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Fri 8th Mar 2019 - Friday Opinion
Propel Friday Opinion Takeover – for International Women’s Day 2019

Introduction by Laura Harper-Hinton

Today is International Women’s Day 2019. A day in which we celebrate the social, economic, political and cultural achievements of women globally. First marked more than 100 years ago and universally recognised by the United Nations in 1975, International Women’s Day is all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action. 

This year in particular there is much to applaud and be positive about. Through grass-roots activism we are seeing worldwide action – action that spans nations, cultures, socio-economic groups, industry and individuals. The #MeToo & Time’s Up movements of 2018 are nothing short of a global revolution in women’s rights, reaching well beyond their sexual-harassment foundations and accelerating change on a scale not seen before. Change is in the air. In fact, it’s swirling all around us. A force for good. 

However, the challenge is to carry on this momentum, keep up the fight and continue to confront the status quo. Today, and every day, is about a call to action – a call for collective action and a shared responsibility in attaining worldwide gender equality. We need everyone on board, all the time, everywhere and not just women. We are all in this together. 

In that spirit, I want to thank Paul Charity and the team at Propel for allowing me to edit a takeover of Friday Opinion for International Women’s Day. There is much to celebrate in our sector and globally, as you will see from the articles commissioned. Equally, there is so much more to do. 

Ann Elliott writes about a brilliant flagship mentoring programme, Plan B, which aims to provide women who aspire to senior leadership roles in hospitality with outstanding mentoring, advice and motivation from objective and supportive mentors – and I’m proud to be one! 

Holly Addison provides valuable insights into the current status of senior women in the hospitality, travel and leisure sector and a strong business case for why we need more female representation at decision-making levels. Fact – diverse boards outperform non-diverse ones. 

Kate Nicholls discusses targets and measurement at government level and tracks how our sector is performing compared with others in gender representation. With a particular focus on gender pay and board make up, our sector has much to be proud of, with more work to be done. 

Marcel Khan celebrates victories in global progress for women in political representation, legal rights and empowerment, and reflects the war is far from won.  He makes the incredibly important case for intersectional feminism to take it from here and that true diversity should be our collective objective. 

Tanya Gohil gives a personal account of why she agreed to participate in the BBC’s My Million Pound Menu programme and the specific challenges an Indian female entrepreneur in the hospitality sector faces. She highlights terminology and categorisation issues that affect women in food, particularly those of Asian background. 

Lastly, Sally Whelan says International Women’s Day is about celebrating the opportunities and choice hospitality gives us all. 

I hope you find these articles illuminating, thought-provoking and inspiring. It has been a pleasure discussing these topics and insights and I thank our contributors wholeheartedly for taking the time to share their thoughts. 

Most importantly, though, I hope something you read today inspires you to DO something. Activism and a case for positive change is all around us. Let’s turn this vision into everyday action. Let’s create a world where we all win. Join the fight today and do something that truly makes a positive difference to women. I promise you won’t regret it. 
Laura Harper-Hinton is co-founder and chief executive of Caravan Restaurants and Caravan Coffee Roasters 

Plan B is working by Ann Elliott 

When Kate, of UKHospitality, Holly, of Odgers Berndtson, Emma, of BT Sport, and myself originally met to discuss what would become the Plan B mentoring programme, we were all aware of how balanced boards perform better than non-balanced boards in terms of Ebitda delivery. We wanted more businesses to have women on their boards because it makes commercial sense – not just because it’s the “right thing to do” and not just in non-executive director roles but in executive roles as well.

Female non-executive directors are in demand in our sector and if a company wants a 50:50 interview list for executive, managing director, chief executive or chairman positions, there aren’t always enough talented women available to fill the list. We wanted this to change and for masses of brilliant women who are good enough, and deserving enough, to be given the opportunity to be interviewed for board-level roles.

We asked ourselves how we could develop senior female talent so they would be ready and capable to be considered for board roles. Emma suggested speed-mentoring as a way forward. We weren’t sure how this would work but knew it had worked in other sectors so were willing to give it a go and learn from the experience. 

