Moving from intention to action: a year of progress on diversity in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure (part II)

On a wintry day earlier this month, over 250 of the most influential leaders in the Hospitality, Travel and Leisure (HTL) sector gathered in PwC’s offices to celebrate the launch of our latest report, From Intention to Action, Diversity in Hospitality, Travel & Leisure, produced in partnership with PwC and WiHTL.

The day was spent discussing the results of the report, exploring the compelling case for diversity in the HTL sector, and celebrating the many great strides being made to drive positive change in the sector.

It was exhilarating to see so many of the industry’s most senior figures in one room, and feel the palpable sense of momentum as the sector starts to move the dial on diversity.

Left to right: Andrew Ninian, Karin Halliday, Louise Piffault, Denise Wilson OBE and Michele Rabà.

To start the day, we were joined by Chairs, CEOs and NEDs to discuss views from the investor community on diversity. Andrew Ninian, from The Investment Association (whose members collectively manage £7.7 trillion of assets), expertly chaired a fascinating conversation between Louise Piffaut from Aviva Investors, Karin Halliday from AMP Capital, Denise Wilson OBE from the Hampton-Alexander Review and Michele Rabà from Apollo Global Management. The panel focused on institutional investor’s expectations around diversity – and how asset managers are now using their funds to drive change in the businesses they invest in.

The panel agreed that ensuring diverse businesses is not only right morally – but is also a key commercial imperative to establish diversity of thought and guarantee that the customer voice is fully heard. As Louise Piffault aptly put it: “it is now a matter of resilience and survival.” Andrew Ninian agreed, stating that “businesses with diverse boards and management teams make better decisions and drive innovation, which delivers better long-term returns for shareholders.”

“Businesses with diverse boards and management teams make better decisions and drive innovation, which delivers better long-term returns for shareholders” – Andrew Ninian, Director, Stewardship and Corporate Governance at The Investment Association

It was encouraging to hear some of the practical measures investors are taking to make diversity an essential element of business: Louise told the audience that in 2019 alone, Aviva had voted against the re-election of more than 400 Directors who were failing to get to grips with the diversity agenda (especially nominations committee Chairs).

Particularly powerfully, Karin Halliday noted how the conversation on diversity has developed: investors now expect to see businesses moving from intention – having conversations about diversity – to action – putting specific initiatives in place: “We need CEOs to stop thinking the diversity problem will be solved simply by sending their women on confidence building courses. It would be far better for them to start looking for the systematic barriers and the unconscious biases that exists within their companies.” Denise Wilson went on to say that this change needs to come from the CEO: “when the leader speaks, we see people line up beneath them and things change very fast. That is why it is vital that this comes from the top.”

Left: Keith Barr, CEO at IHG. Right: Dominic Blakemore, CEO at Compass Group.

With this in mind, it was especially buoying to hear questions and comments from the sector’s most influential CEOs who are championing diversity in their businesses and are heavily involved in WiHTL.

Keith Barr, CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, and Founding Member of the WiHTL Advisory Board spoke from the floor on what diversity means to his business: “At IHG, we know that developing a diverse and inclusive culture is critical for us to be successful – it helps us attract and retain the best talent, creates a sense of belonging among colleagues, and ultimately makes our business stronger.” He also commented about the power of WiHTL: “I am proud to be one of the Founding Members of the WiHTL Advisory Board and believe passionately about the role that the hospitality industry can play to advocate for the power of inclusivity in the workplace.”

Dominic Blakemore, CEO at Compass Group, also commented on the need to “strive to find a single voice” on diversity that brings together the needs of the grassroots employees, top tier talent and also the middle section of the business – and suggested that more work needs to be done on diversity in the middle layers of the business, where diversity is often overlooked: “There is so much we can do to create pipelines of opportunity,” he said“and to pull apart the conversation and understand what’s going on throughout an organisation.

“There is so much we can do to create pipelines of opportunity, and to pull apart the conversation to understand what’s going on throughout an organisation” Dominic Blakemore, CEO at Compass Group

Another highlight was the keynote speeches, given to a wider audience of over 200 industry leaders from the Hospitality, Travel and Leisure sector. Denise Wilson OBE, CEO at the Hampton-Alexander Review, and Asif Sadiq MBE, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at The Telegraph, both offered fascinating insights and unique perspectives.

Key notes speakers: Denise Wilson OBE, CEO at the Hampton-Alexander Review and Asif Sadiq MBE, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at The Telegraph.

