Slowly, surely women within the hospitality ranks are making strides. More is needed.

The May/June issue of HOTELS Magazine featured a special report focused on women in hospitality. The idea of a piece devoted to underscoring the achievements of women is in and of itself a cynical pursuit: It’s 2024 and we are still penning stories and posting Q&As that illustrate the inequity that still exists, particularly in the corporate ranks. Here’s the reason we still do: If we stopped, it means the gap has not just closed but been sealed. And that’s not the case: According to gender wage gap statistics, put out recently by Forbes, women earn an average of 16% less than men. For every dollar earned by men, women earned 84 cents. 

Dollar and cents aside, there is also the notion of women not holding the highest of leadership positions. It’s true: Many women in hospitality are CFOs, COOs, CTOs, CMOs, to name several. Not one, however, is CEO among the large lodging companies. Not yet. 

Over the next week, we will roll out our Women in Hospitality feature, where we asked a cross-section of women in hospitality questions pertaining not only to the plight of women in the industry, but, also, there speciality within it. Because, one day, there will no longer need to be a women in hospitality panel at a conference discussing women in hospitality matters. Rather, it will be a women-only panel talking, solely, about hotel development, hotel investment, hotel branding, hotel marketing, hotel technology, hotel finance—everything and anything, just not why women don’t have positions in those fields. Because those days will be over. 

Rachel Humphrey has championed women in hospitality before it was even a thing. She graciously agreed to write the introduction for our Women in Hospitality feature, which you can read below. As always, she is on point. People ask her:  When will features written specifically about women not be needed anymore because we’ll have reached a point of gender equilibrium? It’s a fair question, she says, and she hopes it will come someday. When it happens, she says, “I hope we never stop celebrating one another across the industry—regardless of gender.”

Every March, the hospitality industry celebrates its female leaders as part of Women’s History Month. On LinkedIn and other channels, stories and photos feature extraordinary women. If only for March, one might conclude that women have achieved the goal of gender parity in the hospitality industry. Though recognizing overall hospitality industry advancements is important, March is not reflective of the realities in the industry today.

Still, there is much to celebrate. Women are advancing across all segments of the industry, including many places where they have traditionally been underrepresented. Many companies are evaluating the composition of their leadership teams and boards and setting benchmarks for achieving greater diversity.

Those truly dedicated are creating programs that prove their commitment. Conference organizers, likewise, are setting out to intentionally achieve greater diversity across panels and keynotes. Importantly, many of these speaking opportunities now showcase women, as the subject-matter experts that they are.

Sponsors are being more intentional in their roles at conferences, too. Men are proudly serving as allies and champions, with many women noting that their greatest mentors and advocates have been men.

Organizations committed to elevating women in hospitality are offering networking events, conferences, mentorship programs, scholarships, podcast opportunities, training materials, board volunteer opportunities and other resources to help support those who are investing in themselves. Proudly, 31 of these organizations collaborate as part of the Women in Hospitality Leadership Alliance to maximize their efforts to hopefully move the needle farther and faster.

The National Women’s History Month’s theme for 2024 celebrates “Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.” That theme runs consistent with the efforts of formal organizations and rings true anecdotally: Many women can’t recall a greater time of support and advocacy for one another.

There is a lot of momentum and a very public narrative that is driving awareness and generating results. But there is more to be done. Women don’t just want to talk about a seat at the table; they want and deserve a seat at the table. There is no question that diversity of thought and leadership drives business results. For some time now, there have been more women in mid-level roles, yet there continues to be barriers into executive leadership roles and the C-suite.

Some of these obstacles are societal; some are ingrained within current leaders/ decision-makers; others our own internal dialogue. On boards, at conferences, throughout organizations, in trade publications—it will take the collective industry to get there.

Companies and recruiters need to think differently when hiring, and then further identify and develop top talent. Conferences need to attract more female attendees and media need to source more women as subject matter experts. It is also incumbent for women to seek out career opportunities, learn and advocate: Am I doing all I can to advance gender equality in the hospitality industry?

The hospitality industry is incredible and a career in it impacts people’s lives daily. Of course, there needs to be female representation at all levels to reflect the diverse communities served.

People often ask: When will be the time when there no longer needs to be features written specifically about women because there will be a point of gender equilibrium? It’s a fair question. I hope someday—it’s just not today. And when it happens, I hope we never stop celebrating one another across the industry—regardless of gender.

Story contributed by Rachel Humphrey, founder, Women in Hospitality Leadership Alliance, and interview host, DEI Advisors.