Albasud Report: Gender inequalities in the Tourism Labour Market

Placa Real, a top tourist attraction in Barcelona, Catalunya (Spain).

Written by Helen Merrick

This new report from Nuria Abellan Calvet, Carla Izcara Conde, Alejandra Lopez Ballart and Marta Salvador Almela explores the issue of the tourism labour market from a gender perspective. With a focus on the feminisation of the tourism labour market, the report considers fifteen forms of gender inequality through examples from across the tourism sector. 

The report demonstrates how the unequal gender division of labour translates across public and private spaces, as women often face obstacles of double presence to carry out professional, paid work alongside domestic family work. Stereotyped gender roles and reproductive tasks are also noted to translate into work life as women’s roles in the labour market are predominantly linked to care and domestic tasks such as housekeepers, cleaners ,hotel and receptionists, while masculinised jobs, such as aeroplane pilots, are often difficult for women to access. This dominates and prescribes women’s paths and opportunities in the tourism labour market.

With women’s tasks in the tourism labour market considered as an extension of domestic work, gender inequalities are further perpetuated through the devaluation and invisibility of women’s participation in the labour market as their activities are regarded to require little skill, and so often attributed with little importance. This was shown to be the case for housekeepers and cleaners in tourists’ houses in the Spanish tourism sector.

Devaluation of feminised work is also reflected in lower average wages across the tourism sector, as a high presence of part-time contracts among women, notably in the hotel sector, highlights they are earning a much lower salary than men in the same role. Gender inequality in the tourism labour market is also exemplified in increases in temporary, part-time contracts and atypical recruitment, which refers to the outsourcing of workers. However, outsourcing and the flexibility of part-time contracts have detrimental consequences for women’s health, wellbeing and security as uncertainty of working hours, contract duration and intensification of work increase precarious employment situations, particularly in highly feminised sectors such as housekeeping. 

Due to the feminisation of jobs and continued gender-division of roles in the labour market, hierarchies are constructed and maintain organisational cultures which favour masculine values across the tourism labour market reinforcing  glass ceilings. These prevent women from moving into managerial and senior roles and positions, while also creating ‘sticky floors’ in which roles women are recruited  present limited opportunity for career growth and vertical progression. 

The report also highlights the importance of nationality stereotypes, migratory status and physical standards in the recruitment process due to the importance of maintaining images across the tourism sector. A notable example of imposition of physical standards in the tourism industry is among flight attendants. Maintaining certain images across the tourism sector are often defined by western beauty standards with aspects such as white skin, long hair and youthfulness, resulting in women’s place within the workplace and tourism sector being defined by their physical attractiveness and also resulting often in high sexualisation.

In conclusion, the feminisation of the tourism labour market and business mechanisms associated with recruitment, such as atypical recruitment and lack of policy strengthen barriers perpetuate gender inequality, while social and cultural aspects perpetuate gender inequalities through stereotyped gender roles and traditional gendered responsibilities for providing economic support. It calls for the need for institutional and internal business mechanisms which challenge barriers maintaining gender inequalities across the tourism sector and presents possible future research lines which, particularly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, pays attention to the situation of women in the tourism sector and the need to project future action to challenge and combat gender inequalities in the tourism labour market. 


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