We held speed-mentoring sessions on two nights in late January, with about 14 mentors and 16 mentees at each. Our mentors (men and women) all held board-level positions and our mentees, on the whole, were one to two steps away from board-level roles. At the end of the evening we asked mentors and mentees who they wanted to work with and have now matched partners so each mentor has one or two mentees. It is now down to them to make the mentoring process a success. Each partnership will work in a different way and suit the needs of both parties – it could be via Skype, face-to-face meetings or phone calls and as informal or formal as they like, lasting as long as the process remains useful and valuable to both sides. 

The feedback from the two events has been fantastic. 

“The evening was smooth. You knew where you needed to be and when and it was great there were several mentees available during the break so you got to talk to other women looking to progress, not just mentors. It was structured with regards to timing but also very relaxed.”

“Great event. I felt honoured to be a in room with so many successful and inspirational people.”

“I think the key benefits are to take time out of the day-to-day to reflect, meet inspirational mentors and like-minded peers.”

“It was great to meet so many people in the industry. I think the structure of the event was spot on – 15 minutes seemed like a good amount of time to get to know people.”

“It was very encouraging to meet so many ambitious women. The range and difference between the six mentors I spoke to was brilliantly broad, possibly all some had in common was success.”

“All the mentors were top quality! It was great to meet a range of people. Compared with superficial networking events it was great to speak seriously with people immediately.”

“It was a rare opportunity to not only meet inspiring senior figureheads in the industry but also share experiences and stories with our peers, which I think is equally as important. It was eye opening and a well-rounded experience. I loved the idea nobody knew anything about each other before the event as it meant you had to get to know one another in a short space of time. There is nothing else like this and, when I speak to my family and friends, they think it’s an amazing scheme. I agree. I feel lucky to be part of it!”

We were all blown away by the success of the sessions and encouraged that so many women have found mentors to help them on their journey to attain board-level roles.

Our next three speed-mentoring events take place on 14, 15 and 21 May in London. If you are interested in being a mentor, email or, if you would like to be mentored in your ambition to move into a board-level role, email me on 
Ann Elliott is chief executive of sector agency Elliotts

Hospitality should be leading the way by Holly Addison

Gender is by no means the only diversity issue in our industry but, on the basis almost 51% of the UK population is female and the number of women holding the most senior jobs in the boardrooms of Britain’s biggest companies has barely changed in the past ten years, this is surely where we need to start.

Building a gender-diverse leadership team with an inclusive culture is not a “tick-box” exercise, it is a vital component of how successful businesses are run today – and we know it directly correlates to improved financial performance.

Women bring a different point of view and often have more diverse backgrounds. Their perspective can be refreshing and studies have shown female executives typically have higher levels of emotional intelligence and social leadership skills. 

There are now more opportunities for women to take a seat at the board table, but progress in certain quarters remains painfully slow. More proactive measures are required to provide ladders to help women progress, particularly to board and C-suite level. Sadly, in many instances those women who have broken through the barriers have done so through their own perseverance, determination and readiness to compromise than any proactive measure by the industry to facilitate career progression for women.

However there are positive signs – more than three-fifths (62%) of FTSE 100 companies in hospitality, travel and leisure have achieved their target of having one-third (33%) of women on their boards and, importantly, there are now no all-male boards in this sector in the FTSE 350.

However, four-fifths (80%) of the hospitality sector still comprises SMEs and far more focus is required there to tackle the enduring “macho” culture and poor work-life balance that still exists. Only 11% of non-listed companies in hospitality, travel and leisure have female chief executives.

Serious improvement is required among the larger firms too – only 7% of FTSE 350 chief executives in the sector are female and, when Kate Swann steps down from her position at SSP later this year, that figure will fall to less than 4%.

Something needs to change – so what can be done to make the path easier?

Promoting flexible working, having agile systems and establishing support networks are all incredibly important factors in improving the retention and promotion of women but, to be effective, they must be extended to everyone. Men also stand to gain from proactive change in the pursuit of gender equality in the workplace. 

