The odds of women reaching top leadership roles
The odds of women reaching top leadership roles
28 JANUARY 2019 8:24 AM

The percentage of women making their way into leadership roles in the hospitality industry is increasing, but it’s still an uneven comparison to their male counterparts. Several factors contribute to this, such as the time it takes for a generational shift to happen and misconceptions, according to a 2019 study from Castell Project.

Castell Project released a new report benchmarking gender parity called “Women in Hospitality Industry Leadership 2019.” Statistics show more women making their way into hospitality industry executive positions, but progress is uneven, according to the report.

Representation of women still drops off sharply at higher levels of leadership. However, some functional areas have strong representation of women, while others are weak. The statistics raise questions about why women find career opportunities in some fields, but not others.

Here’s a look at some of the key takeaways from the report.

Overall, women comprise 11% of hotel company leaders, including managing director, president, partner, principal and CEO roles. Low representation is partly because it takes time for a generational change to take effect. However, it also is because women are not being promoted to senior leadership and because women often do not lead hotel development projects or hotel ownership groups—yet.

Women are less likely to be promoted in fields that have profit and loss responsibility. Yet, according to a study from life insurer Allianz's "Women, Money and Power," 51% of women control the finances of their family and 37% of married women are the primary breadwinner. Women now control 51% of U.S. personal wealth, according to BMO Wealth Institute. There is a disconnect where women are recognized as financial managers on a personal level, but not given the opportunity to take financial responsibility at work.

In terms of promotions, women are less likely to be promoted in the fields of hotel investment and development, where success is driven by negotiation. Yet women are promoted in the hotel sales field, which also is driven by negotiation. There is a perception that women are acceptable promotion candidates in some fields where success is based on negotiation but not in others.

Roles in which women are near or above parity include human resources, revenue management, and sales and marketing at the executive level within hotel companies. In hotel company accounting and finance, women represent more than half at the manager and director level, but representation drops dramatically from director to EVP/SVP, and it is rare for a woman to be promoted to a chief level role.

But women now account for more than one-third of investment conference representatives at the director level for consulting, legal and brand/franchise companies. As the careers of these women mature, there is the opportunity for them to change the gender balance at higher levels in fields that support the hotel industry.

Overall, the odds of a woman reaching top leadership (C-suite and above) are one woman to eight men.

At the manager and director levels in hotel operating companies, women comprise half of representatives. Moving up the ranks, women’s representation drifts down to one woman for every five men in the hotel company C-suite. Women CEOs are rare at one woman to 21 men.

At the investment conferences, there are 2.4 men to each woman attending at the director level. By the CEO level, representation is one woman to 10 men.

The reasons for these disparities are not rational. Women are accepted in the C-suite in some fields, but not others. Women are recognized for their skill at negotiation in some fields and not others. Women are relied upon for their financial acumen in some settings, but not permitted the opportunity to advance in leadership roles that require financial skill. It looks like women are given opportunities in fields that pay less and not in fields that are more lucrative. This is a significant challenge for the hospitality industry. According to a 2016 Peterson Institute study, “for profitable firms, a move from no female leaders to 30% representation is associated with a 15% increase in the net revenue margin.” For corporate leaders, permitting this kind of bias costs both profits and asset value.

Produced by the Castell Project, Inc. and sponsored by AHLEF, the analysis covers 19,667 lines of data about hotel investment conferences (ALIS, Hunter, NYU, and Lodging). Also in the analysis are 6,432 lines of data about 1,125 hotel companies from the STR Directory of Hotel & Lodging Companies. The report presents a picture of how women are progressing in hotel companies, and also in companies in hospitality related fields such as consulting, law, finance and brokerage. Complimentary downloads of the report are available at

Peggy Berg is director of the Castell Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing gender diversity within the hospitality industry. The group hosts annual advanced training programs designed to help women reach the next level of career advancement. The Castell Project also maintains and provides the WSH (Women Speakers in Hospitality) List for industry events and conducts surveys and studies to track industry gender advancement.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

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