Women in the UK Hospitality Industry: Climb to the Top


The “glass ceiling” a term coined by Wall Street in 1986 (Ryan and Haslam 2007) is the barrier imposed on women for attaining management positions which in the UK no longer applies as there are many more women in management positions now than has been in the past 15 years. However, the “glass ceiling” does still exist for specific key management positions.

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One interesting factor identified in research on the subject is the willingness of women to take on such positions and to succeed in it despite the trade-offs associated with the work. This has given way to what has been termed as the “glass cliff,” a term quaintly playing on the “glass ceiling” metaphor to signify the pitfalls that await women in senior management positions in the operational side of the industry (Ryan and Haslam, 2007). This paper will describe strategies that may be used by employers to maximize the employment of women in UK hospitality.

Facts on Gender Equality

In April 2007, the Gender Equality Duty was enacted for all public sector workplaces as a significant addendum to the Sex Discrimination Act. Women now head Fortune 500 companies, including Hyatt Hotels although, in 38% of companies, no women are on the executive board at all (DiversityInc. 2007; BBC News, 2007). However, a 2005 survey of women in the hospitality industry showed that while they are the majority employed, they still receive remuneration less than that of their male counterparts, averaging a 17% gap in pay. The survey also showed that white and ethnic minority women are most likely to be given the lowest paying jobs overall (Equal Opportunities Commission, 2007; Eurostat, 2007; Grant Thornton, 2004).

It has been observed that even when women break the glass ceiling, their job satisfaction is significantly lower than that of their male counterparts, mostly because they are often restricted to positions with less authority and fewer rewards. Women often find themselves offered positions dealing with human resources or food and beverage management rather than in the primary functions of the business, i.e. general management positions in hotels (Ryan and Haslam, 2007).

The main reason for this second-level discrimination, so to speak, is the perception that having women in key positions tends to adversely affect the performance of British organizations. It has been found that women are more likely to be promoted when the financial stability of the organization is in flux or already experiencing difficulties (Ryan and Haslam, 2007).

This is the crux of the “glass cliff” concept, where women find themselves being pinpointed as the reason for failures and falling ratings whether it is warranted or not. Because women are believed to be better qualified to handle critical situations, they are often placed in a position of sink or swim, making the work environment highly stressful and making them less than productive in the long run. It also places a greater burden on women managers, which is grossly unfair and essentially discriminatory (Ryan and Haslam, 2007; Personnel Today, 2007).

As a result, women tend to make career choices that shift any responsibility from their shoulders to that of their male counterparts. This is by no means restricted to the hospitality industry; it is a phenomenon that occurs in most service industries. However, while the “glass cliff” concept may seem to be a loss-loss scenario for women, for those who are well-equipped and determined to follow through with the work, it can actually be considered an opportunity (European Monitoring Centre on Change, 2005).

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However, for this to occur to any significant degree, some issues need to be addressed in order for women to believe that aspiring for a senior-level management position would be desirable. These were identified by Yan Zong  as the old boy network, working family conflict, poor childcare support, and biased superiors. The level to which employers strategically address these issues would determine how far the potential benefits of tapping the female labor pool can be maximized, especially in these times with limited qualified human resources and an aging population.

Initiatives by Employers

Pursuant to the public policy initiative, widely referred to as the work-life balance policy, employers are encouraged to implement employee policies that would improve the role of the worker as a carer and family member while remaining a productive member of the industry. This is particularly relevant in the hospitality industry where the hours are seldom regular and seasonal demands result in added stress at critical periods (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, 2007; Johnson, 2001). The work-life balance strategy seeks to improve businesses by instigating policies that enable recruitment from a larger pool of qualified applicants, retention, and motivation of existing staff, reduction of stress and staff turnover, and increase in productivity as a result of more job satisfaction and holistic approach to employment (Clutterback, 2003). As a result of these goals, businesses will have more opportunities for identifying and retaining personnel with the potential to benefit the company or organization, including women in the hospitality industry (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2007).

The work-life balance strategy has identified four corporate strategies that address the concerns of women in senior management. These include formal promotion policies; the rejection of stereotyping and profiling in executive positions; the acceptance of women as senior management material; and providing venues for additional training for women in preparation for management-level positions (Knutson and Schmidgall, 1999; Safe and Health Working). The transition for most major hotels has been much easier than expected, perhaps because of two factors: women have traditionally dominated the hospitality industry in terms of staff-level employment, making it easier for a vertical promotion among the ranks of well-trained staff that has progressed from the entry-level rather than engaging outsiders for top positions; and the dearth of available, qualified new labor for such positions who would surely inculcate the mission and vision of a particular establishment (Centre for Developing Women Business Leaders, 2004).

Promotion within the Ranks

There have been many instances when promotions from within the ranks have involved people who started in an entry-level position, most especially true for female employees. One example of a role model is Nancy Johnson, currently serving as Radisson Hotels and Resorts brand leader and Executive President for Carlson Hotels Worldwide Full Service Hotels. She began as a cocktail waitress and ran a whole gamut of positions as she rose through the ranks. Johnson is also serving as a founding member of The Council for Women in Lodging, concerned primarily with promoting corporate advancement for women in the industry (Hcareer 2007).

Another inspiring example from the employers’ camp is that of Audrey Gillespie. In 2003, she was general manager of the former Glasgow Travel Inn, now a Premier Travel Inn, and was offered a position as area manager. She was pregnant at the time but her boss continued to support her fully even when she had to go on maternity leave, leaving the crucial tasks that needed to be done to her general managers, who also fully supported her. Gillespie began her career in the industry as a sales executive of the Holiday Inn/Marriott in Glasgow and is now slated to be promoted yet again as Premier Travel Inn’s regional director for the North and Scotland (Caterer & Hotelkeeper, 2007).

