This section was written by Veda Ward.
Throughout the evolution of most professions, gender has been a factor in professional entry and advancement. While physical limitations, originally associated with biological characteristics, were imposed to restrict women to home and hearth, a closer examination has identified women throughout the course of human history who pushed the boundaries of accepted social norms of their times and paved the way for future generations to venture into new career areas.
The nature and scope of the hospitality industry seem a logical fit with traditional values, roles, and acceptable work for women. In fact, many of the most well-known areas within travel and hospitality, whether culinary, housekeeping, front-of-house, front desk interactions, planning and organizing events, and general customer service seem consistent with prevalent, traditional social roles and responsibilities for women and girls. Some collapse these skills under “home arts” which emerged as mandatory curriculum for female middle school students through much of the 20th century. As more families came to depend on two incomes, emphasis and reliance on cooking, cleaning, and gardening at home were devalued skill sets and presumed to be appropriate for the least able and educated.
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To be sure, multiple generations of women in the United States have benefited from varied feminist and womanist movements, beginning with the right to inherit property and the right to vote. As social and political movements expanded opportunities for girls and women in education, recreation, sport, and industry, new career opportunities for women began to open up, but similar to many other industries, women began to experience the “glass ceiling” effect limiting career advancement. Commonly, executive leadership positions are limited to men in the “C-Suite” across the hospitality industry and, even though women may lead Human Resources divisions, this may not be designated as an executive function.
One of the ways that women in the hospitality industry have been able to overcome these barriers is by founding and operating their own businesses. While there are many independent hotels, bed & breakfasts, Air BnBs, restaurants, food trucks, and event planning businesses, these are often small businesses and among the most vulnerable to shifts in the industry and economy. At the opposite end of the employment continuum, those working in large systems - whether international corporate hotel conglomerates, national government agencies, or large municipalities - the path to top positions may be unclear and obstructed by both internal and external political agendas. These may include practices of appointing heads of key agencies, corporate board selections, or even hereditary positions. Other factors, such as pressures for increased minimum wage or unionization may impact employment trajectory, conceivably more so for wage-earning women.
The hospitality industry is now described as a broad career area that encompasses travel, tourism, recreation, and parks that share interdisciplinary academic foundations, offer progressive career ladders, and are accessible to all qualifying students. Academic programs are often housed in community colleges and state universities with the mission of educating the future workforce. Competitive internships and work experience are normally required as entry-level qualifications for full-time positions. These expectations may present the first obstacle to the advancement of female employees. Once employed full time, it is difficult, if not impossible for many employees to identify time for an apprenticeship. An example is staging, working unpaid in a kitchen to gain exposure to new techniques or cuisines, often considered essential to advancement and recognition in the culinary world. Increased sensitivity around sexual harassment, corporate culture, unconscious bias, and backlash associated with the #MeToo movement has heightened awareness about workplace characteristics that may lead to discomfort among employees; for example, use of unprofessional language, attire, and other areas believed to be inappropriate or unacceptable to female employees.
It is important to recognize expertise in gender issues in hospitality as an area of specialization that will be increasingly valued across the hospitality industry subsectors. Consider nations moving away from traditional cultural roles now entering the competitive arena, and openly welcoming females into the workforce. How might we assist with identifying and narrowing gaps in equitable employment practices?
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An important consideration is how relevant statistics in the industry are reported. Hospitality organizations often bridge industry sectors and are not always categorized accurately. The question must be asked whether the way we currently define industry sectors and jobs provides the most accurate reflection of women’s progress and opportunity in the industry. Examples might range from Convention Visitor Bureau (CVB) managers identified as “retail”, conference planners listed among “other services”, independent tour guides as “professional services”, private chefs included in “food and beverage” or tour van operators as “transport”. Creating more discrete and descriptive classifications may better represent females across the hospitality industry.
Another approach to increasing success and visibility among femalesX in the industry is to identify new career niches and opportunities. Examples include technology, data analytics, and artificial intelligence applications, as well as inventive services design and delivery. Increased integrative partnerships across industry sectors may increase channels of communication, mentoring and networking, and executive pathway training that identifies and clarifies paths for upward mobility. Below is an example of female executive leadership trends in hospitality technology.
A Different Power: Female Executives In Hospitality Technology
Throughout the hospitality, tourism, parks, and recreation industry there are many examples of successful women, however, an important concern is whether these are the “exception” rather than the “rule”. An important question to ask is, all things being equal, do males and females have opportunities to compete for the same positions and have the same likelihood of succeeding? Here are a few examples.
SALA Hospitality Appoints Two Female Senior Executives
15 Women Making Their Mark in Hospitality
The hospitality, tourism, parks, and recreation industry thrives on the balance among creativity, communication, entrepreneurial, and technological skills. Rarely is there a single individual who has mastered and can deliver in all of these domains at the same level throughout their career. While a commitment to inclusive, fair hiring practices may seem to be a universal mantra in the era of awareness and activism around institutional racism and social inequity, these come among ongoing outcries for employment opportunities for veterans, those formerly incarcerated, unsheltered individuals, and those with mental health, intellectual, or physically disabling conditions - at least half of whom are femaleX. Intersecting agendas with the LGBTQ+ concerns could raise consciousness and evolve into a consensus movement.
Are we moving toward a gender-neutral workplace? This is an important question to consider at any stage of one’s career but is particularly relevant in the current context as many debate the future of the hospitality, tourism, and recreation industry. As industry leaders, it is essential to bear in mind the mobility and volatility of a resilient industry that may require relocating to a different region of the United States or even to another country to keep one’s career moving forward. While gender may appear to be a diminishing determinant of career mobility in the States, it is still a critical factor for women entering and seeking advancement in the global hospitality, tourism, and recreation sector. Additional perspectives on this issue may be found among initiatives undertaken by the United Nations and numerous nonprofit organizations around the world.