Promoting Gender Equality in Hospitality

By Lisa Cain Assistant Professor, Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, FIU | March 11, 2018

Co-authored by Miranda Kitterlin, Associate Professor, Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, FIU

Roughly fifty years after the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by Congress to protect women from discrimination in the workplace, females currently represent the majority of the workforce in both academia and industry in the hospitality and tourism management field (1) (Bailey & Hubbard, 2005). “It is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees because of their gender. Every individual in this country is allowed to go to work and have equity in the workplace. Every individual is allowed to have the same standards applied to them”- Therese Lawless(2) (Bowles, 2015)

And yet, there still exists the proverbial ‘glass ceiling' that hinders career advancement for women in the hospitality and tourism management workplace(3) (Nupur, Deepa & Khimya, 2013; (4) Stephen, Isaac, George, & Dominic, 2014; (5) Wan, 2014). The impact of this glass ceiling phenomenon may negatively affect the hospitality and tourism industry in two ways: it may inhibit the more qualified and competent candidate from progressing in the organization, and it may ultimately make the organization less successful(6) (Crafts & Thompson, 1997). A recent article in Esquire even pointed to the inequalities for women in hospitality based on the perception that they are less profitable to invest in, have smaller profiles than males, receive less accolades and rewards than their male counterparts, and are reviewed less often and less favorably than men in media outlets(7) (Cohen, 2017). 

In better news, there are active programs throughout the industry that may help ensure women are promoted in an equitable manner, based on qualifications. Additionally, there are measures that exist to enable women to obtain the qualifications necessary to help them advance in the industry. To aid in the success of these programs, there should be steps in place to address issues that plague females regarding upward mobility. Specifically, what training options, educational courses, and mentoring programs are being made available and equally across genders?  While the answers to these questions may vary from one organization to another, there are some general recommendations that can be embraced across the hospitality industry. 

Promotions - Or Lack Thereof

It has been suggested in both academic literature and association investigations that a promotion initiative may increase female advancement in the workplace. There are a number of reports that men are more likely than women to ask for promotions, many which suggest that men speak about their performance, versus a female approach of letting performance speak for itself.  We do know, however, that a larger number of promotions are granted to those who actually ask for them. There are two ways to treat this issue. The first solution to this problem may be achieved by females seeking out promotions rather than waiting for an opportunity to present itself. Ladies, do ask for that promotion-know that you deserve it. 

While this may sound like common sense, it is, in a sense, blaming women for not being proactive. Though it may seem logical to advocate going after something you desire, versus waiting for it to come to you, this necessitates changing the behavior of women, rather than tailoring the ways in which we as an industry recognize achievement and promotes our talent. Since we know that women take these initiatives less so than their male counterparts, the burden lies with the industry to identify ways in which we can rectify this situation so that the most qualified individual, not the most vocal, is promoted.   

While there is no simple answer to how to achieve this, it is important to understand the factors that exist that make it more difficult for women to get promotions.  These factors include women being more averse to negotiate pay and feeling the need to be more prepared (than their male counterparts) before attempting the next organizational step on the ladder.  Because we know that women are less inclined to negotiate and more inclined to (over)-prepare, it is important to facilitate open dialogues with women and men in order to attempt to make the conversation more comfortable and more accessible. If employers offer the conversation about promotion, rather than waiting for the employee to broach the topic, it may facilitate more open and honest dialogue that enables the employee to properly voice both their professional and monetary goals. 

Leaders - Let Everybody Play

A second strategy suggested is participative leadership; a leadership style characterized by consultation with subordinates and asking for and seriously considering their suggestions during the decision making process.  Other characteristics include being involved in subordinate tasks, implementing teams, and empowering subordinates (in levels appropriate to their roles). 

Now, how does this leadership style promote gender advancement equality?  Well, being that leadership roles are male dominated, having these leaders involve their female subordinates in workplace decision making will allow for female ideas to be incorporated, which may lead to a more female-friendly organization on both the employee and consumer side. Female subordinates get the opportunity to show their supervisors just how great their ideas can be, which may keep them forefront in minds when it comes time to think about advancement. Additionally, it may lead to the incorporation of ideas that help attract more female clientele.  Finally, the company benefits by having a more diverse and multi-perspective approach to organizational decisions.  