Up to a certain point, women dominate the management playing field in the hospitality industry, but such trends abruptly experience a downturn when it comes to senior management levels. Several polls show that anything short of this level, women have the majority, especially as F&B managers (62%), registered revenue managers (72%), and sales (68%). However, at senior and board levels, the figures drop to 20% on average, and these are mostly concentrated on human resources, public relations, and finance. Core functions, such as general management positions and the kitchen, are normally reserved for men (Hcareer, 2007).

The way for employers to keep the gems of their staff working for them will undoubtedly require some concessions on their part in terms of flexibility of work hours and the prospect of fair and equitable promotion, given that many of their most experienced workers are women. (Shell Group online Media Centre 2002) In the long run, however, it is much easier and more affordable to promote those who are already in the know rather than bringing in an outsider who needs to be trained and indoctrinated with the corporate culture of the organization to ensure a good fit with the rest of the management team as well as the general staff. It is undeniable that a well-deserved promotion within the ranks will encourage others to be similarly diligent and loyal, while a consistent seeking of outside sources for management positions encourages apathy and minimal productivity. In the end, an organization that actively seeks talent and rewards diligence within the ranks will benefit from increased productivity. (Knutson and Schmidgall 1999)

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Maximizing a Shrinking Labour Pool

Along the same lines is the strategy of recruiting and retaining the best possible talent from among a small population of qualified individuals. Because women dominate the industry, any hospitality company would do well to remember that an attractive employee package will require more than the standard requirements of the law. Women still considered the primary carer in the household, have much more to contend with when starting out in a career. Many will choose to leave employers when the stress begins to adversely affect their family life, and the consequences in terms of recruitment and training costs can be significant if the turnover is sufficiently high (Caterer & Hotelkeeper, 2007).

With possible senior management promotion in mind, employers should structure employee packages that take into account what would keep an employee interested in retaining their employment. Further instruction and diversity training should be encouraged to maximize the potential talent that each employee can bring to the corporate table. A fresh graduate from the university may begin employment as a waitress as a stopgap measure before moving on to the next job or until marriage, but if an employer has the initiative to keep an eye out for leadership qualities and offer further training to deserving employees, it will go a long way towards solving the problem of retaining people for all levels of the industry, including that of senior management and regional director positions (Hcareers, 2007; Shell Group online Media Centre, 2002).


How far should women be encouraged to go for senior management and higher levels in the hospitality industry echelons? It should be to the degree to which men are encouraged because there is no real need for positive discrimination as women, properly trained and screened, are inherently capable of fulfilling the duties and responsibilities of management as men. Advocacy, or what is popularly referred to as affirmative action, is counterproductive in terms of reconciling the old-fashioned to a seeming disruption of what has been a traditionally male-dominated industry (Zhong, 2006).

The proof of the pudding, as the saying goes, is in the tasting. Women should not be promoted to higher management simply because they are women, else it would only strengthen the belief that women increase the risk of failure of an organization when they are given key positions in management (Personnel Today, 2007).


The hospitality industry in the UK is undergoing some major changes in its management labor pool as more and more women choose family over the more demanding and irregular work hours of the industry, especially women.

It is, therefore, necessary to implement work-life balance strategies. Even the most liberal of men would take it amiss if women choose their careers over their families, and many women feel the same way. And since work-life balance works both ways, such strategies would also benefit the families of absentee husbands and fathers who are in positions of responsibility.

The idea of retaining and recruiting from a dwindling labor supply is a reality in many industries, but especially in the hospitality industry where the turnover is traditionally high. It makes good business sense to make concessions for women where it matters most because the benefits on resulting increased productivity are potentially high.


BBC News (2007) ‘No women chiefs’ in 38% of firms. [online]. BBC News.

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Caterer & Hotelkeeper (2007) Jobs for the girls – women in hospitality [online].  Web.

Centre for Developing Women Business Leaders (2004) The Female FTSE Report 2004 [online]. Centre for Developing Women Business Leaders. Web.

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (2007) Work-life balance [online]. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Web.

Clutterbuck, D. 2003, Managing work-life balance: a guide for HR in achieving organizational and individual change. London: CIPD.

Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (2007) Flexible working and work-life balance. [online]. Department for Business, Enterprise, and Regulatory Reform.

DiversityInc. (2007) The DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for Executive Women. [online] DiversityInc.

Equal Opportunities Commission (2006) Facts about women & men in Great Britain 2006. [online]. Equal Opportunities Commission.

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Ryan, M. & Haslam, S.A. (2007) Women in the boardroom: The risks of being at the top. [online]. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

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Shell Group online Media Centre (2002) More women in senior management means better business, says Shell Chemicals Chief Executive. [online]. Web.

Yan Zhong (2006) Factors affecting women’s career advancement in the hospitality industry: perceptions of students, educators, and industry recruiters. [online]. Texas Tech University. Web.

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StudyCorgi. "Women in the UK Hospitality Industry: Climb to the Top." August 28, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/women-in-the-uk-hospitality-industry-climb-to-the-top/.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Women in the UK Hospitality Industry: Climb to the Top." August 28, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/women-in-the-uk-hospitality-industry-climb-to-the-top/.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Women in the UK Hospitality Industry: Climb to the Top'. 28 August.

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