We also need more role models – senior women and men prepared to stand up for the right behaviour when it comes to prioritising family values, understanding caring responsibilities and encouraging a healthy work-life balance, living those values themselves and sharing their learnings and experience. 

Odgers Berndtson hosted round-table discussions last year, sounding out industry leaders on what could be done on a practical level to get more women into senior leadership roles. Virtually every senior female executive we spoke to referred to the impact a mentor had made – whether as a formal mentor or coach, a previous boss or even a family member – in helping them get where they are today.

With the help of CGA and UKHospitality, we gauged attitudes in the sector. Our survey found more than four-fifths (82%) of business leaders agree there should be more women on leadership teams in hospitality, while almost two-thirds (65%) believe it’s important to have a mentoring scheme in place – yet almost half (48%) have no plans to implement one.

Encouragingly, more than two-thirds (71%) of respondents think a sector-wide initiative would help get more women on leadership teams.

Armed with this knowledge a group of like-minded women got together and with the support of our respective organisations – Odgers, UKHospitality, Elliotts and BT Sport – we launched the Plan B mentoring programme in October.  

Plan B is well under way and aims to provide women who aspire to senior leadership roles in hospitality with outstanding mentoring, advice and motivation from objective and supportive mentors. By providing that practical advice and support, the hope is these women will go on to become executive and non-executive board-level directors. 

We want women to believe in themselves and their ability to contribute at the most senior levels to the success of their organisations. Hospitality is a true meritocracy – and we should be leading the way.
Holly Addison is head of consumer digital, telecommunications and hospitality at executive search firm Odgers Berndtson

Driving further improvement by Kate Nicholls

Creating diverse and inclusive workplaces – where all talent can thrive, leadership stereotypes are challenged and individuals are valued for their skills and capabilities – is not only morally right, it is a pragmatic business objective. Research shows diverse leadership teams make better decisions and foster a culture of inclusivity at all levels of the business. This, in turn, has a positive impact on productivity and profitability. It is estimated bridging the gender gap alone would add £150bn to the UK economy by 2025.

Hospitality has always been a model of diversity, with jobs at all skill levels and all regions and an in-built business imperative for flexibility. The industry rightly prides itself on offering opportunity for all, irrespective of background, age, skill level, race or gender. It is the ultimate meritocracy, promoting on ability, and while much more can and must be done in this space, it’s unsurprising hospitality scored reasonably well in the latest government league tables on diversity and inclusivity.

I’m not a great fan of targets, preferring instead to see individuals recognised for their competence and ability, but it’s a truism that what is measured gets prioritised and gets done. The Hampton-Alexander Review set a target of having one-third (33%) of female leaders by 2020 and, while the focus has been initially on boards, this also applies to executive committees and direct reports into them, ensuring businesses invest in a strong talent pipeline. In 2018, the government also made gender pay reporting mandatory and is currently consulting on similar proposals for black, Asian and minority ethnic workers.

The first-year reports on gender pay make positive reading for hospitality. We have the lowest gender pay gap of any industrial sector – 7% compared with 15% for the economy as a whole. This is to be applauded given the large numbers of female workers at all levels of the business but particularly given the much smaller proportion in senior leadership positions. In fact, gender pay reports carried out by PwC on hospitality, leisure and travel companies found that while pay and bonus gaps were driven by differences in opportunity, they weren’t affected by the proportion of men and size of company. PwC’s WiH2020 report published last month also showed this gender gap will continue to improve as the sector as a whole is increasing diversity in senior leadership positions.

For the first time, there are no all-male boards at FTSE 250 companies in hospitality, leisure and travel and, at 33%, the number of women on boards in FTSE 100 companies is almost at the government’s Hampton-Alexander target a year ahead of schedule – up 3% since the start of 2018. 

Across the sector as a whole, the number of women on boards, executive committees or who directly report into those groups has also increased, to 35%. Meeting the targets early – particularly at levels below board – means the industry stands in good stead to deliver a diverse and inclusive workforce in the future.

