Women in travel: Why more needs to be done for inclusivity
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While the International Labour Organisation estimates that women account for between 60% and 70% of the global tourism labour force, most of those are under 25 and working in low-skilled or unskilled positions.
A 2020 study by the Castell Project found that women held just 12% of hospitality industry leadership positions in 2019, including those of chief, managing director, president, partner, principal and chief executive.
Travel experts say industry players should take the lead by setting inclusivity policies and meeting targets at all levels of the business.
Fortunately, an increasing number of prominent names in the travel and hospitality industry is starting to take a more inclusive approach. And while strides are being made when it comes to gender equality, many organisations are also working towards improving equity for people with disabilities and members of the LGBQT+ community.
Stephanie Aboujouade, the Radisson Hotel Group senior area director of marketing and communications, Middle East and Africa, Radisson, said there was no place for any individual or institution to disregard the gender-equity agenda.
“Social media has given ordinary individuals a tool to voice their opinions, firmly putting businesses big and small in the spotlight as they are called to account by the public. The outcomes may not always be pretty, but the message for business movers and shakers is that people are watching, taking note and sharing their views," she says.
Aboujouade says real inclusivity means going beyond simple box-ticking measures.
“Diversity and equity, along with respect and morality, must be inculcated into the very culture of businesses, via appropriate and targeted education, training, open forums and empowerment initiatives, through which employees, as well as the public, can share their opinions.”
She says Airbnb, for example, has always had strong female representation among its hosts, with figures showing that approximately 55% of its four million hosts globally are women. In South Africa, the figure is even higher, at approximately 60%.
The home sharing platform site has further set up the Airbnb Academy in South Africa. According to Airbnb, since the launch of Airbnb Africa Academy in 2017, more than 200 people have been trained, with 70% of them being women micro-entrepreneurs.
Organisations aren’t restricted to empowering women internally. Their policies can have a positive impact on the societies around them. They can also make a difference by engaging in strategic partnerships.
"A company may, for example, offer more maternity leave than a country legally requires, pushing other companies to do the same.
“Businesses must strive for strategic partnerships that provide equal opportunities where they are most needed. These partnerships should make provision for skills development, such as coaching, training, upskilling and ensuring access to education," says Aboujouade.
With travel set to see a major rebound post-Covid-19, she says it is vital to achieve gender equality.
"Women have been hit hardest by the pandemic’s economic devastation. To avoid that happening the next time there’s a major economic disruption, it’s imperative that the industry not just go back to the status quo but actively push progress towards a more inclusive way of doing things."