Reimagining Hospitality Leadership: Opportunities for Women in the C-Suite

Women-owned business

The rhetoric around the lack of women in corporate leadership positions escalated during 2020 and the onset of the pandemic, but this discussion had little to no impact on diversity in the hospitality industry. A recent report from the non-profit Castell Project, which advocates for more women in hospitality leadership and ownership roles, showed that last year the odds of a woman reaching an executive leadership level were one woman to 5.7 men. Significantly more women than men lost or left hospitality jobs during this period, serving to further reduce the numbers of female talent to possibly draw from for future leadership roles.

The strains of the pandemic and other drivers, including the retirement of men from the Baby Boomer generation that hold most hospitality C-suite positions, could provide companies opportunities to reimagine the makeup of their leadership teams. This reimagining could open many more top leadership roles in hospitality to women, outside of the areas of human resources, marketing, and sales, where women are more traditionally represented.

“Maintaining the status quo should not be the goal,” says Peggy Berg, founder, and president of Castell Project. “We need to focus on making progress in the areas where women have the least representation, such as in the fields of investment, development, technology, and information.”

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Supporting women leaders

When employees are trusted with decisions that matter to a company’s bottom line, they stand a better chance of getting to the C-suite. Initiatives to hire and train women into these areas where they are underrepresented can contribute to female leadership growth. Women who feel they are being invested in by their companies often stay longer and gain more effective opportunities to move up in the leadership ranks.

Formal mentorship programs and networking opportunities are another way that hospitality industry companies can encourage career progression. Less formal mentorships can potentially be even more valuable to career growth, and these are situations that women themselves can seek out by identifying current leaders within their organizations they admire who are willing to help sponsor and advise them.

In the entrepreneurial hotel industry, ownership is a major route to leadership. Industry programs that help underrepresented women achieve ownership, such as Fortuna’s Table, can help give more women access to the boardroom and the corner office.

Women leaders contribute to the bottom line

Studies show that profits and share price are much higher when women are well-represented in leadership positions that affect financial performance. With the loss of women in hospitality during the pandemic due to job burnout and other factors, it’s critical to the industry going forward that the situation is rectified. Hospitality companies can take steps to reduce the additional pressures many women and men have experienced. From working at home while caring for children to reduced boundaries between work and home, if companies recognize the scale of the issues and do all they can to address them by putting more flexible policies in place, everyone will benefit.

Companies that invest in building a more empathetic workplace stand a better chance of retaining their women workers. By nurturing a culture in which women have equal opportunities to achieve their future potential, the hospitality industry will be strengthened. If this doesn’t happen, the consequences will not only hurt women but the industry as a whole. The current state of the hospitality industry requires long-term thinking, creativity, strong leadership, and a clear understanding of the value of women in leadership roles to these organizations.

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Catherine Morgen is a partner at Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP in the Real Estate Development and Finance Practice. Morgen represents real estate clients engaged in the acquisition, development, leasing, and disposition of commercial real estate and handles large multi-state transactions, hospitality properties, and office and industrial leasing.

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