Championing female talent: launching the Women to Watch and Role Models for Inclusion in HTL Index 2021

Each year, one of the real highlights of our calendar at MBS is getting together with leaders from the hospitality, travel and leisure sector to celebrate the launch of the Women to Watch in HTL Index.

The Index, produced in partnership with WiHTL, highlights the depth and breadth of female talent in the sector. Since its inception in 2019, Women to Watch has provided a chance to reflect on the power of role models, the need for diversity and inclusion and the great number of truly inspiring women that we have in our sector.

Thinking back to that first publication, I can say with some confidence that we have achieved our goal. In 2019, a supposed lack of female leaders was frequently cited as a barrier to progress on D&I, and we, along with WiHTL, wanted to debunk that myth. Since that time, we have featured more than 250 women across three indexes, featuring individuals from all sub-sectors, functions, seniorities and walks of life. It has been a privilege to hear the personal and professional stories, lessons learnt, and challenges overcome from such a diverse range of women. This year, alongside the list of inspiring women, we have also included Role Models for Inclusion – senior leaders who are actively advocating for change in their organisations and communities.

Image of the front cover of the report

So on Monday, we gathered virtually with dozens of leaders in the sector to celebrate the launch of Women to Watch and Role Models for Inclusion in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure Index – the third edition of the publication. Speaking at the event were Debbie Hewitt MBE, Chair at The Restaurant Group and incoming Chair at The Football Association (where she will be the first woman in the position); Nick Mackenzie, CEO at Greene King, and Emma Henderson MBE, CEO at Project Wingman.

Attended by each of the women and role models featured in the Index, and led by Tea Colaianni, Chair and Founder of WiHTL, it was exhilarating to see everyone together and to discuss the case for D&I and the power of role models in driving change.

“I grew up in an era when diversity was not talked about,” reflected Debbie. “And when I joined the sector, female and diverse role models were few and far between. But all that has changed now, and I’d like to say thank you to everyone here for influencing people like me to see the need for these kinds of programmes and this kind of recognition.”

“I’d like to say thank you to everyone here for influencing people like me to see the need for these kinds of programmes and this kind of recognition.” – Debbie Hewitt MBE, Chair at The Restaurant Group and incoming Chair at the Football Association 

Indeed, making a concerted effort to highlight industry role models has never been more important than today. After nearly two years of disruption to the sector, and as we enter a period of continued uncertainty, it is critical that D&I remains high on the agenda, and that we continue to discuss the opportunities that await women in HTL.

“While there has been significant improvement on female representation on the non-executive board, the number of female executives remains very low,” commented Tea Colaianni. “We must continue to focus our efforts on developing the pipeline of female talents within the executive ranks and more importantly, creating a culture and an environment where women can flourish. Our index shows that our pipeline is robust and growing, and that women hold key roles in the industry.”

Nick furthered this point. “Working with WiHTL has really helped us continue to push for greater diversity and inclusion across our industry this year. It was great to take part in the Festival of Inclusion as a guest speaker and engage with so many people and companies who are aligned in building their businesses around equality. It’s great to have worked with WiHTL this year and I’m looking forward to us achieving even more in 2022.”

Nick also spoke compellingly on the power of role models to influence change internally in organisations. “We’ve put diversity and inclusion at the centre of what is a pretty major culture shift in our business,” he explained. “And we’re starting to make real change, much of which is because of the role models we have on our executive team and within our leadership team. Some of which are within this index, which I’m really, really pleased about.”

Rounding off the event was Emma Henderson, former easyJet airline captain and CEO of Project Wingman, a foundation designed to provide critical support to those working on the frontline in the NHS. The last time I’d caught up with Emma was in 2019, when she was featured in the first Index of Women to Watch, so it was particularly humbling and exciting to hear her incredible journey since that time.

Headshot of Emma Henderson, CEO at Project Wingman

Emma’s story – from becoming one of the world’s few female airline captains through to leaving easyJet and launching Project Wingman – was enormously inspiring, and left us all reflecting on the power of resilience and the unpredictability of life.

“We all have the ability to take our passion and our dreams to the next level,” Emma told the audience. “And I’d like to thank Tea, WiHTL and The MBS Group for seeing that something needed to happen and doing something about it.”

I left Monday’s virtual event feeling inspired. While in the UK we may be entering a period of increased uncertainty for the HTL sector and beyond, seeing our industry’s leaders on the call united in the belief of the power of D&I left me hopeful for the future.

I’d like to congratulate every person included in this year’s Index, and thank them for taking the time to share their stories. 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 play a small part in driving positive change in the sector.

Read the full report here. | @TheMBSgroup