Women 1st – equal contributors

13 November 2009
Women 1st – equal contributors

Women in hospitality are set to benefit from a new leadership and management development programme, which has the full backing of Cherie Blair. Sharon Glancy, business solutions director of hospitality skills council People 1st, explains how the initiative came about and what it can offer individuals as well as their employers.

Wednesday 14 October marked a milestone for the hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism industry - the launch of Women 1st by People 1st, following a long-term project to research and provide practical solutions to a major dilemma.

Women are the backbone of the industry, accounting for nearly 60% of its two-million-strong workforce in the UK. Worryingly though, the numbers plummet as women progress within their careers. The proportion of female middle managers is 40%, dropping to 20% for senior managers. Right at the top, the numbers are even worse, with only 6% of hospitality company directors being female, compared with an average of 12% across all sectors.

Yet management and leadership is an area where women - who tend to have a good command of softer skills - can excel, especially in hospitality, which often suffers from poor standards in this area.

Although management skills in the industry do appear to be improving - the proportion of employers reporting that their managers lack the required skills fell from 30% to 26% between 2005 and 2007 - that still leaves one in four managers with substandard skills.


So why are women less represented in senior roles and what is preventing them from rising further? Various studies, as well as People 1st's own research, have uncovered a number of significant factors.

A major barrier is that with more women in part-time roles, they can be disadvantaged by the irregular hours demanded by parts of the sector. This makes it very difficult to carry out senior positions on a part-time basis and, as the recession continues to bite, those working part time will be hit the hardest and are more at risk.

Taking a break to have children or caring for family and other personal responsibilities can also prove a challenge for career development - a third of women returning to work after having children take a downward step in their careers.

Women's progress within the industry also seems to be severely hampered by the lack of mentors and role models, cited by 41% of respondents in a recent study undertaken by Hertfordshire University. Linked to this is the perception that clear career pathways and robust training are lacking in the sector - one of the main reasons the industry also fails to attract graduates.

The perception of a male-oriented culture within the industry combined with the attitudes of some managers also seems to be holding women back from achieving their full potential. There are certain parts of the sector that are male-dominated - most head chef positions are filled by men, for example. Further perceptions of a long-hours culture and an aggressive work environment also contribute to a lack of women aspiring to, and consequently achieving, seniority as a chef. Indeed, the number of female chefs has actually decreased since 2004, from 50% to 40%.


Armed with useful intelligence and a better insight into the barriers that are restricting the development of women in the industry, People 1st has developed a four-pronged programme. Supported by McDonald's, Sodexo, Whitbread, Barcelo Hotels, Q Hotels and many other leading industry players, its aim is to double the number of women in board-level executive positions by 2015 and improve gender parity in the top two tiers of organisations in the sector by 2020.

The initiative is not a form of positive discrimination; it's about making sure the industry gets the best out of its people. Hospitality has a massive leadership deficit - it is predicted there will be 200,000 more jobs in the sector by 2017, of which 69,000 will be managerial. The industry will struggle to fill these roles successfully without developing and retaining its women leaders.

Through Women 1st, we will be campaigning for employers to recognise the significant loss of trained and skilled talent that occurs when women lack the right support to overcome some of the challenges they face in their careers.


People 1st believes that Women 1st will help to achieve change through a leadership network, mentoring and coaching, personalised training and development, and recognising the achievements of up and coming female industry leaders through the Shine Awards.

The programme is now under way, with 65 female managers currently receiving one-to-one mentoring with the industry's highest performers and continuous professional development.

Over the next six months, participants will explore what is preventing them from achieving their goals and will learn how to gain confidence, create a vision and attain those goals.

They will also have the opportunity to establish a strong mentoring network through local educational events, with inspirational speakers such as Judith Leary-Joyce, the best-selling author and expert on talent development and the inspirational manager.

Expanding the Women 1st programme and extending the opportunity to others within the industry is one of People 1st's long-term goals.

To make this happen, more mentors are needed from the industry who are willing to share their experiences and expertise with tomorrow's potential board directors and senior managers.



  • The number of females working in any management role in the hotel, leisure, tourism and travel industries actually fell from 49% in 2004-05 to 46% in 2007-08.
  • About 55% of women employed in the sector work on a part-time basis, compared with 33% of men. Many women are working below their skill level in lower-paid roles because of the limited availability of part-time work in more senior positions.
  • The industry employs nearly two million people - or one in every 14 UK jobs. Despite the recession, the industry is predicted to grow over the next decade with an additional 208,000 jobs by 2017. When replacement demand is taken into account, more than a million additional people will be required to work in hotel, leisure, tourism and travel businesses up to 2017.
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