However, the report also highlights challenges that have yet to be overcome. There are currently no female FTSE 350 chairmen and only 7% of chief executives are women. In listed companies, all too often the target for senior women leaders is being met through non-executive directors – with almost two-fifths (39%) of FTSE 350 non-executive directors being female. While it’s helpful to have senior female role models in companies, a focus on the non-executive director side can mean insufficient attention is given to developing and supporting the female talent pipeline.

That’s why it’s better to measure the health of the sector by looking at diversity, not just at board level but also executive committees and who directly reports into them. For hospitality, leisure and tourism as a whole, the outlook is more promising – more than one-fifth (23.6%) of boards are female across the sector as a whole, while more than one-quarter (25.4%) of executive committee positions are held by women and, when it comes to direct reports into executive committees, the figure reaches 36.8%.

Although the targets only apply to quoted companies, a significant bright spot is progress on women senior leadership positions below board has happened further and faster in the smaller and private companies, where it is approaching 40%. There is a groundswell of talent coming through, which we need to support and encourage.

The key to driving further improvement in this area is to ensure women have access to the same opportunities as men and are encouraged to take advantage of them. In my first year as chief executive, we have made tackling this a key strategic priority within UKHospitality, supporting Women In Hospitality’s diversity charter and helping to launch the Plan B mentoring programme.
Kate Nicholls is chief executive of UKHospitality 

Time for intersectional feminism by Marcel Khan

2018 was a watershed year. On a global level we saw serious progress for women in political representation, legal rights and empowerment.

Reasons to be cheerful:

– Rwanda elected a majority-female legislature
– A landmark ruling in Iceland outlawed the gender pay gap
– Legal protections against sexual discrimination were pushed through in Chad, Cameroon, Egypt and Guinea
– The US saw a so-called “pink wave” of female candidates in its mid-term elections
– In October, Ethiopia’s cabinet reached a national record of 50% female representation
– There are now more women on UK boards than ever 
– From 2007 to 2017, women’s board representation in FTSE 100 companies increased from 11% to 28% (still 22% short but still)

I salute all women and men who have fought and are fighting hard to bring these changes into our world. These developments are also a fantastic antidote to the nay-sayers who claim activism is dead and “young people aren’t doing enough”. On an international scale, activism is more alive than ever – and it’s yielding results. 

Yes it’s about time and, make no mistake, power is, and has never been, surrendered voluntarily. Two-time Fifa Women’s World Cup winner and Olympic gold medallist Julie Foudy said: “Most federations, corporations and governments don’t change voluntarily. Change is brought by the disenfranchised demanding better.”

The victories above were hard-won and are to be celebrated but they should also be recognised as partial victories, battles in a war that is far from over. My strong view is that in any war a disproportionate amount of attention should be given to those who suffer most. We must collectively demand better for them above all others.

Which brings me to intersectional feminism. Intersectional feminism recognises certain groups of people have multi-layered facets they have to deal with. There is no one-size-fits-all type of feminism. Although the concept already existed, American professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989. Its textbook definition is: “The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity.” Examples of this (beyond gender) include race, class, economic status, education, sexuality, ability, language, culture, size, shape and age.

Simply put, a person who has any of the above multi-layered dimensions as part of their make-up is more likely to have it a whole lot tougher than a middle-class, straight, white, well-educated and wealthy individual.  

Intersectionality, to me, means these varying potential oppressions are interlinked and can’t be solved alone. Intersectionality gives voice to complex identities and specific oppressions we might have been previously unaware of.

What does it take to rebalance, to be truly intersectional? A good start is to “check our privilege”. A better follow-up is to search for inequality in our immediate circles. We can all learn a thing or two about how #MeToo shifted things. It shone a light on inequality and keeps pushing for equality until it’s understood. #MeToo brought people together to make things better.

Unless we recognise and act by bringing the different diaspora of feminists together, the movement will languish, unable to move forward. Fragmentation makes the overall feminist cause splintered and less effective than it needs to be right here, right now. And, if one truly believes like I do that true diversity yields the greatest results within any organisation, embracing intersectionality is an absolute no-brainer. Without intersectionality, different oppressed groups (women of colour, disabled women, working class women, etc) are encouraged to compete against each other to be heard rather than unite – and we all know who wins that competition.

