WITH moves the needle on gender diversity

Barb Stegemann was one of the keynotes at the conference. Photo courtesy of Women In Tourism and Hospitality Summit.

Barb Stegemann was one of the keynotes at the conference. Photo courtesy of Women In Tourism and Hospitality Summit.

By Elizabeth Smith 

TORONTO — On May 27, 2019, nearly 300 industry stakeholders gathered at the third annual Women in Tourism & Hospitality (WITH) Summit, held at the Westin Harbour Castle, to move the needle forward on gender diversity with a sentiment to “Stand Up and Stand Out”. 

With the goal of generating traction on gender bias, the WITH Summit provided an opportunity to hone in on actionable steps towards an improved workplace for women and leadership opportunities.

The event kicked off with a meditation session, led by Reetu Gupta, CEO of the Gupta Group, with a powerful message underscoring the significance of the event: follow your path. 

Attendees entered an introspective mindset, challenged to ask themselves: What needs to change in the workplace to help women succeed in leadership positions? What must we encourage to welcome inclusivity? How can this be achieved?

Anne Larcade, President & CEO of Sequel Hotels & Resorts and Co-Founder of WITH, picked up from where the 2018 event left off, stating that the same time and commitment afforded to all other organizational goals and objectives will be required to achieve gender parity. The hotel industry implements goals to innovate hotels, invests in research and development, and employs strategy to increase brand loyalty. To achieve the WITH Summit mandate, the same mentality must be applied to gender diversity, education, and the empowerment of female leaders. 

Joanne Lipman promotes her book at WITH. Photo courtesy of Women in Tourism and Hospitality Summit.

Joanne Lipman promotes her book at WITH. Photo courtesy of Women in Tourism and Hospitality Summit.

Keynote speaker, Joanne Lipman, TV Commentator and Author of “That’s What She Said”, offered insights into issues including unconscious bias towards women, brain differences between the genders, and the present state of these complex interpersonal relationships.

Lipman revealed that women are interrupted three times more frequently than men. A woman must be 2½ times more competent to be seen as an equal to a man. Women’s voices are just not being heard around the table. 

She offered practical tips to help eliminate bias in the workplace, suggesting that we must first unbias ourselves before we can bust the biases within our organizations.

She notes that organizations have spent decades on the wrong strategies and that diversity training has historically failed, and perhaps made things worse. Explaining that it isn’t about excluding men from the conversation, but rather “in order to effectively diversify our workplaces, men should also have a seat at the table”.

These sentiments were echoed by the 2019 Katie Taylor Economic Empowerment Award winner, Peggy Berg, Director of the Castell Project. Berg was recognized for her dedication to accelerating the development of high-potential women in the hospitality industry. 

Berg highlighted that, presently, women represent more than 60 per cent of entry-level positions in the hospitality industry, and half of the positions at the Director level. However, as of 2019 only 1-in-9 Presidents and 1-in-20 CEOs in the hospitality industry are women, noting that “there is clearly a disconnect, as highly competitive women are not being considered for promotion”.

Berg established a goal to ensure women occupy 1-in-3 executive positions of power and influence in the industry. Berg further emphasized that when female representation in leadership positions reaches just 30 per cent, an organization will start to experience a positive shift. 

This underscores the recognition from Catalyst, an organization “calling on Canadian boards and CEOs to pledge to accelerate the advancement of women in business”, with a tangible goal to increase the average percentage of women on boards and women in executive positions in corporate Canada to 30% or greater by 2022.

Recently, the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) became a signatory of the Catalyst Accord and became an Affiliate Partner of Women Get On Board, with a renewed commitment for Board diversity. In May, the HAC Board approved an increase in the Board’s diversity target from a minimum 20 per cent female representation on the Board, a target that was met one year early, to 30 per cent by 2022. 

Over the next three years, as this collective target moves from objective to achievement, the WITH Summit has established a powerful agenda. The industry shares a collective commitment to gender diversity and to the development of women leaders as the hospitality industry strives to meet the demand for talent and innovative thinking that drive successful businesses. The potential for women in hospitality has never been greater.

Elizabeth Smith is Digital Communications and Member Relations Specialist with the Hotel Association of Canada.

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