Across the world, women are overcoming professional barriers and ascending to leadership positions, but this transition towards achieving equity in the workplace needs to happen faster and with more intention.
Africa boasts some of the world's most rapidly expanding economies and offers a thrilling frontier for businesses. Women have always been a catalyst for change, enhanced living standards, and championed progress in all sectors on the continent and across the globe.
For decades, however, women in the industry have had to overcome roadblocks that act as barriers to career advancement. This problem extends beyond gender-pay disparity, and also includes the disparities in providing opportunities and tailored resources that meet the needs of women with the intention of attaining an equal outcome.
As an industry, we have made considerable strides – according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the hospitality sector contributes almost 10% of Africa’s overall GDP and women make up 69% of its total workforce. In South Africa, four in every 10 employees working in the tourism sector are women, with higher representation in the food and beverage, accommodation, recreation, and retail spaces.
However, despite this representation, the climb up the corporate ladder remains challenging. Women are reaching management and executive positions at a slower pace, leading to fewer opportunities for growth and lower wages. To address this imbalance, a transformative and systemic approach is needed, focusing on strategic actions that tackle gender biases and promote gender equity.
The hospitality industry has a unique opportunity to take the lead towards this vital transition. At Hilton, for example, we’ve made a fierce commitment to creating work environments where all women can thrive – from housekeepers and engineers to general managers and executives.
We’ve done this through revitalising our strategic approach to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in leadership positions with a focus on developing women across our hotels. Hilton’s strategy continues to focus on growing a critical mass of women talent organically, by providing an enabling, safe, and supportive environment to transition into leadership roles.
And while we still have a way to go, our efforts have shown promising results – with the biggest strides having been made at hotel director level, where women leadership representation has grown from 33% in 2016 to almost half (48%) in 2023.
This is in line with our global efforts, where Hilton has committed to achieving 50% gender parity at our corporate leadership levels worldwide by 2027.
Over the last three years, we have also collaborated with Evolvin’ Women, a social enterprise committed to providing skilled placements for unemployed women, providing access to professional development and full-time job opportunities. To date, 36 African women have been trained and provided with employment opportunities across Hilton properties in the United Arab Emirates.
Leadership development programmes
We continually embark on leadership development programmes and hold regular conferences and seminars to educate and mobilise women to take on senior positions across our global network. In celebration of International Women’s Day earlier this year, Hilton implemented a job shadowing programme, providing four top-performing female students from various African nations the chance to shadow Hilton women in executive positions, with the aim of promoting skill development and showcasing opportunities in the hospitality sector.
I have seen first-hand that empowering women results in greater performance and, more importantly, creates a more dynamic and resilient workplace. Industry insight shows that women possess management strengths such as interpersonal skills, determination, patience, pleasant behaviour, and accountability.
More so, women are often hailed for their transformational leadership style, particularly in recognising the importance of coaching and mentoring.
As a group, we are also a headline signatory of the Women in Hospitality Charter which is devoted to increasing diversity and inclusion in the industry, as well as finding solutions to some of the industry’s challenges.
As we conclude South Africa Women's Month this week, let us remember the vital role that women play within the hospitality industry, and effect lasting changes that address these issues and, ultimately, overcome them.