Historically, the upper echelons of hotel management have been dominated by men. And although the opportunities for women to advance to the top are far greater today, the number of female General Managers at leading hotels remains comparatively low.
But is this due to lingering remains of gender bias in the hotel industry and a lack of job opportunities for women to progress to the top? Or is it something less ominous, relating to the individual mindsets and career aspirations of women who work in the hospitality sector?
Leading Ladies of London aim to inspire
Earlier this year, three female General Managers at several London luxury hotels launched a women-only group to explore these questions and to encourage more women to aspire to leadership positions in hotels.
The Leading Ladies of London group was founded by Anne-Marie Dowling (GM at The Royal Horseguards Hotel), Debrah Dhugga (GM at Dukes) and Theresa Maw (GM at the Renaissance Chancery Court Hotel). Membership is open to current and aspiring female executives at leading hotels.
Although there are now eight female General Managers of 5 star London hotels – a number which has grown in recent times – there is still a feeling that talented women are under-represented in senior management.
But do women have fewer opportunities to advance than their male counterparts and are there any unfair obstacles which restrict progression?
Dhugga continues, “We’re not suggesting that it is any more difficult for women to reach the top within London hospitality, as we’re living examples of those that have been successful. It’s just less common to see a female general manager than a male in that position.”
Driven to succeed
Anne-Marie Dowling’s own career progression is testament to what a woman with the will to succeed can achieve in the hospitality industry.
After dropping her A-levels, she took a diploma in hotel catering and her first step on the career ladder as a chambermaid at a Holiday Inn. From there she took part in an extensive trainee programme and after working her way through virtually the full range of entry-level hotel jobs, progressed through a series of managerial positions to reach the heights of her current role as GM at the highly-rated Royal Horseguards Hotel.
Dowling believes that women have the same opportunities as men in the hotel business. She believes she has advanced in her career because of her determination to reach the top and claims she never encountered discrimination on her way up. She believes that the key prerequisites are drive along with a willingness to make sacrifices.
The family/ career equation
In fact, Dowling told Caterer Search that “women have choices to make – I don’t have children, so I don’t have to juggle a family commitment. I think it would be very difficult with a young baby at home when you are running a hotel which operates seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
Another member of the Leading Ladies of London founding trio, Theresa Maw, became the first ever female GM of a major hotel on London’s exclusive Park Lane when she took the helm at the five-star Marriott Park Lane back in 2002. She also emphasises the importance of passion and dedication in reaching for the top job vacancies in the hotel sector.
“You have to work really hard at whatever you do” Maw told Caterer Search in a 2009 interview. “You have to be passionate about the industry. This isn’t a nine-to-five job; it is a lifestyle, especially in the hotel industry. You are there day and night.”
As with virtually any industry, women must make the choice between having a career and a family, or attempt to juggle the two.
It may also be that the perception of gender discrimination occasionally holds some women back from fighting their way to the top. The all-consuming nature of hotel jobs doesn’t help either; some hotels could certainly be more flexible in staff recruitment and development policies.
There are clearly many factors at play and these issues will no doubt be at the heart of the Leading Ladies of London activities in the coming months. Hopefully their success and encouragement will inspire other women to fulfil their ambitions in the hospitality industry and reach for the very top.