The travel and tourism industry needs visionary female leaders to ensure gender equality and help more women progress to the top of the sector.
Speaking at a World Travel Debate called Sun, Sand and Ceilings, Dr Stroma Cole, a founder of Equality in Tourism, described women’s voices as being “hidden” in the industry.
A recent survey by Equality in Tourism found less than 15% of board members at 78 UK companies in the travel and tourism sector were female while 25% of the companies had no women on their boards at all.
“How can women’s voices be heard if they are not represented at board and executive level?” asked Cole, a senior lecturer in international tourism development at the University of the West of England.
Cole argued that creating more gender equality at the most senior level would only come from women already at the top of the sector’s organisations.
“We believe change needs to come from the top. We need visionary women leaders that understand that women throughout the organisations need to be given that equality.
Not having equality affects the ability to earn, the right to train and the right to promotion. We need women at the top to help women work up through the organisation.”
She added: “Why is no-one talking about gender rights in the industry? In tourism women’s voices are not being heard despite the fact more than 50% of the tourism workforce in the world is female.”
Former Tui Travel UK managing director Dermot Blastland argued the culture set by the chief executive was crucial but stressed the management level below the board are the “real” decision-makers.
“If you have an enlightened chief executive, whether male or female, things will happen. His or her culture is crucial. But company boards are over-rated, it’s the notch down that matters,” he told the WTM debate.
Blastland said more females were starting to move up the ladder as a result of more women taking more relevant, “tougher” degrees such as accountancy, law and science.
According to Cole, the current lack of female representation in company decision-making is having a negative impact on the entire industry as well as on women and their families.
She named barriers to women progressing in the industry as the difficulty of juggling childcare with work; the existing male culture and bias within organisations; the “old boys’ network”, and a lack of women leaders or role models.
Jamaican high commissioner in the UK Aloun Ndombet-Assamba, a former Jamaica tourism minister, told the WTM debate that there were two critical factors to women’s development: education and advocacy.
She added: “We need women role models but you cannot simply appoint someone based on their sex, it should be because of their capability to do the job and this is where training and education are needed. It’s something we are going to have to work hard at.”
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