According to research from Forbes, women make between 70 and 80 percent of travel decisions, and are also the dominant decision-makers when it comes to choosing restaurants. So why aren’t more businesses in the hospitality, travel and leisure (HTL) sector led by women?
Earlier this week, I was pleased to launch Inclusion at the core of recovery: the WiHTL 2021 Annual Report, providing a detailed analysis of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the HTL sector, an update on a year of progress from WiHTL and the highlights of the industry’s first Festival of Inclusion.
Based on data captured from over 120 of the industry’s leading businesses and conversations with more than 100 Chairs, CEOs and HR Directors, our aim with this report is to hold up a mirror to the industry and provide a benchmark for businesses to measure their progress.
On gender diversity:
• Female representation has increased at Board and executive committee level, reaching 28.9% and 30.7% respectively.
• However, female representation has dipped to 34.4% at direct report level, down from 37.7% in 2020 – representing the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on women in the sector.
• The number of women in the most important decision-making roles remains low, with 76% of businesses having an all-male CEO, CFO and Chair triumvirate.
On ethnic diversity:
• Ethnic minority representation has reached 6.0% at Board level, 3.8% at executive committee level, and 5.5% at direct reports level – still far from reflecting the general population, where 12.5% of people are from an ethnic minority background.
• However, 87% of HTL businesses now have strategies dedicated to improving ethnic diversity, compared to only 24% last year
• Most promisingly, 70% of businesses have said they are collecting data or in the progress of collecting data on ethnic diversity within their organisation.
Overall, our sector can be proud of the energies that are being invested in driving up representation and encouraging inclusion – despite an incredibly turbulent year, HTL businesses remain focused on driving the diversity mix of their businesses. Our research found that more companies have D&I strategies than last year, and that those strategies are more comprehensive, covering not only gender but also ethnicity, disability, social mobility, LGBTQ representation and mental health.
Indeed, when launching the report at a roundtable for sector Chairs, NEDs and CEOs earlier this week, the motivation to move the dial after a difficult period was palpable. In a conversation led by Debbie Hewitt, Chair at The Restaurant Group, and Andrew Ninian, Director, Stewardship & Corporate Governance at the Investment Association, it was humbling to hear how our sector’s leaders are asking the right questions of their teams and implementing forward-thinking policies to drive real progress. Speaking at a preview of the findings, Debbie reflected that “we should really celebrate the fact that we’ve got a yardstick showing where we are and where we need to get to. The discussions have become more meaningful, moving beyond tokenism to how we can execute real improvement.”
In particular, both our research and the conversations at the roundtable highlighted that businesses are increasing their focus on ethnic diversity. This is, of course, in no small part due to the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, which served as a catalyst for change in the HTL sector and beyond. Today, 87% of organisations have strategies dedicated to ethnic diversity, compared to only 24% last year.
Businesses are also ramping up their data collection efforts in this area: 70% of businesses in HTL either collect ethnicity data or are in the progress of doing so, compared to only 56% last year.
However, despite this broad-based progress, and a greater understanding of the importance of joined-up strategies, targets and employee resource groups, there is more work to be done. The sector has failed to meet the Hampton-Alexander target of 33% female representation at the top three leadership levels by 2020, and the most senior teams are far from reflecting the population in terms of gender, ethnicity, social mobility and LGBTQ representation.
Somewhat depressingly, more than three-quarters (76%) of businesses in the HTL sector still have an all-male CEO, CFO and Chair triumvirate, and well over half (65%) of businesses are falling behind the average rate of ethnic diversity at leadership level in the UK (6.25%). As Andrew Ninian commented: “More needs to be done to ensure greater ethnic and gender diversity in senior leadership teams. There are no quick fixes and while a great deal is being done already, more sustained action is necessary from all of us.”
“More needs to be done to ensure greater ethnic and gender diversity in senior leadership teams. There are no quick fixes and while a great deal is being done already, more sustained action is necessary from all of us.” – Andrew Ninian, Director, Stewardship & Corporate Governance at the Investment Association
Perhaps most worryingly, the proportion of women at direct reports level has dipped to 34.4% (down from 37.7% a year ago), reflecting the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on women and the shrinking pool of female talent available to rise up into executive committee and Board roles.
The industry also remains defined by vanguards and laggards. When it comes to gender and ethnic diversity, there is a wide gap between companies that are on track to meet cross-industry targets and those companies that are missing the mark – often by a long way.
“When it comes to gender and ethnic diversity, there is a wide gap between companies that are on track to meet cross-industry targets and those companies that are missing the mark – often by a long way.”
It is clear that the pace of change must be accelerated. Without joined-up strategies that are underpinned by data collection programmes and clear targets, businesses will not be able to unlock the value of diversity. Indeed, D&I has never been more important than it is now: as we move into the latter stages of Covid-19, HTL companies will need creativity and varied insight to rebuild with the customer at front of mind. Those businesses that don’t prioritise diversity will find themselves outrun by more forward-thinking competitors in the coming months.
Speaking on the report, Tea Colaianni, Founder & Chair at WiHTL said: “This year’s report highlights the phenomenal commitment demonstrated by leaders in the hospitality, travel and leisure industry to continue to make diversity and inclusion a key priority despite the existential challenges brought about by the pandemic. Although it’s clear more work needs to be done, by providing a benchmark for leaders to measure their own company’s progress, as well as offering examples of best practice, this report will act as a catalyst for lasting change in the sector.”
The MBS Group has been advocating for diversity and inclusion for more than thirty years. In the months and years ahead, in partnership with WiHTL we will continue to champion this issue in the hospitality, travel and leisure sector – and it is our hope that this report will play some small part in driving positive change within the industry.
You can read the full report here.