The Discrepancy in Senior Roles and How Mentorship Could Be the Answer

Midlands Hospitality Network was established to enhance connectivity and support among hospitality professionals in and around the Midlands. Founded by Tonic Talent the network provides a platform for meeting, knowledge sharing, and professional development. It has become a crucial resource, offering learning opportunities. In May, we featured Becoming as our keynote speaker, addressing the challenges women face in the hospitality industry when starting a family and providing tools to support women and parents returning to work. The session was so insightful that it inspired the topic for this month’s article. 

Despite comprising the majority of the hospitality workforce, women are largely absent from senior leadership roles. Women comprise around 60% of the hospitality workforce but hold only about 30% of senior management roles in the UK. This begs the question: How can an industry that relies so heavily on female labour systematically shut women out of the decision-making process?

** Five Barriers and Potential Steps to Gender Equality**

1. **Work-Life Balance Challenges:** Senior roles demand long hours, conflicting with household and childcare duties often shouldered by women. Implement policies like flexible hours, senior part-time roles, remote work, and parental leave to make these roles more accessible and promote work-life balance.

2. **Bias and Stereotypes:** Gender biases and stereotypes about leadership hinder women’s progress, with men dominating decision-making roles. Actively dismantle biases through unconscious bias training, diversity promotion, and objective promotion criteria.

3. **Lack of Mentorship and Networking:** Women lack mentorship and sponsorship, hindering advancement. Establish formal programs for guidance and support alongside transparent promotion practices.

4. **Organisational Culture:** Male-dominated leadership discourages women’s advancement. Foster inclusivity where diverse voices are valued, creating a safe environment for women to express ideas and take on leadership.

5. **Promotion Practices:** Subjective criteria and lack of transparency in promotions can disadvantage women. Ensure transparency, clear advancement criteria, regular feedback, and decision-maker accountability for a fairer system.

**Case Studies**

Several brands have taken significant steps to promote gender diversity. Whitbread has committed to increasing female representation in senior roles as part of its diversity and inclusion strategy, implementing policies to support women’s career progression and offering leadership programs. Similarly, the Women at Accor Generation (WAAG) network promotes gender equality by providing a platform for women to connect and access career development resources. Accor has set targets for women in leadership positions, offers specialised leadership training, and regularly monitors progress. Marriott International boosts female representation through its Women’s Leadership Development Initiative, Diversity and Inclusion Councils, and flexible career paths. Hilton Worldwide’s Women in Leadership initiative includes mentorship, leadership training, and networking events, aiming for gender parity in senior roles. InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy with goals for increasing women in senior positions, a Women’s Network for support and mentorship, and targeted leadership development programs.

**Reducing the Gender Pay Gap: The Eden Project’s Success**

The Eden Project reduced its gender pay gap from 18.8% to 4% by promoting and recruiting more women into senior and higher-paying roles. This was achieved through maintaining a nearly equal male/female workforce balance (47/53%), appointing more women to senior management and technical roles, supporting flexible working arrangements, and monitoring employee development and recruitment on an ongoing basis. The Eden Project’s approach demonstrates that targeted efforts can significantly close the gender pay gap and promote equality.

**Initiatives and Collaborations**

Chefs and organisations are promoting gender diversity in the culinary industry through initiatives like the International Women’s Culinary Alliance (IWCA), Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI), and the James Beard Foundation’s Women’s Leadership Programs. These efforts focus on networking, mentorship, and advocacy to advance women in culinary arts. By setting diversity goals, offering leadership development, and fostering inclusive cultures, these initiatives increase female representation at senior levels in the UK hospitality industry.

**Voices of Women in Hospitality**

Judy Joo, chef-owner at Seoul Bird, pointed out that women are not taken as seriously as men in the culinary world. She underscores the need for a cultural shift in perceptions and attitudes toward female chefs. Clare Smyth, the first woman in the UK to receive three Michelin stars, uses her platform to discuss the lack of women in the industry. She emphasises the importance of visibility and mentorship to help women achieve top positions. CEO of UKHospitality, Kate Nicholls states, “I’ve always said, ‘lift as you climb.’ Working in male-dominated industries, we must be inclusive and support everyone.”

These voices reflect a broader movement within the hospitality industry to address gender disparities and create a more equitable and supportive environment for women.

**The Importance of Mentorship**

**Skill Development and Knowledge Transfer:** Mentorship facilitates the transfer of essential skills and industry knowledge. Experienced mentors can offer practical advice on navigating the complexities of the hospitality industry, from managing operations to understanding financials.

**Building Confidence:** Confidence is crucial for leadership. Mentors encourage and help mentees recognise their potential, boosting their confidence to take on challenging roles. Women in traditionally male-dominated fields often face self-doubt and imposter syndrome; a supportive mentor can mitigate these feelings.

**Networking Opportunities:** Mentorship opens doors to valuable networking opportunities. Mentors can introduce mentees to influential industry contacts, helping them build a robust professional network. This network is critical for career advancement, providing access to job opportunities, collaborations, and industry insights.

**The Importance of Role Modelling and Representation:** Seeing women in leadership roles motivates aspiring female leaders by showing that success is achievable despite barriers. Representation matters; it validates ambitions and provides examples to emulate. Sally Abé, in an interview with The Observer, shared how a nine-year-old girl was inspired to become a chef after seeing her on Great British Menu. Sally invited the girl to her restaurant, showed her the kitchen, and let her dress a dish; this highlights the positive impact of visible role models. Abé said, “She has a positive view of the industry because she saw me and thought, ‘I could do that.’

**Navigating Gender-Specific Challenges:** Women in hospitality often face unique challenges, such as balancing work-life responsibilities and dealing with gender bias. Mentors who have navigated similar issues can offer tailored advice and strategies to overcome these obstacles. Organisations like Women in Travel CIC focus on mentoring to address gender-specific challenges, providing targeted support to help women thrive.

**Becoming – Mentorship for Women in Hospitality**

According to the Women in Hospitality, Travel, and Leisure 2020 Review, mentoring is instrumental in bridging the skill gap and preparing women for senior positions. The hospitality industry presents unique challenges for women aiming to reach senior positions. Becoming founders Eleni Kasparis and Robyn Filep, identified this need, so Becoming was created. 

‘In our quest for progress, groundbreaking resources don’t necessarily need to be the answer. At Becoming, we took a step back and identified a crucial missing piece in our careers: mentorship. We firmly believe that having a mentor—someone distinct from family, bosses, or close friends—provides invaluable guidance, support, and encouragement. Women empowering other women is our ethos and women do like to be in each other’s corners. By fostering and developing key mentorship skills among women, we pave the way for countless individuals to achieve their aspirations and become whatever they want in life.’ – Eleni Kasparis, co-founder – Becoming.


The gender imbalance in senior roles within the hospitality industry stems from societal norms, organisational practices, and structural barriers. While women dominate lower and mid-level positions, their presence significantly decreases in top roles. Addressing this requires promoting work-life balance, allowing part-time senior roles, providing flexibility, challenging gender biases, offering mentorship, ensuring transparent promotions, investing in leadership development, fostering inclusive cultures, and highlighting successful female leaders. Implementing these strategies creates a more equitable environment, benefiting women and enhancing industry performance through diverse leadership, which drives innovation, improves decision-making, and delivers better business outcomes. Achieving gender equality in senior roles is both a moral imperative and a strategic advantage for the hospitality industry.

If you would like mentorship for yourself or a colleague, get in touch with them here:

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