Addressing gender inequality in housekeeping

A topic I am hearing incessantly from numerous hoteliers about is significant staffing problems, particularly amongst their room attendants. Such woes are causing serious headaches due to rampant turnover, inability to find suitable replacements and huge costs associated with this entire process. This should never be the case, and so I’d like to present a possible solution.

To start, I should mention that this is a touchy subject to broach as most of the current cultural dialogue is about ending the millennia-old gender bias against women in the workforce. While increasing gender equality in hotel management will prove to be incredibly efficacious for promoting more entrepreneurship and better business practices for the hotels of tomorrow, the housekeeping department at present may have the opposite problem.

In a North American and Western European context – unlike other parts of the world, where it is often the reverse situation – the housekeeping department at the typical hotel is composed mostly of women. In a labor-deficient market, by helping make this line of work more appealing to men, it will in theory double the available labor pool. The question then is: How do you accomplish this?

Converting public area cleaners

When we look at other countries – for instance, India – gender inequalities exist within the housekeeping department but are the other way around, with men dominating the field. Is this only a matter of cultural influences? I would not be inclined to believe this because, if you look at public area cleaning teams in North America – a very similar line of work to housekeeping – there is a far better balance of genders, even though it is hardly an equal ratio in most workplaces.

So, maybe a preliminary solution is to promote housekeeping amongst the ranks of public area staffers, both those already working within your organization and through partnerships with temp or outsourcing agencies. The key here is proper training so that such potential converts can realize that being a room attendant is not as intimidating a transition as once thought.

Such training and, hopefully, the new workers that result from these efforts will help to prevent short-staffed periods and divert shifts away from those already in overtime. Moreover, by tapping into the network of public area cleaning, you are opening the labor pool up to custodians of many other industries, although the training required to adapt to the rigorous SOPs of housekeeping would render this a rather lengthy conversion.

The retraining and transition of public area cleaners is but a part of the real solution – one that will require a concerted push from multiple angles to change the overall perception of housekeeping to a more attractive line of work. We must look to what other internal factors can be altered to make associates in this department feel more rewarded and respected for their contributions as well as what can be done to alleviate the often-grueling conditions that room attendants currently endure.

Concerted effort

Fixing the staffing problem ultimately requires a systemic push to help make the room attendant’s line of work more appealing. Initiatives must be put in place to make these workers feel as though their contributions to the property are valued. Next, some form of continuing professional development (CPD) program should be considered so that housekeepers know there is a structured succession beyond cleaning rooms.

As I see it, training and the retraining of public area cleaners is a good start as it will help to reframe this department as a worthwhile career path and thereby bridge the current gender gap. However, much more must inevitably be done to mitigate the staffing problems in this department and for this ongoing education presents another viable option.