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Researchers outline strategies to build mentorship for women in hospitality

By: Anthony Eckert
First Published: March 29, 2024
Topics: STHM School

Confident, cheer up asian young woman standing in suit formal, getting dress for work looking at mirror at home before job interview of change career, recruitment employee or staff in company.

Women hold one leadership position for every 10.3 men in the hospitality field, according to a study by The Castell Project in 2022.  

That’s an improvement from one in 11.2 in 2019, but still out of balance considering the field is 58% women.  

How can industry combat this imbalance? According to Laurie Wu, associate professor at the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management, one pathway is through mentorship. 

Wu, along with her colleague professor Emily Ma of the University of Surrey, studied the power of mentorship in the hospitality industry. They pulled information from current literature on the subject, interviewed women who worked as hospitality executives, and surveyed women working in the hospitality industry. 

Their research “The Power of Mentorship”outlines strategies to combat this imbalance through both formal and informal mentorship dynamics.  

 In the hospitality industry, women are much more likely to work front-of-house, those roles identified as housekeeping, kitchen staff and desk receptionists, rather than work in upper-level executive or management positions.  

“Women make up more than 50% of the frontline, but the percentage is much less [as you go] higher up in the chain,” says Wu, agreeing with the Castell Project report. 

Prior research suggests that women are hindered by “unsupportive organizational culture, repercussions for motherhood, unequal compensation” and other factors. Wu and Ma’s research shows that ongoing mentorship between women in the field can help solve these issues. Wu explains that not only should organizations acknowledge gender disparity, but they should also identify ways to address it. 

According to the researchers, employers should provide programming and training to women within the company to overcome gendered perceptions of potential, growth and leadership development.  

These trainings should encourage one-on-one interactions, both formal and informal, between female leadership and employees so that women see examples of female-held leadership roles within the company. These mentor relationships create strong bonds within the company and show women that they can attain executive roles within the company.  

Wu hopes that mentorship provides not just a leg up for those being mentored, but also encourages them to keep the chain going.  

“So, you’ve been mentored, and that’s had a positive impact,” she says. “Now, does that make you want to pay it forward?”  

These mentorships can be particularly impactful post-maternity when women often withdraw from the hospitality labor force. Women transitioning to executive roles post-maternity would help them stay working in the field, and mentorship will invite them to seek out these roles.  

Despite the gender imbalance, Wu acknowledges that progress is being made and is hopeful for the future of women in hospitality.  

  “But we think there’s still more to do,” she says. 

You can read Laurie Wu’s research here.