Don't Just Support and Mentor - Sponsor

In addition to having strategies to promote female advancement in the workplace, having readily available support systems and mentors have been shown to aid in the retention of female employees ((8) Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, & van Engen, 2003; (9) Remington & Kitterlin, 2017). Ideally, there would be a system in place to identify high-performing or high-potential female employees to mentor, the goal being promotion in the workplace(10) (Clevenger & Singh, 2013). Many firms are also introducing some form of accountability for mentors in formal programs, which has been reported to reap some benefit.  

This support and mentorship, however, is not nearly as effective alone as when combined with active sponsorship.  In other words, don't just tell your mentee what to do to succeed - actually put your neck out there for them and recommend them for advancement, actively engage in networking with them to help open doors, and go to bat for them when you have the ear of decision makers. 

Find Balance

A fourth suggested strategy is presenteeism and working harder. It is interesting that presenteeism (spending more time at work) and working harder were not found to be favorable ways to stimulate leadership advancement in previous studies, though this is certainly another outlet(11) (Remington & Kitterlin, 2017). These unfavorable findings may be explained by the absence of work-life balance in the industry, and spending more time at work, or evaluating one's own work as inefficient may not be perceived as favorable. 

Further, it has been suggested that promoting work-life balance in the hospitality and tourism industry would be most beneficial for female (and all) workers in this industry(12) (Mulvaney, O'Neill, Cleveland, & Crouter, 2007). Keep in mind that work-life balance is not a devotion of 50% of one's efforts to work and 50% of one's efforts to all things outside of work, but an internally gauged concept that requires the individual to understand what makes them feel content or balanced with all of their life and work obligations(13) (Guest, 2002). The emphasis is placed on overall life quality and requires a recognition that work demands may contribute to feelings of imbalance ((14) Guest, 2002; (15) Lyness & Judiesch, 2014). 

Understanding work-life balance is contingent upon recognizing gender roles and differences as it has been suggested that experiences of balance differ between women and men(16) (Eby, Casper, Lockwood, Bordeaux, & Brinley, 2005; (17) Lyness & Judiesch, 2014). Specifically, women who have children are particularly prone to career change because of the demands of the industry and its effect on home life. However, there is a new generation (millennials) who are entering the workforce and who value work-life balance more than any of their predecessors. The industry may find itself in a bind across genders as this new group advances in the work place and the need for implementing work-life balance practices is going to be even more pivotal to the success of all organizations. If industry leaders (both male and female) are willing to better understand the personal sacrifices made by women in order to be successful in the hospitality industry, this may reveal additional strategies and practices that facilitate work-life balance across both genders.

Equality In Leadership Is A Win-Win

Knowing how best to serve our female employees may inform the hospitality industry how to better accommodate its internal customers and may increase employee work performance and satisfaction, as well as retention in the future.  Enhanced employee performance, satisfaction and retention have been shown to be financially beneficial to the companies(18) (Karatepe & Bekteshi, 2008; (19) Timms & Brough, 2012). Once all vested hospitality and tourism parties begin to examine the industry in an honest and unbiased manner, the proverbial glass ceiling may begin to crack and even shatter, and gender equality may be more readily achieved through strategies, mentorships, support systems, and greater work-life balance. 


(1) Bailey, B. K. & Hubbard, S. S. (2005). A pilot study evaluation of selected career advancement strategies for managerial placement of females in the lodging industry. The Consortium Journal, 10(1), 55-63.

(2) Bowles, N. (2015, March 25). Ellen Pao's case ends on an impassioned plea for women in tech.  

(3) Nupur, S., Deepa, K., & Khimya, T. (2013). A study on career advancement of women in the hospitality sector in Oman. EXCEL International Journal of Multidisciplinary Management Studies, 3(9), 154-166.

(4)  Stephen, O. M., Isaac, K. M., George, M., & Dominic, K. R. (2014). Women employment in tourism businesses: a case study of Eldoret Town, Kenya. African Journal of Tourism and Hospitality, 1(1).

(5)  Wan, Y. K. P. (2014). Minding the gap in the gaming industry: Perceptions of gender disparity at work among female casino dealers. International Journal of Contemporary HospitalityManagement, 26(1), 130-153.

(6)  Crafts, D. D. & Thompson, L.M. (1997). Managers' perceptions of career advancement obstacles for women managers in the food service industry. Journal of College and University Foodservice, 3(1), 41.

(7)  Cohen, A. (2017). I've worked in food for 20 years. Now you finally care about female chefs?