Decision-makers and leaders must start by recognising and addressing gender discrimination in all its shapes, colours and permutations in every part of their workplace, supply chain and networks. If you’re reading this, that means you – and it means me. #Timesup has rightfully been called. It’s time for intersectional feminism to take it from here.

In the words of Victor Hugo, whose contribution to the feminist struggle of his time has been woefully overlooked: “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

A good friend of mine (who proof read and contributed to this piece – thanks Kate French-Morris!) wrote a piece on feminism that described intersectionality as a “map of crossroads rather than a pyramid of privileges”. I’m blessed to travel these crossroads with many amazing fellow travellers and I am proud to be in the fight. The future is bright, the future is intersectional.
Marcel Khan is chief executive of Thunderbird Fried Chicken 

Representation and intersectional feminism – why I said yes to television by Tanya Gohil

British television has perpetually failed at championing diversity. Through tokenism, people of colour are regularly an afterthought, an add-on. The British Asians we’ve seen represented on television seem to be categorised under a “British Asian Community” catch-all, denoting one uniform, brown experience. Speaking about the BBC’s Big British Asian Summer series, commissioning executive producer Tom McDonald said: “There isn’t one single British Asian experience nor one British Asian voice to represent all experiences.” Why then, I asked myself, are we south Asians almost always dressed as a pastiche of entrenched stereotypes when it comes to television?

I grabbed the opportunity to be the only woman of colour in the finals of My Million Pound Menu with both hands but, when the show asked to film the women in my family doing their thing in the kitchen, I began to worry. Was this going to be the same-spun Indian narrative of female culinary autonomy in an otherwise patriarchal society? The same worn-out, hackneyed tale of recipes passed down through generations, the novelty of my father owning a corner shop and me referring to myself as a “corner shop kid”? Was it going to be the same old catalogue of clichés? As concerned as I was about the television angle – that I would not only be complicit but also the subject of such stereotypes – I decided to pay little heed. Surely, I thought, I have a wider role to play in the representation of my own, individual, brown experience.

The UK’s catering and hospitality industry is a majority-white, male-dominated space. There is a notable absence of women, particularly women like me. I felt determined to showcase how I, a woman of second-generation immigrant identity, was able to entrepreneurially forge a career in a sphere where only 17% of women hold chef positions, with even fewer held by women from ethnic minorities. I wanted to show other British Indian women that someone like me, someone like them, does exist in the mainstream and that it’s possible to succeed within an industry and on a platform where your gender and ethnicity both firmly set you in the minority. I wanted to be that elusive brown reflection beaming back at familiar eyes searching the screen for the same validity and belonging I once did.

It occurred to me that aside from regurgitating the same stereotypes, rechurning the same old narratives and pigeon-holing myself as yet another brown woman in an apron, it had seemingly fallen on my shoulders to help change the way women in the kitchen are perceived, the true value of our work. 

Having no professional qualifications I have always regarded myself as a “cook”, rarely a “chef”, but until now the gendered distinction between the two had been unclear to me. There exists a gendered division between labour and authority and between a “cook” and a “chef”. We often refer to the “genius” and “expertise” of male chefs whereas with women, often tagged as “cooks”, their food work is seen as less about particular training and knowledge and more about an expression of care. A cook’s work is coded as “feminine” and more often attributed to women, whereas a chef’s work is coded as “masculine” and largely ascribed to men in higher-profile, authority roles. These notions are damaging and devalue women’s food work.

In much of the language surrounding food, feminism and labour, our food work is consistently undervalued. Not only are our contributions in the domestic sphere held in low esteem, our paid food work in the professional sphere is also underestimated. 

