One of the highlights of the MBS calendar is the launch of the annual Women to Watch and Role Models for Inclusion in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure Index, produced in partnership with WiHTL. Regular readers of this column may be familiar with the publication, which each year shines a spotlight on the inspirational women who are driving change in a sector we all love. This year, for the third time, we have also highlighted Role Models for Inclusion, leaders who are moving the dial on D&I in their organisation and community.
In a normal year, we mark the launch with a buzzy event, bringing dozens of HTL leaders together to network, swap stories, and reflect on the importance D&I. But there hasn’t been such thing as a ‘normal’ year in quite a while! Two years of Covid meant we haven’t convened in person since 2019, and on Monday, our plans for a physical event in central London were hampered by snow and ice that brought the country to a standstill.
So on Monday, instead of gathering at AlixPartners’ New Street Square Offices, we met virtually to celebrate the launch of the 2022 Index. Listening to the line-up of inspiring speakers from our individual homes and offices was an acute reminder of the disruption the industry has faced over the past few years – and HTL businesses should be proud of the progress that has been made on D&I in this time, even in the most challenging of circumstances.
Indeed, thinking back to the end of 2019 – when we published the first edition of this index – the hospitality sector was quite a different place. This was pre-Covid, pre-the Black Lives Matter movement, before D&I was widely accepted as being critical to success, and long before it was common for topics like menopause or neurodiversity to be discussed in the workplace.
Back then, a supposed lack of women leaders in HTL was very often cited as a barrier to progress on D&I. We launched this project to dispel that myth, and today (after four indexes which have featured hundreds of inspiring women role models) I am confident that we have achieved our aim.
It was wonderful to bring everyone together on Monday to celebrate the accomplishments of the leaders highlighted in the publication. We were joined by some of our most senior industry figures, and it was fantastic to hear from Paul Pomroy, Corporate Senior Vice President, International Operated Markets at McDonald’s, and Paul Flaum, Group CEO at Bourne Leisure.
“Once a year in the community, we recognise all those women who have gone above and beyond and really showed their talents in all different ways,” said Paul Flaum. “You are incredible leaders of worth. You’ve got incredible talent. Please make sure that you use your uniqueness and do everything you can to make sure that your potential is realised.”
“You are incredible leaders of worth. You’ve got incredible talent. Please make sure that you use your uniqueness and do everything you can to make sure that your potential is realised.” – Paul Flaum, Group CEO at Bourne Leisure.
It was particularly inspiring to hear from two of the women featured in the index. Janice Duncan, CFO at Rank Interactive, spoke compellingly on her experience of working in male-dominated industries, battling imposter syndrome, and the positive impact of working under supportive female leaders who acted as mentors. “I’m often asked what advice I would give my younger self,” she reflected. “And this is what I’d say: believe in yourself. You’re braver than you think, more talented than you know, and capable of more than you could imagine.”
Shanika Trotman, Partnerships Manager at easyJet and 2022 Role Model for Inclusion, had a positive message to share about the status of D&I in HTL: “I’ve only been in the travel industry for three years, but I’ve never felt so seen or heard in the drive for inclusion in the workplace. Being a role model for inclusion means that people around me feel they can be their authentic selves. And that is so crucial for everyone’s life.”
I’m excited to see the impact that this cohort of Women to Watch and Role Models for Inclusion have on the sector – both commercially and in the drive to make HTL truly diverse and inclusive. In his address, Paul Pomroy spoke to this point, saying decisively that “people in this group will go on to do great things in this industry. It’s so important to make sure that the outstanding women here today get the opportunities they deserve in their future careers.”
“People in this group will go on to do great things in this industry. It’s so important to make sure that the outstanding women here today get the opportunities they deserve in their future careers.” – Paul Pomroy, Corporate Senior Vice President, International Operated Markets
Beyond celebrating the individual impact of those featured, Monday was a chance to reflect on the power of highlighting role models. In breakout rooms, people spoke candidly about their experience of role models, mentors and sponsors. Something I’ve loved about this process is being reminded that every leader has a story to tell about someone who inspired them to succeed. Indeed, many of those cited as industry role models in the report are in fact Women to Watch from previous editions.
Looking ahead, it’s exhilarating to imagine the impact that this year’s cohort will have on the leaders of the future. As Tea Colaianni, founder and chair at WiHTL, said in her opening remarks: “I have no doubt that the personal and professional stories we have highlighted will inspire the next generation of talent to enter and progress within our exciting and inclusive sector. They will also inspire all leaders to be advocates and allies working together to create inclusive environments.”
After all, progress on diversity and inclusion is still too slow. As our joint research with WiHTL found last month, at the current rate of change, it will take more than eleven years to reach gender parity at the top three leadership levels in HTL. Indexes such as these are critical tools, both to inspire lasting change and to prove that there are a huge number of incredibly talented female leaders in the sector. As Elliott said to wrap up the event on Monday: “when it comes to appointing senior leaders, there are no excuses not to have gender-balanced shortlists.”
It has been a privilege to once again work with Tea and her team on this project. From spurring young people on to enter the sector to provoking critical conversations about the importance of diversity, I hope – and believe – that this publication will drive real positive change in HTL.
You can read the full Index here.