(8)  Eagly, A., Johannesen-Schmidt, M. & van Engen, M. (2003). Transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles: a meta-analysis comparing women and men. Psychological Bulletin, 129(4), 569-591. 

(9)  Remington, J & Kitterlin, M. (2017). Still pounding on the glass ceiling: A case study of female leaders in hospitality, tourism and travel management. Journal of Human Resources in Hospitality & Tourism, DOI: 10.1080/15332845.2017.1328259.

(10)  Clevenger & Singh, 2013 - we need the reference

(11)  Remington, J & Kitterlin, M. (2017). Still pounding on the glass ceiling: A case study of female leaders in hospitality, tourism and travel management. Journal of Human Resources in Hospitality & Tourism, DOI: 10.1080/15332845.2017.1328259.

(12)  Mulvaney, R.H., O'Neill, J.W., Cleveland, J.N., & Crouter, A.C. (2007). A model of work-family dynamics of hotel managers. Annals of Tourism Research, 34(1), 68-87.

(13)  Guest, D.E. (2002), Perspectives on the study of work-life balance. Social ScienceInformation, 41(2), 255-79.

(14)  Guest, D.E. (2002), Perspectives on the study of work-life balance. Social ScienceInformation, 41(2), 255-79.

(15)  Lyness, K.S., & Judiesch, M.K. (2014). Gender egalitarianism and work-life balance for managers: Multisource perspectives in 36 countries. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 63(1), 96-129.

(16)  Eby, L.T., Casper, W.J., Lockwood, A., Bordeaux, C., & Brinley, A. (2005). Work and family research in IO/OB: Content analysis and review of the literature (1980-2002). Journal of Vocational Behavior, 66, 124-197.

(17)  Lyness, K.S., & Judiesch, M.K. (2014). Gender egalitarianism and work-life balance for managers: Multisource perspectives in 36 countries. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 63(1), 96-129.

(18)  Karatepe, O.M., & Bekteshi, L. (2008). Antecedents and outcomes of work-family facilitation and family-work facilitation among frontline hotel employees. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 27, 517-528.

(19)  Timms, C., & Brough, P. (2012). I like being a teacher: Career satisfaction, the work environment and work engagement. Journal of Educational Administration, 51(6), 768-789.

Additional references:

Arendt, S., Roberts, K., Stohbehn, C., Ellis, J., Paez, P., and Meyer, J. (2012). Use of qualitative research in food service organizations. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 24(6), 820-837.

Harris D.A., & Giuffre, P. (2010). The price you pay: How female professional chefs negotiate work and family. Gender Issues, 27, 27-52.

Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture's Consequences: International Differences in Work Related Values.Sage: London.

Hsieh, Y., & Eggers, P.D. (2010). Coping strategies used by lodging managers to balance work and personal lives: An exploratory study. International Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Administration, 11, 39-58.

Kitterlin, M., Moll, L. & Moreno, G. (2015). Foodservice employee substance abuse: Is anyone getting the message? International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 27(5), 810-826.

National Restaurant Association (NRA) (2013). Retrieved from:

Roehling, P. V., Jarvis, L. H., & Swope, H. E. (2005). Variations in negative work -family spillover among White, Black, and Hispanic American men and women. Journal of Family Issues, 26(6), 840-865.

Dr. Kitterlin Dr. Miranda Kitterlin is an Associate Professor in the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Florida International University She teaches graduate level Hospitality Management courses. She received her doctoral degree in Hospitality Administration from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She holds a Master's degree in Human Resources and a Bachelor's degree in Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management from the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. Prior to academia, Dr. Kitterlin worked in the lodging and food and beverage industries. What began as an entry-level front-of-house position quickly developed into operational management, sales, and human resources management roles, and a lifelong passion for Hospitality Management.     

Dr. Cain Dr. Lisa Cain is an Assistant Professor in the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Florida International University, where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate level Hospitality Management courses. She received her doctoral degree in 2015 in Hospitality Administration from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She earned her Master's degree from Florida International University in Hospitality Management and her Bachelor's degree from Smith College in English Language and Literature. She also spent a year studying at Oxford University in England. Prior to beginning a career in academia, Dr. Cain worked for several years as the director of operations for a small start-up healthcare technology company in Los Angeles, California, and then for several more years in the fine-dining food service industry in Miami, Florida and in Las Vegas, Nevada, respectively. Her time in industry sparked her desire to further pursue her academic career. Dr. Cain can be contacted at 305-919-4500 or Please visit for more information. Extended Biography retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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