4 tips for creating a gender-inclusive organization
4 tips for creating a gender-inclusive organization
30 JULY 2019 7:24 AM

Research shows that forward-thinking hoteliers wish to see more women in leadership positions. Here are four tips on fostering a more gender-inclusive working environment.

A 2018 study called “Delivering through diversity” by McKinsey & Company shows forward-thinking hospitality leaders want to see more women in leadership, and many have committed significant time and organizational resources in an effort to make this a reality.

Despite this, women still make up only 5% of CEOs in the industry, according to the Castell Project’s “Women in hospitality industry leadership” study. However, the past does not have to be the prologue.

Recent research from Harvard Business Review titled, “Why gender diversity makes firms more productive,” found that gender diversity led to both greater market value and greater revenue, but only in countries and industries with cultures where gender diversity is seen as normative and important. This study of 1,069 leading firms across 35 countries and 24 industries provides a crucial insight that leaders can and should embrace. Going beyond increasing numerical diversity and working to change culture to be more genuinely inclusive pays off, not just for women, but for all employees, whatever their gender.

So, how do you get started? Below are just a few suggestions for hospitality leaders.

  • Initiative 1: Educate all employees and leaders about biases and their responsibility to help reduce them. Biases don’t affect just men or just women—working environments improve when we are all aware of how biases affect our decisions. Research from “Condoning stereotyping? How awareness of stereotyping prevalence impacts expression of stereotypes” has shown that if you just tell people that everyone is biased, it lets them off the hook in terms of taking action. Given that, leaders must also charge their employees with doing their part to reduce bias. Importantly, effective leaders make it clear to employees that they will be protected and valued if they have the courage to speak up.
  • Initiative 2: Create a learning orientation around diversity and get both men and women involved. With men in the majority of leadership positions, change will not happen without both men and women playing active roles. Women “leaning in” to their careers is simply not enough; men must also “lean in” to driving organizational change. To get everyone on board, organizations that successfully change the dynamic around discussions of diversity and inclusion move away from an emphasis on political correctness and blame and instead encourage employees to learn about each other’s differences and experiences through open, honest and courageous conversations. For example, they should be allowed to discuss what behavior should and should not be considered offensive and to share their fears about getting it wrong. Critically, successful leaders of diverse companies that model curiosity about diversity are open about their own fears and experiences so that everyone—women and men—can engage in real dialogue about bias, carried out in a safe space.
  • Initiative 3: Scrutinize the criteria used for hiring to assess whether they are truly driving performance. Often, job descriptions simply describe the qualifications of the person who held the job in the past—typically a white male. Instead, future-oriented companies really think about what is needed to do the job. Is a graduate degree in business needed or would a different degree or experience on the job work—perhaps better? Women are only 38% of MBAs, according to the Forté Foundation, so that requirement stacks the odds in favor of men. In addition, companies should examine the language used in job postings to eliminate words that are overtly masculine (like hard driving or ambitious) or feminine (like nurturing or warm) and may be signaling that some positions are only open to one gender. Research shows that gender-neutral postings get 42% more applicants than those with gendered wording, according to a scholarly journal from Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program titled, “Evidence that gendered wording in job advertisements exists and sustains gender inequality.”
  • Initiative 4: Treat achieving gender diversity as a business imperative with transparency, goal setting and accountability. This includes posting the number of women and men in various levels and positions, being open and clear about goals to advance women, tying pay to progress toward these goals, and holding decision makers accountable.

There is no silver bullet to create gender balance at the top of the hospitality industry overnight. Success rewards leaders who take long-term, systematic approaches to meaningfully change their organizational culture around gender. During that change, successful organizations proactively provide support, training and leadership opportunities to ensure women continue to advance. In doing so, leaders create a virtuous cycle where an improving culture allows more women to advance and moving more women into leadership shifts the culture to be more inclusive of both men and women. While driving change in this area is not easy, some of the most successful companies in the hospitality industry show that it is possible—and the payoff in terms of organizational and financial performance is clear.


Hunt, V., Prince, S., Dixon-Fyle, S. and Yee, L. (2018). Delivering Through Diversity. McKinsey & Co.

Turban, S., Wu, D. and Zhang, LT. (Feb. 11, 2019). When gender diversity makes firms more productive. Harvard Business Review.
The Castell Project & AHLA Women in Lodging (2019). Women in Hospitality Industry Leadership.

Duguid, M. M., & Thomas-Hunt, M. C. (2015). Condoning stereotyping? How awareness of stereotyping prevalence impacts expression of stereotypes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(2), 343-359. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037908

Forte (Nov. 14, 2018). Women’s MBA Enrollment Rises to 38% in 2018 -- First U.S. Business School Reaches Gender Parity Milestone, Forté Foundation Finds, Austin, TX.

Gaucher, D., Friesen, J., & Kay, A. C. (2011, March 7). Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Dr. Susan S. Fleming is an executive educator, angel investor and corporate director. From 2010 - 2018, she was a Senior Lecturer at Cornell University, teaching women in leadership and entrepreneurship. She began her career on Wall Street where she was a Partner of Capital Z Financial Services Partners, a private equity fund focused on investing in financial services firms and an Analyst at Morgan Stanley. After leaving Wall Street in 2003, Susan earned a Ph.D. in Management at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management where her research focused on better understanding the factors contributing to a dearth of women in leadership positions in U.S. society. Susan has served on the board of 7 publicly traded companies, and is a current director of RLI Corp. and Virtus Investment Partners, Inc. She is also a frequent speaker and executive educator on issues of gender bias and entrepreneurship. For more on Susan, see www.susansfleming.com.

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