InternationalWomensDay-portraitThis year, our blog post to mark International Women’s Day focuses on the issue of gender equality and working conditions in tourism. Our Associate Rebecca Armstrong reviews some recent reports demonstrating how which women are still at a disadvantage when it comes to participating and benefiting from their employment.


Status and pay

Inequality features in every work area and at every level in the tourism sector. A UK study last year reported by TTG Media: Travel’s gender pay-gap revealed found that the pay gap between men and women in the industry is widening, with male executives earning over 6% more than their female counterparts and tending to be appointed to a greater proportion of senior positions.

This echoes our own 2013 report – Sun, Sand and Ceilings: Women in the Boardroom in the Tourism Industry, which found that just 15.8% of all board members were women and that a quarter of the companies surveyed had no female board members. The 2015 HIP Coalition White Paper Women in Tourism & Hospitality: Unlocking the Potential in the Talent Pool reached similar conclusions, highlighting the business case for a more diverse leadership improving financial performance.

These problems are not confined to the UK: in Jamaica, a recent study Race And Gender Bias Hurts Hotel Sector found that despite the majority of tourism graduates being female, and the national trend in other sectors being for more women than men to hold senior managerial and professional positions, in some destinations as many as 80-90% of hotel managers are male. Foreign-owned hotels were less likely than local establishments to employ female managers.

Working conditions

It’s not just about pay, either. Conditions in the workplace also remain a concern, particularly for hotel room attendants – the significant majority of whom are women. These include zero hours contracts, which can adversely affect family life, and agency outsourcing which contributes to disempowerment and creates opportunities for exploitation. Unreasonable schedules for physically demanding work result in high injury rates and widespread dependency on painkillers to get through the working day. Two newspaper investigations in 2015, from the UK: Britain’s hotel workers – bullied, underpaid and with few rights and Mallorca: Las que limpian los hoteles echo these key themes from earlier campaigns in the USA and Canada.

A 2015 study by the University of Warwick: Scrubbing the Hotel Industry Clean found that many of the hotels surveyed in the Midlands (UK) paid housekeepers on a ‘piecework’ basis – i.e. the national minimum wage but based on the number of rooms cleaned. In the airline sector, 2015 saw reports of Unequal rights for women employees of Qatar Airways including a requirement to remain unmarried for the first five years of their employment and a contractual term allowing the company to terminate a women’s contract if she becomes pregnant.

What can the industry do?

The tourism and hospitality industry needs not only to acknowledge the issue but take concrete, practical steps to address it. Green Hotelier’s 2014 Know How Guide: Human Rights & the Hotel Industry, for example, recognised that respecting human rights means “seeking to understand how your business activities impact – actually or potentially – upon different stakeholders, including … women [and] taking steps to address those impacts and risks”. We suggest that a good first step in this process would be for hotels and tourism companies to carry out an internal gender audit of their employees.

The whole area of hospitality working conditions is one in which gender inequality is especially acute. It’s a reflection of the wider, structural inequality in the tourism sector – which is the focus of our work at Equality in Tourism. The particular issue of working conditions is one we’ll be exploring further in the coming year.