Women in leadership: The equation is changing

20 Dec, 2017

To begin with, we have to understand that men and women are not at war.  It is quite the opposite. The striking calls for  gender parity are not meant to cause undue advantage for women, but rather to amplify talent diversity so that we can drive more sustainable businesses together. Achieving a joint effort is, ultimately, a win-win situation.

Why is it then, that the hospitality industry is still male dominated? Despite improved statistics on management proportion, women remain strongly underrepresented at the higher levels of organizations. Considering that more than 50% of the hospitality workforce is made up of women, it is nowhere near acceptable that only 10% of top-management jobs are led by female workers. The glass ceiling is cracked, not broken yet.

At Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, we had the pleasure to host a most interesting panel on “Women in Leadership” moderated by Prof. Dr. Sowon Kim. Among the speakers we welcomed three women and one man with exceptional careers in the hospitality and beauty industries: Elisabetta Fabri, Owner & CEO at Starhotels; Cornelia Kausch, VP Development at  Pandox, Dr. Pauline Burgener, CEO at Laboratoire Dr. Burgener; and Alain Schauder, General Manager at SchaudeRH.

These remarkable characters have taught us that high-achieving women deserve to be  recognized, not for imitating conventionally accepted leadership behaviors, but for leveraging on their unique strengths to stand the heat alongside their male counterparts. Their advice, precious for any kind of audience, gives new organizational direction and steer us successfully into a more inclusive, yet competitive world.

What does it take to rebalance the scales?

Stop thinking tradition

Traditionally male-oriented organizations – for example hotels and restaurants – have excluded women for decades based on stereotypes and created hostile working settings operated in a military style. Today we are facing a game-changer. Increasing trends for innovation, intense competition and new business models are replacing years of somewhat predictable operating environment. In order to cope with this turbulence, executives might need to reframe their models through transformational, change-oriented leaders.

Indeed, stereotypically-masculine behaviors such as dominance and assertiveness are being relegated to a second plane in the effective leadership debate. Instead, there is  more emphasis in emotional intelligence and transformational characteristics that include empathy, collaboration and listening skills. Women have been able to favorably stress this set of skills by often managing situations in more humane and flexible ways. That is about what we want in hospitality. It is time for companies to adjust the managerial paradigm by adopting legislation towards a better gender equilibrium and by carrying out practices that support a work-family balance.

Set long-term objectives and stand up for them

If we spend so much time planning our holidays, why not our careers? With increased access to information we find it more and more diffcult to avoid distractions and to get our priorities straight. In order to aim high, it is crucial to take ownership of what happens in one’s own life to the extent that is possible and envision our objectives for the future.

Unfortunately, a large part of our society has often seen women as dependable, less often as visionary. We have been socialized to be less defiant and competitive than men. Cultures with strong oppresion never teach women to fight for themselves because they are expected to shoulder the burden of housework tasks while their spouses go out to make a living. We should stop this mentality and, instead, underline the importance of finding a good match who is supportive of our career development. Devoting more time to pursue our goals and being able to celebrate our progress with a partner is key to continue thriving in the long term.

Create a meaningful network

Networking is one of the most powerful tools to build confidence and power. This is not about virtually adding people to our circle, but about being able to create personal conversations and interactions in the real world. The more strategic connections we develop, the higher the chances of succeeding in an increasingly competitive industry. Unfortunatly, gender biases might prevent us from forming professional relationships that take advantage of the complementary qualities that diversity can offer.

Women are often regarded as “too harsh and bossy” when adopting male-oriented leadership styles, but “too nice and kind” if they remain in their feminine behaviours. Discouraging gender stereotypes in the workplace can help women to embrace their true identity and nurture a network with meaningful people who share their core values. Once we feel that our behaviours are respected around us, we will be able to develop in unique ways with more boldness and confidence.

The outlook for hospitality businesses is more dynamic than ever so replacing gender divisiveness with connectivity will surely let us come together – men and women – as stronger teams.

Author: Ana Sofía Acuña, EHL Bachelor student

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