Steady strides have been made in furthering Black leadership, gender parity, and board diversity in the hotel industry. However, progress is slow among top leadership positions, finds a new series of reports published this year by Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) School of Hospitality Management researchers.
With financial support from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) Foundation, a charitable division of the AHLA, faculty and doctoral students at Penn State took on research formerly conducted by the organization. They collected data by studying staff profiles on hotel websites, LinkedIn, and other social media.
Hotel companies have achieved gender parity at the director level, as women now occupy more than 50 percent of director positions, according to the study “Women in Hospitality: Sixth Annual Report Benchmarking Women in Hotel Industry Leadership.” But such improvements do not apply to higher-ranking positions: women hold one in four top-level positions at hotel companies, and these positions are heavily skewed toward sales, human resources, and marketing.
“What’s encouraging is that we’re seeing more representation at the lower levels [of leadership positions]. … these pipelines take time to develop because [when] you look at people’s careers, they’re going to play out over decades,” says Phil Jolly, PhD, associate professor of hospitality management at Penn State. “So it’s going to take time for folks in those roles at the lower level to rise into these upper-level positions.”
Black employees in hotel leadership positions are also gaining ground in the industry, although representation overall is especially lacking within this group, according to Penn State’s report “Black Representation in Hotel Industry Leadership 2023.” Black executives held just over 2 percent of jobs from director to CEO levels in 2022. Researchers found one Black C-suite employee for every 64 positions and one Black CEO or president for every 92 positions.
“If you have a situation where a large percentage of the population doesn’t feel like they are welcomed or understood or have access to the same kinds of opportunities, then the industry is really limiting itself on the talent that it’s able to bring into the industry and benefit from.”
Phil Jolly, PhD
In 2022, women occupied just over 31 percent of independent board seats on public hotel company boards, about 9 percent more than the year prior, and Black board members held approximately 6 percent more seats, according to the report “Hotel Industry Board Diversity.” Sixty-seven percent of directors new to a board in 2022 were women, and 22 percent were Black. No boards in the hotel industry have yet achieved gender parity.
Misconceptions about the industry being an unsuccessful career path, due to the challenges inherent in customer-facing service roles and the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, have slowed enrollment in hospitality education programs, says Jolly.
As part of recruitment and retention efforts, it’s important to create opportunities for underrepresented students in hospitality programs. Jolly hopes the Penn State reports put pressure on companies, nonprofits, and other industry groups to implement practices that can accelerate progress.
“Organizations should be looking for the best people, period,” Jolly says. “If you have a situation where a large percentage of the population doesn’t feel like they are welcomed or understood or have access to the same kinds of opportunities, then the industry is really limiting itself on the talent that it’s able to bring into the industry and benefit from.”●
This article was published in our October 2023 issue.