Business critical: If diversity is a strategic issue, it needs strategic intent to make it a reality

27 March 2018

There’s always been a compelling moral case for diversity and inclusion – why should the chance to succeed be confined to a favoured few? There’s also an equally compelling business case for making diversity a reality, which is growing stronger in all sectors, but is especially pressing in hospitality, travel and leisure (HTL).

Helping your business to stand out

Why is diversity so business critical in HTL? For much of the answer, you only need to look at its importance in shaping your brand. A good reputation on diversity makes it easier to attract and retain both staff and customers – all of whom increasingly value and expect diversity. But a poor perception can damage your brand. And with headlines about gender pay gaps now dominating the media, it’s the board rather than just HR who should be making diversity a priority.

Diversity can improve your business performance by bringing in people who have fresh perspectives and ensuring your workforce and its leadership reflect the many different types of people they serve. In such a competitive HTL marketplace, encouraging real change on diversity could thus be the differentiator that keeps staff, customers and shareholders happy.

A lot of work to do
Yet despite some progress, real change is needed in the sector. We at PwC recently worked with Tea Colaianni, Chair of Women in Hospitality 2020, Korn Ferry, People 1st, Oxford Brookes and others to assess whether HTL is equipped to achieve 33% female representation across boards and executive committees by 2020 – a target set by the Hampton-Alexander Review. The group examined diversity, inclusion and leadership in 26 HTL organisations and spoke to over 100 chair people and chief executives, recruiters and graduates entering the industry.

The review highlights an increasing, albeit still far from universal, willingness to tackle the issues that mar women’s working lives and hold them back in their careers. Whilst it’s great to see how passionate many industry leaders are about promoting diversity in their organisations, women only make up 26% of senior management positions in the HTL sector, which falls to just 20% when HR roles are excluded.

While women are well represented in junior and middle management, a gender gap begins to emerge the further up the organisation you go – only 3% of the CEOs in the HTL sector are women. And as women come up against barriers ranging from inflexible hours to unconscious bias, thousands are voting with their feet by quitting their jobs or leaving the industry altogether.

Turning words into actions
So how can your organisation ensure that diversity gets the strategic intent it merits? The short answer is treat it like any other business critical issue.

At present, we’re seeing a lot of high level policies and isolated initiatives to promote them. But to give diversity real impetus, it needs the same board level direction, organisation-wide push and regular reporting, review and intervention that would be applied to any other strategic priority. For progress to be sustainable, diversity needs to be become part of the cultural DNA, along with the performance objectives and appraisal of all levels of management, including the board.

The new diversity in hospitality, travel and leisure charter, the first of its kind in the sector, is designed to help give diversity this strategic impetus, transparency and accountability. It also looks at ways that HTL businesses can share experiences and work together to overcome barriers. It’s really encouraging to see how much interest the Charter has attracted. The key task ahead is turning all of this into action.

So yes, diversity can help your business to perform better and stand out. It’s also an opportunity for you as a business leader to make your organisation fairer and more attractive. As recognition of the business case for diversity continues to increase, my sense is that this turning point isn’t far away.

Jon Terry | Diversity and Inclusion Consulting Leader, PwC UK
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Email | +44 (0)7720 555397



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