CAN WOMEN HAVE IT ALL?…
The hospitality and tourism industry is a major contributor to the UK’s economy.
According to a recent Deloitte study, the direct and indirect economic output of the UK hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism businesses is worth £115.4bn, equivalent to 8.9% of UK Gross Domestic Product. It was during World War II that women began working in the sector in large numbers, in an era when women were hardly considered for management positions. Whilst times have changed, women still find it hard to secure senior managerial and directorial positions.
Sharon Glancy, founder of Women 1st, the thought leadership, training and mentoring programme for the UK’s hospitality, passenger transport, travel and tourism industries, examines the glass ceiling facing women who want to achieve their career aspirations. A lack of training and mentoring are amongst the barriers women face – but so is the challenge of balancing work and family time. So, can women have a successful and fulfilling career without making sacrifices at home?
Having it all sounds greedy doesn’t it? In the context of working women it seems to imply that we want some kind of right to absolute satisfaction in the pursuit of our life objectives: the right to a loving, content family and a successful, satisfying career? We may as well throw in the right to be thin and beautiful and immaculately presented for every occasion. This is unrealistic and absurd and most of the 2.1 million women who work in the hospitality, travel and tourism sectors in the UK know it too. When we say ‘have it all,’ what we actually mean is the opportunity to fulfil our potential at work, to rise through the ranks on merit, without fear or favour, whilst having a home life that allows us to be decent parents and partners without a career-induced guilt trip. This is now more commonly known, a little tritely, as work-life balance.
So, why is this so difficult to achieve? I can only comment from my experience of the hospitality sector which is where is have spent most of my career but anecdotal evidence suggests that other sectors don’t differ that much.
Research has shown that people tend to recruit and promote people like themselves. It’s a case of familiarity – we like what we know. However, if, as is the case in the hospitality sector, only 6% of all board positions are female, the likelihood of women progressing via the ‘like-promotes-like’ mechanism is tiny. Bearing in mind that across all UK industry sectors only 12% of board positions are taken by women, we can’t rely on peer pressure to precipitate change either.
Senior executives are the ones determining business strategy concerning recruitment, hours, training, mentoring, promotion, conditions, and salaries. Their experience is that the system works; it has enabled them to climb to the top – so why change it? Well, there is good reason for change because women make up 58% of the hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism workforce and is it’s estimated that 310,000 female workers leave the industry each year. This is costing businesses £2.8 billion in replacement recruitment and initial training. When Women 1st delved into the reasons why women were not progressing to senior positions, it found that, along with a lack of flexible and part-time working arrangements, there was gender-bias within recruitment processes, exclusion from business networks and a lack of visible women in senior positions.
Women operate in a different way to men and are more likely to lack confidence in their work-based abilities and are less willing to ‘give it a go’ for fear of failure. Our research revealed that women felt that they lacked suitable career training, role models and mentoring opportunities. Evidence from Women 1st has shown that with the right training, mentoring and support, women flourish.
If businesses are serious about helping women reach the highest levels of their business, driving growth and injecting fresh thinking, organisations need to go further than just offering flexible working arrangements. They need a well thought out career development plan; they need to mentor them and they need to track their progress through their organisation. Given the lack of training and development some women receive at their workplace it is perhaps unsurprising that Women 1st found that some female employees lack of self-confidence, have poor communication skills and low self-awareness. And, while these are not in themselves complex issues for a clued-up business to address, they can be quite debilitating for the individual to suffer.
Mentoring can play a crucial role in helping someone take their career to the next level and it’s important for mentors and mentees to be carefully matched as factors such as chemistry and empathy are important. Internal mentors can be very beneficial for those looking for immediate guidance and career support within their organisation, but feedback shows that having an external mentor can be better for longer-term career development as they often have a broader perspective to draw on.
Once female managers receive appropriate training and mentoring, career progression often follows. It’s important for managers to meet with their staff regularly, obtain feedback on the training and track their progress in the organisation. In fact, this ability to track the results of the training programmes available through Women 1st, and the views of women and their managers, helped to refine the programmes. Having a structure in place that tracks career progression and supports women in dealing with any obstacles or challenges is essential.
So, can women have a successful and fulfilling career without making sacrifices at home? Millions of women all over the UK represent millions of different sets of aspirations, hopes, ambitions, responsibilities, abilities and dreams. But my answer is ‘Yes’ because sacrifice and compromise are not the same thing. To me the word ‘sacrifice’ implies hardship or deprivation for no gain whilst ‘compromise’ suggests a measured concession to secure a desired outcome. For a partnership to work successfully with an employer (or partner for that matter) compromise on both sides is, perhaps, essential, whilst sacrifice benefits no one. It would be glib for me to claim that Women 1st has a roadmap to allow women to have it all, but with the right support, anything is possible.
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