Written with insight from Aitken Spence Hotels, Yuva Parivartan, Project Enable Africa, and Tent Partnership for Refugees.

International Women’s Day provides an important opportunity for companies to reflect on how they can empower women into employment and training, and consider what further action they can take to make the working environment more inclusive, equal and safe.

Globally, women face a number of barriers which can make it difficult to find or maintain suitable employment – from safety concerns, transportation challenges and difficulties accessing training, to family responsibilities, inadequate healthcare and discrimination in the workplace. When looking to empower women, it’s vital that employers understand these barriers, in order to mitigate risks and nurture a secure, diverse and prosperous working environment.

What can your hotel do to break down these barriers and empower women in the workplace?

Create equitable opportunities
  1. Recognise the need for flexibility: Aim to create a flexible working environment for those who have other essential responsibilities such as those with children or those acting as carers for family members – this could include offering flexible shifts, setting working hours around these responsibilities, supporting with childcare, and setting clear procedures for times when issues arise, such as child illness or cancellation of childcare.
  2. Provide suitable healthcare: Lack of access to appropriate healthcare can have a profound impact on a woman’s productivity and wellbeing. Aim to provide accessible healthcare for all employees by ensuring adequate insurance, making sure to share this information with the team and train relevant members of management on how to support team members in accessing healthcare.
  3. Bridge the gap between formal education and employment: The ‘opportunity cost’ that comes with formal education can leave many people unable to access training. For women in particular, there can be further obstacles due to family expectations and lack of networks outside of their family or local community. Inclusive and equitable employers should offer accessible learning and development opportunities, supporting trainees to build soft skills, as well as gaining hospitality experience.

Discover more ways to bridge the gap, within our CEO Glenn Mandziuk’s recent thought piece on supporting education for disadvantaged people.

Learn about the Tent Partnership for Refugees Mentoring Refugee Women Initiative.

“I am trying to get as much experience and learning as possible, as a female I think that is important. I have been with my employer for over a year and have received a promotion to ‘Captain’ at the restaurant. I like the opportunities that I am getting – I have always wanted to be a Manager at the hotel so I am working towards that.” – Lakmali, a 2019 graduate of the TUI Academy, in partnership with the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, run by Aitken Spence Hotels.
  1. Foster an inclusive workplace culture: Set out and implement policies that protect the interests and needs of women in the workplace – this should include safeguarding, gender equality and inclusion policies. Ensure the entire workplace is aware of their rights and responsibilities, and identify a specific team member, or members, who are trained to handle concerns and grievances from female employees.
  2. Diversify your team(s): When aiming to empower women into training and employment, it is crucial that your company ‘walks the talk’. Lead by example, by ensuring women are represented in leadership positions and that you employ all gender identities. Hiring a diverse team has been shown to not only benefit team morale1, but also increase innovation2, reduce staff turnover3, and increase financial returns4.
“Across each shift there would always be both male and female team members. Having females around me was a good support, so I did not feel alone.” – Lakmali
Prioritise safety
  1. Strengthen employees’ independence: There are a variety of modern essentials that not only open doors for female job seekers, but are necessary for some roles – these include bank accounts, driving licences, and mobile phones. Aim to support employees and trainees in obtaining and setting up these tools, enabling them to be more independent and safe, inside and outside of work.
  2. Offer employee accommodation where possible: By offering accommodation and other amenities such as regular meals, companies can reduce the ‘opportunity cost’ that can come with travel, relocation and independence, as well as enhancing safety for female employees. It is important to recognise that not all women will be able to take up this option due to other responsibilities.

When providing accommodation, always ensure that the property is safe and that employees have freedom of movement.

“It’s an economic imperative to empower women into work. At Aitken Spence, whilst providing mentor support and educational workshops to inspire our female workforce, we have also invested heavily in building state-of-the-art accommodation to encourage more women to join the hospitality industry by creating a safe and conducive living environment.” – Aitken Spence PLC Director, Head of Tourism and Leisure, and Chairperson of Aitken Spence Hotels Management, Stasshani Jayawardena.
  1. Implement safe travel procedures for employees: When employees are living offsite, it can be risky to travel alone, especially for young women at night. Consider if your company is able to provide transport for employees during these times, or create a ‘buddy’ system so that employees who live close to one another can work similar shifts and travel together.
Engage with the local community
  1. Reduce the negative perceptions of the hospitality industry: There can be a stigma attached to hospitality work, based on lack of information, trust or perceived lack of safety. In these situations, it can be beneficial to take a personal approach, visiting local areas to demonstrate your commitment to supporting female employees in building successful careers. It can be useful to gather testimonials from women in regional languages to share these with the communities you are visiting.
“I have seen families where the student wants to join hospitality but parents do not allow them. More people are looking at hospitality as a career for women, especially is cities and where there are lot of hotels, but still you will find people, more so in small communities and rural villages, where they don’t want girls to join hospitality.” – A Front of House team member at the Heritance Ahungalla Hotel, Sri Lanka
  1. Be present within your communities: By creating a presence within your community you can build trust and respect. Try hosting open days for job seekers, attending job fairs or supporting a school event. Also consider if there is a particular need within the local community that you could assist with, such as supporting local businesses, providing food or shelter during times of need, or raising money for a relevant cause.
“It’s important to build trust with the community. Within my role a lot of people from nearby from the villages were farmers so alongside raising awareness of our youth employment programme, we gave the community organic seeds to plant and generate livelihood. There was an entire ecosystem –  we were working with, engaging and benefitting the community.” – A senior in Branding at Aitken Spence Hotels.