienced this myself, but perhaps there is an unspoken respect for those who own a successful business which is why I haven't noticed it. However, I do see men being more "purposeful" in striving for the next level. Women work diligently and apply for positions when they can tick every single criteria of the job on offer.

Often women will focus on completing tasks in the background without feeling the need to shout about their successes. When they receive praise, they counter it with all the things that are not right or still need to be done. Better to take well deserved praise and tell everyone about it which will make us feel a lot better, than telling everybody about all the things still needing doing!

In Artizian, we encourage evolving and progressing team players, male or female, so they are ready for the next step up Where we can, we accommodate flexible working, but it is not always possible and we have to be real about what will work. We stay in touch when team players are away from the business and involve them in activities they wish to be involved with so they are current with where we are at when they return.

I wholly support mentoring having gained so much from our business advisors myself They have such great objective viewpoints and have a way of steering you or even firming up that you are absolutely on the right track, and even redirecting you if you've taken a wrong turn. My decision of setting up Artizian has definitely panned out very well and was absolutely the right choice for me.

â- Studied a BTEC HD in catering and institutional management
â- First job after college was as an assistant manager with Compass (then Grandmet)
â- Fast tracked to become an area manager of Compass by the age of 24
â- Joined Sutcliffe as a new breed of area manager and promoted to sales manager within three years
â- Set up Artizian in 1997. The company has since been named as one of Europe's fastest growing and dynamic mid-size companies, while Frith was a semi-finalist in the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards 2004 and named as one of Women 1st Top 100 Most Influential Women in 2011

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