Women still have a long way to advance in the C-suite, according to the Castell Project’s latest Women in Hospitality Industry Leadership report. But incremental changes signal hope for an accelerated trajectory, the research team noted.
In 2021 there were more women in senior executive roles, more women on the podium and more women owners in hospitality than the last time the group analyzed this issue in the industry in 2019. These changes come with a shifting perception of diversity in corporate enclaves. “Recognition of the value and importance of diverse leadership is now widespread, so we expect these trends to accelerate,” researchers wrote.
The Castell Project analyzed 671 hospitality companies in the U.S. and Canada to produce its 2021 leadership study. It reviewed attendance details of the four largest hospitality investment conferences in the U.S. to understand how women participated in and gained visibility through conferences in 2021.
Today’s Women Leaders
There are 3.4 male chief officers to each female in a chief position at hotel companies. The Castell Project’s mission is to push that ratio to less than three men to each woman who holds that key leadership role. The needle is moving. In 2019 the ratio was 3.9 men to each woman in the C-suite.
More generally, women accounted for just 30 percent of all hospitality leaders in 2021. Prior to last year, women leaders most likely were to be found in human resources, where they held chief, executive vice president, senior vice president and vice presidents and director titles. A few more were sprinkled throughout the C-level in accounting, finance and other cost centers.
While women leaders dominate HR in hospitality, representing 58 percent of chiefs, their leadership in other areas continues to grow. Women’s percentage of sales chief roles grew by three percentage points in 2021 compared with 2019, and women now account for 60 percent of sales leaders overall, up from 57 percent in 2019. And there’s more movement within the org chart, when it comes to seniority in sales. In 2021, 67 percent of sales directors were women, up from 65 percent in 2019. In the EVP/SVP and VP categories, 57 percent each of those title holders were women, a climb up the ladder from 46 and 53 percent respectively in 2019. Finance was another standout in terms of growth, with women taking 29 percent of EVP and SVP roles, up from only 17 percent in 2019.
These notable advances in sales and finance were exceptions to the slower momentum reflected in a more general view of female leadership in the hospitality sector—either holding steady or inching up only slightly in investment and development, legal, operations and organizational leadership.
Researchers noted director titles topped out the parity threshold for male and female seniority in hotel companies. They wrote, “While there is parity for women at the director level, gains for women in higher level hotel company leadership are minimal. Progress is too slow and does not reflect an industry that offers opportunity to its full roster of employees. This has to change for companies to succeed in the current business climate.”
How Women Are Advancing
One concern, according to a cited STR Share Center report, was the drop in overall enrollment in college and university hospitality programs, which, Castell noted, “have been majority female for many years now.”
Instead, according to the Castell report, women leaders are becoming more visible through attending and speaking at hotel investment conferences. In 2021, women were on the mainstage and appearing as moderators and panelists, more than at any other time—but still only representing 22 percent of overall conference speakers. In 2019, the percent of women onstage was 20 percent and in 2018 that slice was even smaller 15 percent.
Researchers also noted a slight 1 percent upswing in general conference attendance for 2021. Most notable in procurement, where women leaders made up 60 percent compared to 51 percent in 2019; in brokers, where they have finally climbed to the double digits at 12 percent from 9 percent; and in the area of developers, owners and managers, where they grew from 12 percent in 2019 to 16 percent in 2021.
Despite what appears to be a meager presence of women in several hospitality functions and in overall attendance at investment conferences, the Castell Project held out hope that the continued dominance in the HR function would affect more and faster change as the industry responds to a tight labor market.
Citing a Harvard Business Review report that noted that “after women joined the C-suite, firms became both more open to change and less risk-seeking” and “these organizations increasingly embraced transformation while seeking to reduce the risks associated with it,” Castell concluded that “this is the time to accelerate the growth of women in leadership.”
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