It's no secret that COVID wreaked havoc on the hospitality industry. People have traveled less over the past year, and as a consequence of this many hospitality employees lost their jobs, 49% at that. What is interesting to see within this percentage is the demographics of these employees- the “who” of it all. Who was affected the most? Well, the answer is women. 

The number of women to men working in hospitality is about equal, women making up 51% of employees in hospitality and men making up 49%. So this begs the question: why were 32% more women laid off? 

What it comes down to is the nature of female roles within hospitality: they often take up lower-level roles, making them more vulnerable to layoffs. 

Historically, women filling shorter-term and entry-level roles has been due to the expectations of an “ideal worker” in more permanent and senior-level roles. These presumptions include being “available at short notice for over-time, out-of-shift work and to spend multiple days away from home on business” - which does not align with outdated cultural expectations for women to act as mothers and remain family-orientated. 

In the modern day, however, there should be space for women to participate in these roles as freely as men can. Gender norms are shifting - with an increase in paternity leave and stay-at-home fathers, there should be an equally accepted increase of women in previously male-dominated roles. 

The sore lack of females as leaders and owners is obvious. In 2019, the odds of a woman reaching the executive leadership level (CEO, partner/principal, president, C-suite) were one woman to 5.9 men. There are simply too many obstacles blocking a woman’s path to success.

The odds of a woman reaching the executive leadership level in 2019 were 1 woman to 5.9 men

Nonprofits such as the Castell Project are seeking to change this, with their mission statement of “seeing women in more than one in three positions at all levels of hospitality industry leadership and ownership”. Through accessible resources, such as annual research on women and diversity in the industry, leadership programs that “Elevate” and “Build” women up, and their “Podium Initiative” (a maintained list of 1000 potential female speakers, to encourage more women onto podiums and into the spotlight), the Castell Project pushes for women to be seen, heard and recognized industry-wide. 

As it turns out, companies that accelerate women into higher roles reap the rewards: 2021 research found that companies with more than 30 percent women on their executive teams are more likely to outperform those with less than 30 percent women. These companies in turn are more likely to outperform those with fewer (or no) women executives. As a result, there is a substantial performance differential—48 percent!—between the most and least gender-diverse companies.

So what does this tell us? It tells us that women are systematically held back and it is not a representation of women’s ability to work! 

2020 was a year of upheaval and change. The hospitality industry is experiencing a massive and completely unprecedented restructuring. This is both the challenge and opportunity of an era; as we look forward and consider new ways to operate, perhaps we can include systematic changes that accelerate and empower women. As an industry, we need to make sure we are using our resources and conversations to think about how we can uplift and include those who have been previously excluded. We need to check that we are promoting diversity, and paying fairly. The light at the end of the COVID-tunnel seems to be near, and as we all reconsider our old “normal”, maybe it is time for a new normal that sees women at the forefront.