Denise spoke on the recent findings of the Hampton-Alexander Review, and offered advice to those businesses looking to drive up diversity in their business. She said: “The companies making most progress have allocated a significant budget, held senior leadership accountable and are lifting the lid on every single people process in the organisation, right the way down. Leaders in particular need to inform themselves of the debate and step up, but everybody has a part to play in creating a gender equal workplace.”  Echoing an earlier address from PwC’s Jon Terry, Denise also instilled in the audience the power of capturing, publishing and monitoring data on diversity.

Strikingly, Asif’s keynote speech opened with him expressing his discomfort with the term BAME. “The problem with the banner term,” he explained, “is that we pull everyone together but don’t recognise the differences that make people unique.” Ultimately, Asif called upon business leaders to “go beyond what [they] see” when it comes to diversity, and to make sure D&I is communicated as a priority across the business.

“The companies making the most progress have allocated a significant budget, held senior leadership accountable and are lifting the lid on every single people process in the organisation, right the way down” Denise Wilson, CEO at the Hampton-Alexander Review 

Throughout the day, one reoccurring theme that kept cropping up was role models. It was a pleasure, therefore, to see the entire audience listening intently to – and enthusiastically taking notes on – our panel of inspiring female leaders. Chaired by MBS’ Travel & Leisure practice director Sam Seigler, Pauline Wilson (Operations Director at Virgin Holidays), Louise Byrne (VP Global Talent at IHG), Meeta Zakharia (HR Manager at McDonald’s) and Elizabeth Hogg (CFO at No1 Lounges) took the audience through their career trajectories, their biggest learnings and what their companies are doing to move the dial on D&I. Here, we heard first-hand some of the effects that WiHTL’s masterclasses, mentoring schemes and programmes are having on the sector.

Left to right: Louise Byrne, VP Global Talent at IHG, Elizabeth Hogg, CFO at No1 Lounges, Pauline Wilson Operations Director at Virgin Holidays, Meeta Zakharia, HR Manager at McDonald’s and Sam Seigler, Travel & Leisure Director at The MBS Group.

Role models – those to aspire to – are equally as important as mentors, those who can offer personal support and insight throughout a career. This became clear in the last panel of the day, chaired by Lynne Weedall, a plural NED within our sector.

Lynne expertly facilitated a conversation between Penny Hughes, Chair of The Gym Group, (amongst many other roles!) and Emma Woods, CEO at wagamama. After hearing so much about the power of role models and mentors, it was a privilege to hear Emma talk of the support and inspiration she has received during her career, including from Penny who she currently works alongside as NED at The Gym Group. Emma said “my plea to all of us is how we support, challenge and bring up the next cohort of younger women.” We hope that Emma’s daughter, sitting proudly in the audience, was inspired by her mother’s words!

“My plea to all of us is how we support, challenge and bring up the next cohort of younger women”  Emma Woods, CEO at wagamama

Left to right: Penny Hughes, Chairwoman at The Gym Group, Emma Woods, CEO at wagamma, and Lynne Weedal, NED at Greene King.

In conclusion, Penny urged the industry to “think holistically and be authentic with the way we talk about each other. If we allow people to bring their whole selves to work, it will enable everyone to feel very proud of the environment, culture and results of their business in its entirety.” For those looking to rise up the ranks in HTL, she shared her own key to success: seeing “solutions, not barriers” in your own career path.

Events such as these showcase just how far we’ve come as an industry. In the past year, it has been a pleasure to see businesses from across the industry engage in the WiHTL collaboration platform and dozens of HTL CEOs sign the Diversity in HTL Charter – Paul Pomroy, CEO at McDonald’s and Nick Mackenzie, CEO at Greene King have recently joined Johan Lundgren, CEO at easyJet and Simon Vincent, President EMEA at Hilton as signatories. Thanks to WiHTL and its game-changing initiatives – cross-industry mentoring schemes, masterclasses, gender pay gap and maternity/paternity leave research, Women Returners programmes and the Women to Watch Index, to name a few – we have noticed a real change in the way that businesses in the sector are approaching diversity.

As a sign of MBS’ own commitment to diversity, we are honoured to be the first signatory of WiHTL’s Voluntary Code of Conduct for Executive Search firms in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure, which outlines the steps search firms must take to support clients in enhancing the diversity of their clients’ leadership teams.

Left to right: Tea Colaianni, Founder and Chair of WiHTL, Jon Terry, D&I Lead at PwC, and Elliott Goldstein, Managing Partner, The MBS Group.

The HTL sector can be proud of the steps it has taken to move the dial on diversity. Although there is still a long way to go, reports such as these and events like last week’s demonstrate the power of collaboration – and what can be achieved when organisations come together to drive positive change. | @TheMBSGroup