What a year it has been for the hospitality, travel and leisure sector! At the beginning of this year, no one would have predicted that HTL companies in 2020 would have no customers, zero revenue and government-imposed restrictions on every aspect of their business. Against this gloomy backdrop, it has been a real privilege this week to launch the Women to Watch and Advocates for Change in Hospitality, Travel & Leisure Index for 2020 in partnership with WiHTL. In an otherwise dark year, this Index – highlighting the depth and breadth of female talent in the sector – has injected some much-needed light.
In 2019, we set out to debunk the myth that there are few female role models in the sector, by publishing our inaugural Index celebrating inspiring female talent in the sector. One year on, the 2020 Edition has continued to showcase that there are countless distinguished women in HTL, from all parts of the sector, across all disciplines and functions, who can act as role models. This year, nearly 100 women have been nominated and selected for the Index because of their commercial and operational excellence, industry and social impact, achievements, resilience and commitment to the sector.
“By highlighting female talent in this Index, it is our hope that we can encourage female and diverse candidates to pursue an exciting and varied career in the industry.”
Indeed, the need for role models has never been more pronounced. Earlier this year, research from The MBS Group, WiHTL and PwC found that Covid-19 has had a disproportionate impact on women and those from ethnic minorities in the sector, and that diversity and inclusion strategies have slipped down the corporate agenda as leaders focus on business survival. Notably, strong female or ethnic minority role models have exited, budgets to achieve D&I goals have been slashed and initiatives to encourage diversity have been put on hold. By highlighting female talent in this Index, it is our hope that we can encourage female and diverse candidates to pursue an exciting and varied career in the industry.
This year, for the first time, we have also included a selection of Advocates for Change: ten men and women who are playing a central role in moving the dial on diversity in hospitality, travel and leisure. These leaders are committed to creating a culture of inclusion and belonging and are leveraging their senior positions to drive lasting positive change.
On Tuesday of this week, it was exhilarating to see our Women to Watch and Advocates for Change gathered together virtually for our launch event to discuss the case for diversity in business and the power of role models in driving change. Attended by each of the leaders featured in the Index, chaired by Tea Colaianni, and including speeches from a number of influential leaders in the sector, the event was a welcome reminder of the scale and impact of the publication.
Keith Barr, CEO at IHG and one of our Advocates for Change, joined us for the event, and began his address by congratulating the attendees: “It is humbling to see all the incredible leaders on this call today,” he said. “That is what you are: incredible leaders, who just happen to be women.” Keith noted how far the conversation has progressed in the space of a few short years, moving beyond gender to ethnicity, and other areas of diversity such as LGBTQ, disability, age and social mobility. “The momentum is building,” he said. “Consumers now expect businesses, not government, to lead the way more and more, not just complying with requirements but going further to push for broader inclusion. But there’s still much more to be done.”
“The momentum is building. Consumers now expect businesses, not government, to lead the way more and more, not just complying with requirements but going further to push for broader inclusion. But there’s still much more to be done.” – Keith Barr, CEO at IHG
Keith rounded off his speech with a word on the future: “As role models,” he told the women on the call, “you should recognise the accountability you have, especially with the understanding that women and ethnic minorities have been more negatively impacted by the pandemic. It is fantastic that there are more role models today than there have been in years… but we must not lose focus.”
Penny Hughes, Chair at The Gym Group, also addressed the attendees, giving a fascinating overview of her 25-year plural career and highlighting some key lessons learnt. She told the attendees about her time at Coca-Cola, where “it was all about recognising individuals and differences – and setting out to deliver against that understanding.”
“Throughout my career I’ve had lots of role models,” Penny continued, “such as Anita Roddick – Founder of The Body Shop – whose ‘profit with principles’ approach was so far ahead of its time. I couldn’t have had a better teacher.
“Now is not the time to stop,” she said. “At The Gym Group we’ve signed the Race at Work charter, we do unconscious bias training, and we look forward to kickstarting a hiring drive with diversity at front of mind. There is no limit to creating diverse teams.”
“There is no limit to creating diverse teams.” – Penny Hughes, Chair at The Gym Group
Excitingly, we were also joined by Hannah Ingram-Moore, co-founder of Maytrix Group and daughter of Captain Sir Tom Moore, whose fundraising efforts for the NHS captured the nation during the height of the pandemic. It was fascinating to hear Hannah’s story, from her experience of being a woman in the workplace to her recent journey supporting her father’s charitable activities and raising an astounding £38.9m for the NHS.
Hannah told the group how diversity and inclusion is integrated into everything she does. “My Dad is a massive champion of women – he raised me and my sister giving us the same tools as he would if we were boys, while at the same time being proud of our femininity. That has made its way into my DNA and now diversity, leadership and equality are central elements of my work at Maytrix.”
In what has otherwise been a challenging year, Tuesday’s event felt like a much-needed boost for the sector – and a reminder of the power of these sorts of publications. Tea Colaianni, Chair and Founder of WiHTL, touched on this in her closing remarks: “This is an opportunity to change the perspective on great talent. It is your responsibility to inspire others, to pave the way for others to be role models, mentor women on the way up. When we do this, things shift and it’s amazing the kind of difference we can make.”
It has been a real privilege to hear the stories of the Women to Watch and Advocates for Change over the last few months. Through every conversation, I’ve been struck by the optimism and passion that exists in the sector. By highlighting these phenomenal individuals, it is my hope that this Index will inspire ambitious women to pursue a career in the sector, and play some small part in driving lasting positive change in our industry.