For me, Devi’s has not only been about celebrating women but also reshaping the way we view them. I continue to call myself a cook but I do this intentionally. I want to subvert its archaic connotations and raise the value we designate to the term. I want to dispel the triviality this word has garnered, driving out the inconsequential nature of women’s labour. I want to reframe, anchor and represent what it means to be a female cook today, of ethnic minority or otherwise. I want to reclaim “cook” as a fierce, liberated woman of colour, changing the foodscape I currently find myself in. Saying yes to My Million Pound Menu was a decision tightly affixed to the representation of south Asian women on television and to the food and intersectional feminism discussion so, if I have to be a sassy brown woman on food reality TV to gain ground with these conversations, so be it. 
Tanya Gohil is founder of Silk Road-inspired vegan and vegetarian concept Devi’s

Celebrating the freedom of choice by Sally Whelan 

International Women’s Day is a day where we put the economic, cultural and political achievements of women at the forefront. For some this involves a day of protest while for others it’s about empowerment and celebration. From “women in the changing world of work” to “rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”, we have seen many themes take centre stage in the fight to help women achieve business success. This year the International Women’s Day theme is #BalanceforBetter – a call to action for accelerating gender balance in business, politics, media coverage and wealth. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m behind International Women’s Day in its aim for equality and to give women the recognition they deserve, but are these factors how every woman determines success? In a changing society, one which reports about one in four people suffer a mental health problem each year, focusing solely on business and wealth seems a little behind the curve to me. In the modern world, is the freedom to choose when, how and why we work not also something worth celebrating? A quote I love that resonates particularly with our industry is from Anne Sweeney, former chairman of Disney Media: “Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.” 

Hospitality epitomises a career of choice, not only for women but for men too – a trait of the industry I feel is all too often unappreciated. Whether front of house, cheffing, working in head office or setting up your own business, hospitality presents opportunities to suit everyone, no matter what gender or stage of career. It’s for us to seize control and make it work how we want it to.  

With the level of opportunity currently available, it comes as no surprise more than half (56%) of all people working in the hospitality industry are women. Some may be quick to point out many of these women don’t hold “senior roles” – but have we asked them if they actually want to? Hospitality provides such a raft of opportunity for every stage of life and all aspirations, and that’s something to be celebrated by employers and employees alike. Women actively want to work in our industry, which is more than can be said for other sectors. Transportation and storage, for example, has only a 22% female workforce, while manufacturing isn’t much better, at 24%. 

While every person’s journey is different, mine was one of support and respect. Since starting in hospitality 35 years ago I’ve definitely seen the industry change for the better. There are now more opportunities to progress than past generations and we have many inspiring female role models in great roles. I’ve been fortunate to enough to enjoy roles in the kitchen and front of house as well as being involved in street food concepts in the late 1980s while working for one of London’s finest event caterers. Since then, founding HGEM has enabled me to pursue a career in the industry I love while balancing competing responsibilities – a great social life, children and caring for elderly relatives. All of this was made possible by working with amazing, supportive people. 

For me, it’s not about gender – I believe women are now fortunate enough to decide their careers for themselves – it’s about passion of the individual. We listen and engage with the stories of those who are committed to what they do and believe in their own abilities – no matter what their role. Success, particularly in hospitality, doesn’t have to be about wealth or status, it can be about making dreams, no matter how big or small, a reality. 

Too often we see individuals in the industry doubt their own ability. We hear them pass off their own achievements as anything from “luck” to “support at the right time”. If our industry struggles with one common trait it’s not whether men and women are treated equally, it’s the fact that, as individuals, we can’t simply shout about what we’ve done and be proud of it. While I love humility as a trait, it’s important we recognise our peers when they deserve it. There are many people in this industry leading the charge in getting women recognised but, aside from their fantastic careers, these women – both the organisers and participants – all have one thing in common, they’re passionate about the industry and their role within it.  

While we should be 100% behind the women who want to pursue a career at board level, we should recognise some just want to be part of an industry that offers a great work-life balance. Hospitality is an industry of equality, not just in the traditional sense but also in terms of individual roles so, that said, we should also praise the men who choose to spend their time at home with their families. Every job plays its part and we only succeed when all aspects come together. 

For me, International Women’s Day isn’t about highlighting the areas where we can be doing better – whether as individuals or as an industry – it’s about celebrating the opportunities and choice hospitality gives us all. 
Sally Whelan is founding director of guest experience management expert HGEM

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