Women’s Leadership in the Travel Industry and Why It Matters

January 7, 2020

Women in the Travel Industry

When it comes to the travel and hospitality industry, women are the dominant sellers, consumers, and workers. According to a Travel Weekly report, 60-65% of hospitality workers are women, 72% of travel agents in the US are women, and it has been estimated that 70% of all decisions on travel are made by women. Many property management businesses have been founded and are run by women.

As you move up the ranks of business, the proportion of women often decreases. This phenomenon is not only a hospitality industry issue but can be found in a majority of industries. The World Economic Forum confirms this as they have found that 10% of CEOs are women, and women make up only 15% of senior management.

Women’s Leadership

According to a study by McKinsey and Lean in 2019 surveying close to 600 companies, there have been signs of progress in the representation of women in corporate America. Over the past 5 years in the C-suite, women in leadership roles have increased from 17% to 21%. Today, 44% of companies have three or more women in their C-suite which is up from 29% of companies in 2015. While these numbers are low, the addition of even one woman can make a material difference, given the critical role top executives can play shaping the culture of a company.

The National Center for Women and Information Technology found that companies with women in leadership roles outperformed other companies in the measures of team dynamics, accountability, direction, capability, work environment and values just to name a few. Gender diversity is especially important in the vacation rental industry, which is predominantly comprised of women. An additional study by McKinsey & Co found similar results, determining that with strong female representation on executive committees, companies perform better than those without women in leadership roles.

What’s the bottom line? Businesses execute better in all areas, including financially when there is more gender balance on the board and in senior management.

Challenges and Opportunities

It is obvious that there is a clear case as well as a moral imperative for increasing gender diversity in business, so why are more women not climbing the ladder in the hospitality industry?

Generally, a large part of the workforce in our industry is evenly distributed across both line and staff roles early in our careers. Women however begin a disproportionate shift into staff roles by the time they reach the director level. Some say it is a lack of networking opportunities. However, The World Economic Forum suggests the lack of female leadership and in turn role models is a key contributor indicating women are not receiving the same guidance to stay in the line positions as their male co-workers.

Several factors can contribute to women not holding top positions in travel. They range from the culturally ingrained gender dynamics to the challenges of staying at the forefront of your field while managing a household. Unequal compensation for the same or similar positions to what many refer to as “the broken rung” or the first step to senior leadership which is the transition to management. The good news is, we are starting to see change.

Creating Change in the Travel Industry

To facilitate change, organizations must create programs that actively promote gender equality. Programs such as mentorship and leadership development programs can help prepare and empower women to assume executive roles. Companies must understand that gender equity, as well as other diversity strategies, must be planned for, and built into the fabric of their mission, vision, and values.

Policies and procedures can contribute greatly to gender equality in the workplace as we have seen with the increase in remote job opportunities which have shown heightened innovation, productivity, employee well-being and job satisfaction, along with unlimited vacation programs that promote work-life balance.

The future of our industry relies on making positive changes toward balance in our workforce from interns to CEO’s. More women must be prepared to assume leadership roles and claim invitation to the C-suite. It will only benefit our industry in the coming years.