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International Women’s Day 2020: How close is the hospitality sector to achieving gender equality?

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International Women’s Day 2020: How close is the hospitality sector to achieving gender equality?

international womens day

International Women’s Day (8 March) acts as a timely reminder – if we need one – that there are still battles to be fought on gender parity.

The day is a celebration of all the societal, literary and political achievements by women. First observed in 1909 – and made official in 1910 at the International Women’s Conference – Women’s Day today is marked by events including panel talks, exercise classes and gigs, many of which aim to raise funds for specific charities dedicated to women’s rights. In Bath, for instance – where HGEM calls home – a special picnic is being held in the Parade Gardens.

The theme for International Women's Day this year is: #EachforEqual. The campaign says ‘Equality is not a women's issue, it's a business issue. The race is on for the gender equal boardroom, a gender equal government, gender equal media coverage, gender equal workplaces, gender equal sports coverage, more gender equality in health and wealth ... so let's make it happen.’


So, how far away from gender equality are we?

The World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Gender Gap Report 2018’ projects that the overall global gender gap will close in 108 years.

Meanwhile, WiH2020, an independent cross-industry body supported by firms including PwC and The MBS Group, looks specifically at gender diversity in the hospitality, travel and leisure sector.

In its latest report, released in February, WiH2020 concluded that “more work needs to be done by many companies to achieve sustainable change” – but it did acknowledge that there was some encouraging progress being made.

The analysis revealed that just 7% of women currently hold the title of CEO across the sector in the FTSE 350. More encouragingly, however, the percentage of women in board level positions at FTSE 100 hospitality, travel and leisure companies increased to 32%, up 3% from 29% in 2017.

The report also found that the number of women not returning to the sector after a career break is “remarkably high”, suggesting either a lack of support or a lack of opportunity to progress.

Women working ‘for free’

Separate analysis by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), published in March, showed a 17.9% cross-sector difference in earnings between women and men. This effectively equates to women working ‘for free’ for the first two months (65 days) of the year.

The hospitality sector – identified as ‘Accommodation and food services’ in the TUC report – fared better than most. Women were found to be paid 4.8% less than their male counterparts, which equates to 18 ‘free’ days.

The TUC concludes that women get paid less on average than men both because they are likely to be in part-time jobs and because they are in lower paid roles. It estimates that it will take 60 years for the gender pay gap to close, and argues that the government must go further to end the disparity by making it a legal requirement for all employers to publish action plans alongside their pay data.

Ending the pregnancy penalty

Another gender issue that is pertinent for the hospitality sector is motherhood. TUC’s report highlights research by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission which looked into the prevalence and nature of pregnancy discrimination and disadvantage in the workplace.

Based on surveys with both employers and mothers returning to work, the analysis found that around one in nine mothers – or 54,000 a year when scaled up to the general population – said they were either dismissed; made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not; or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job.

The TUC says that employers need to ensure women have access to flexible working from day one, and that they are creating more well-paid, high-skilled part-time jobs to accommodate returning-to-work mothers. There might not be an obvious solution to this in the hospitality sector – but it’s imperative that we find one.

So, in short, the hospitality has made some steady progress to close the gender gap – but efforts need to continue with apace if we’re going to reach parity and avoid having this conversation in 50 years’ time.

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