Opinion: ending sexism in the hospitality industry 

Sexism and any form of sexual harassment must not be tolerated in hospitality and change must start at the top, says Marius Zürcher

Although, in general, the hospitality industry’s workforce is largely comprised of women – 70% according to the Hospitality Industry Pipeline Coalition (HIPC) – sexism is still a big problem in the industry.

At the top, the numbers are staggeringly different. In upper tier hospitality companies, only 20% of executives and 8% of directors are women, according to HIPC. Similarly, only 4.5% of American hotel company CEOs and 9% of presidents are women, according to Castell Project. This is problematic, as it has generally been established that companies with gender diversity at all levels of their hierarchies are more likely to be successful than their male dominated equivalents.

Tackling the problem

Establishing gender diversity across all levels of a company is therefore not only the right thing to do morally, but also financially. As Erika Alexander, Marriot’s chief lodging services officer, puts it in this interview with Travel Weekly. “There is no winning in business if women aren’t a part of that conversation. Yes, it’s certainly doing the right thing to talk about diversity and inclusion, but it’s about having a pool of people who are the smartest and most adept at being able to tackle problems. You don’t do that without talking about women.”

A lack of gender diversity at the top inevitably leads to sexist policies as well as a sexist workplace culture. These often out themselves in a variety of ‘soft’ ways, such as in uniforms for female staff members that, unlike their male counterparts, accentuate the body and rely on gender stereotypes.

Similarly, female guests are being treated differently than their male counterparts. As a response to the latter, a growing number of progressive restaurants are for example abandoning ‘ladies first’ serving policies, which, although often misconstrued as an expression of manners, are inherently sexist. High-level service does not require outdated etiquette.

‘Soft’ examples like these are however not the only symptoms of sexism present in the hospitality industry, nor are they the nastiest. The hospitality industry also suffers from sexual abuse at the workplace, as do most, if not all, industries. What sets the hospitality industry apart, and not in a positive way, is that female frontline employees regularly must deal with verbal abuse as well as acts of physical abuse, such as groping, not only coming from their co-workers, but also from guests, often as if it were a matter of course. Given the importance of tips for many of these employees, many quite literally cannot afford to speak up.

Change from the top down

There are ways out of this mess. Once again change must start at the top. By enforcing gender diversity from the top down, policies and workplace cultures will inevitably change for the better. However, waiting on that is not enough. Companies should also have their staff undergo training sessions aimed at gender awareness as well bias eradication.

Similarly, consultants can be hired to analyse and, when necessary, change processes and policies. Female employees themselves are a good resource in the fight against sexism and their voices should be encouraged and, crucially, heard.

Management should furthermore clearly communicate that sexism and any form of sexual harassment will not be tolerated, whether it be from fellow employees or from guest. Female frontline employees should know that management has their backs and that the guest is, in fact, not always king, but sometimes simply out of line and not welcome in the establishment.

Marius Zürcher


About the author:

The co-owner & founder of start-up 1520 in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, Marius Zürcher was a participant at FCSI’s ‘Millennials’ focused roundtable at INTERGASTRA 2018.


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