The International Women’s Day campaign for 2019 is ‘BalanceforBetter’ and evidence shows that more gender balanced senior leadership teams reap significant business benefits for companies. Positive progress is being made to try and achieve better gender balance in the hospitality industry, with the Women in Hospitality 2020 (WiH2020) Review showing over 62% of FTSE 100 companies in hospitality, travel and leisure have achieved their target of having 33% women on their boards and, importantly, there are now no all-male boards in the sector in the FTSE 350. Operators such as Japanese ramen restaurant group Tonkotsu are also specifically seeking a woman chair.
Mind the gap
But in the main, there is still a severe lack of women in key leadership roles across the hospitality, leisure and travel sector in both non-listed and FTSE 350 companies. Hospitality as a sector is still largely comprised of SME businesses and far more focus is needed here to tackle the lack of gender diversity in senior roles.
Operator action needs to be accelerated
Although much is being done to help address the gender imbalance in senior teams in hospitality companies with focused initiatives by organisations such as Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure 2020 (WiH2020); the UKHospitality led Plan B mentoring programme to support women who aspire to senior leadership roles and the newly formed UKH Diversity Forum, progress needs to be accelerated if the industry is to hit the target set by the Hampton-Alexander Review, of 33% female representation across boards and executive committees by 2020.
Inspirational industry women
But there is certainly a small but ever-increasing number of strong women role models in top jobs in our sector to help encourage females aspiring to senior leadership roles. Among them, is Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality, who is also helping drive the industry’s gender equality agenda. She became CEO of the newly formed UKHospitality last February, after previously being CEO of the ALMR.
Other inspiring women in key industry association jobs include Brigid Simmonds, OBE, who has been Chief Executive of the British Beer & Pub Association since 2009 and Amy Lamé, who has served as London’s first Night Czar since 2016.
Retailers’ Retailer of the Year 2019
Among operators offering strong role models to women aiming for CEO roles in the industry is Jane Holbrook, former CEO of Wagamama who left the business at the end of 2018, who was crowned MCA Insight’s Retailers’ Retailer of the Year 2019. She joined Wagamama after spending five years at Whitbread and has also worked at TDR Capital, on brands including PizzaExpress, Ask, Zizzi and GBK.
Rising through the ranks
Holbrook was succeeded at Wagamama by another female CEO, Emma Woods, previously Chief Growth Officer at the company prior to its acquisition by TRG. Woods has progressed within the industry, with her roles including Marketing Director at PizzaExpress and Group Marketing and Digital Director at Merlin Entertainments.
Among women recently moving into senior leadership roles include Bills’ Executive Operations Director Sarah Hills, who started with the company in September 2018, after nearly 18 years at Wagamama, working up from an Assistant Restaurant Manager role with the brand. Karen Stone, who has been MD of Leon Restaurants since January 2018, has also progressed internally in the sector, joining The Restaurant Group as a General Manager and working up to Operations Director. Always an essential name on any list looking at inspiring women in hospitality is Karen Jones OBE, now Executive Chair of Prezzo and Chair of Hawksmoor and Mowgli. She has spent 30 years creating, developing and leading restaurant and pub businesses across the UK including as a Chief Executive Officer of Spirit Group and as Co-founder of Café Rouge.
Karen Forrester, CEO of TGI Fridays, is among other home-grown industry talents, working her way up from a Waitress to a Divisional Director at M&B, to Managing Director of Laurel Pubs before joining TGI as Managing Director and then becoming its CEO.
Flexibility at the top
Jane Bentall, who has been Managing Director of Bourne Leisure’s Haven for three years is a positive example of a woman who managed to stay at the top whilst having a family thanks to the flexible approach of her employer. WiH2020 is running a campaign called ‘Comeback to HTL’, to encourage women to return to the industry after a career break.
External attraction to hospitality jobs
As well as women coming through the ranks into senior positions, the industry is certainly attracting more woman from external industries such as Debbie Hewitt, Chair of The Restaurant Group since May 2016, who was previously group managing director of RAC.
Alison Brittain, CBE, became CEO of Whitbread in January 2016, joining the industry from the banking industry.
Building own businesses
Among woman inspiring others to start their own restaurant business are entrepreneurs Thomasina Miers, Co-founder of Wahaca; Wai Ting, Co-Founder of BAO and Laura Harper Hinton, Co-founder and Creative Director, Caravan.
Raising the bar
Women at the top of pub/bar businesses include Suzanne Baker, Commercial Director at Stonegate Pub Company, who went from bar to boardroom. She was promoted to Board Director at a plc company at 33, just after having her first son. Also Joycelyn Neve, Managing Director of Seafood Pub Company; Jillian Maclean, Managing Director of Drake & Morgan and Sarah Wall, Owner/Director of Livelyhood pubs.
Analysis of Office of National Statistics (ONS) 2018 employment data also shows that in pubs women are overtaking men in the number at manager and publican level. Research by luxury hospitality recruitment company The Change Group also shows that the number of women applying to work in the sector has increased by almost half in the past year.
Looking ahead there are plenty of green shoots towards greater gender equality in our industry, with more diversity in senior roles creating an exciting new talent pool to draw the new CEOs, MDs and CFOs of the future from. Let’s hope that achieving a better balance, something that will drive a better working world for all, is on the urgent priority list of every CEO in the UK hospitality operator. If not the time is most certainly now to act.