Focus: Study says still more women needed in top travel jobs

Study says still more women needed in top travel jobs

Although there is progress being made with regard to female representation within top travel companies, there is still some way to go to meet industry targets. That’s the verdict of a thorough and comprehensive survey which has just been carried out in the UK.

For the past few years, large travel firms have been working towards a voluntary target of 33% female representation at boardroom level, set by the influential Hampton-Alexander review, which is a Government-backed initiative to ensure more female voices are heard in senior positions not just within the travel industry, but across all FTSE 100 companies and beyond. The latest update on statistics was released early in February 2019, and made for interesting reading.

The update has been provided by Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure, which is headed by Tea Colaianni and consists of various figures from across the travel industry, including input from the MBS Group of executives and PwC. Although it doesn’t have the power to make or enforce guidelines by law, it’s a highly regarded entity whose guidance is followed by the vast majority of large firms.

The data within the update shows that the ratio of females to males on the boards of those FTSE 100 companies who operate within the sphere of travel has gone up 3% within the past twelve months. It now stands at 32%, just 1% short of the target with another year to go to achieve the aim. Travel companies are performing better than most companies concerning progress towards the goal. The average across the sector is only 30%. The sample sized uses to gauge the figures is 120 companies, who voluntarily gave interviews and submitted their internal data to the panel for their assessment.

Encouragingly, the women who are being elected and promoted onto boards are being given positions of responsibility, with pleasing increases in the number who now hold either direct report or executive committee positions.

Gender equality in terms of both positions and pay has been a significant focus for all FTSE 100 companies since 2017, when a change in UK law made the publication of gender ratios and the average pay of each gender became mandatory for any firm employing more than 250 people. There was some cause for concern with the first set of figures that were published, but top firms must be credited with working hard and fast to address the representation issues.

Not all of the latest data makes for pleasant reading, though. Although the percentage for the sector as a whole has increased, it’s being helped along by particularly progressive firms who have female representation well in excess of the 33% target, in some cases sitting at 50% or even higher. That balances out the performance of other companies in the report who have yet to be seen to take corrective action, or worse still have gone backward since the first publication in 2017. Only a quarter of all firms are currently at or over the target, and some of the remaining 75% is 10% or more below target.

The picture outside the FTSE 100 is less rosy, too. FTSE 250 companies lag far behind their larger peers when it comes to female representation, with a sector average of only 25%. That figure is even lower in the travel industry, coming in at only 20% – although that’s still a 2% increase compared to the previous year.

Although the primary function of both the Hampton-Alexander review and the Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure group is to encourage companies to put more women in the boardroom, the position that those women ultimately hold is also important, and it’s there where we find the most troublesome figures. 40% of all non-executive directors within the FTSE 350 are women, but only 7% of all FTSE 350 companies have a female CEO. This trend suggests that although women are being given a voice, they’re not yet being given the opportunity to lead.

The data also contains figures and statistics which are incidental to the aim of the reporting, but identify problem areas regardless. Those from a black or ethnic minority background are significantly underrepresented in boardrooms, with only one in every thirty-three industry leaders stating that they consider themselves to be from a BAME background. That will be a matter for another specialist consultation group, which was approved and launched by the UK Government in October 2018.

Positive action is already being taken on the back of the data. Businesses from across the sector have come together to launch an initiative called ‘Come Back to HTL,’ with the aim to encourage women to return to their former positions within the hospitality, travel and leisure industry after taking a career break or maternity leave. More women leave the industry and don’t come back after such a break than they do in most other large industries. The precise reasons for that will require more research, with those behind the new initiative hopeful of making progress within the next year.

The changes within the industry are deemed as necessary in light of the continual change in women’s roles in broader society. We’re slowly seeing more women introduced to the boardroom at the same time as they make inroads into various other sectors that were once considered to be male-only areas. In recent years we’ve seen the gambling industry open its doors to women, resulting in the creation of Rose Slots. Whereas it was once believed that women’s interest in the casino and gambling world didn’t extend much beyond bingo, statistical analysis revealed far higher female online slot players than were anticipated, and so the company behind Rose Slots has moved to serve those players. Even in the notoriously conservative world of religion, there’s been recent progress in the UK; Libby Lane became the first consecrated female bishop in the history of the Church of England when she was appointed in 2014.

Given the size of the hotel, leisure and travel industry in the UK, it’s of particular importance that businesses are seen to be taking a leadership role in relation to gender equality and opportunity. The sector is the third biggest private employer in the country, and as such has a responsibility to set an example.

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