Women In Hospitality: Event Recap

Celebrating International Women’s Day in 2024, Brigad held a successful Women in Hospitality panel and networking event in London which gave a platform for an insightful discussion about the experience of women in the hospitality industry. 

The panel was hosted by Lorraine Copes, founder of Be Inclusive Hospitality, and consisted of Cynthia Coomb, Restaurant Director at Corinthia Hotel, Chantelle Nicholson, Chef-Owner of Apricity Restaurant, and Francesca Turra, Head Sommelier at Fallow Restaurant. 

Together, the panel outlined how women are shaping the future of the hospitality industry, offering valuable insights and advice based on their years of experience. In this article, we will break down the key points shared at the event.  

Mentors Instil Confidence and Help Build Careers 

One difficulty facing women in the industry is a lack of mentors and role models in senior positions who can offer guidance and instil confidence in new starters. 

Data shows that women make up 60% of the hospitality industry, and yet this majority is not reflected in the number of women taking senior and leadership positions. This is indicative of the barriers in place which make it difficult for women to progress in the industry.

However challenging it may be for women to navigate barriers to progress into senior positions, there are thousands of women already in the industry who have worked tirelessly to get to where they are. It is these women who would make great mentors, offering industry and career guidance.

Mentors are a great way for new starters to learn and develop confidence, as well as personal connections which are crucial in creating pathways to success. It is worth saying that women who have already forged successful careers in the industry and have climbed the ladder should consider becoming mentors to make the journey easier for new starters. By becoming mentors, and by prepping the ladder for the next generation, this generation’s leaders will be working to bring balance and equality to the industry.  

People experienced in the industry will know how difficult hospitality positions are, with long hours, hectic and sometimes chaotic working environments, as well as managing steep learning curves and high expectations. Without a mentor, it can be easy for new starters to become overwhelmed, lose confidence and leave without ever finding a passion for working in the industry. 

People who stay in the industry do so because they find a passion for the job. When looking for a mentor, you should be looking for someone with years of experience who loves their work and finds joy in working in the industry - this passion can appear in many forms, from crafting immaculate menus to providing excellent customer service, or simply in creating and managing a talented team. 

A mentor who loves their job will inspire and help you find your passion for the industry and a career pathway that’s best for your needs and interests.  

If you cannot find a mentor in your workplace, then do not be afraid to reach out to established people in the industry whom you admire and ask them for advice. Do your research, find someone you admire, and reach out online -  especially on LinkedIn! 

You may not always get an answer, of course, but it’s worth the effort to try and create this connection. You never know where this small conversation can lead, and even the smallest bit of advice is invaluable to new starters and can not only save you from making mistakes but can help guide you towards success. 

Speak Up, Trust Your Gut and Ask For What You are Entitled To

The panel spoke of the barriers they are facing in the hospitality industry, and one clear barrier is a negative response to using their voice and sharing their opinions. 

The panel shared how they had been repeatedly told, as women with years of experience in the industry, that they were seen as too “emotional”, and “bossy”, and even chastised for being too opinionated by men in the workplace. This kind of attitude and day-to-day interactions reflect more largely on a cultural issue in the industry.  

Women in the industry are often unfairly and repeatedly denied promotions, remaining in assistant and other secondary roles for many years despite having a wealth of knowledge and experience. This kind of experience is shared among the panel, and the result is a lack of confidence and self-doubt, which is difficult to come back from. 

The advice to combat this is to develop resilience and confidence, but to speak up and trust your gut; ask for what you are entitled to. 

The hospitality landscape has changed in the last generation - equality, inclusion and diversity were hardly considered in the workplace 20 years ago, and we are now in a place where teams are geared towards inclusivity as being a core value in the workplace.   

The industry will continue to change as new talent comes into the industry with new voices who can push for more proactive change, with the ambition of breaking down more barriers to make the workplace a more equal place. 

Allyship and Collaboration are Paramount 

Allyship from male colleagues is vital - without support and collaboration, it would nearly be impossible to make the hospitality industry a more equal place of work. 

To best support their female colleagues, there are a few simple changes that men in the hospitality industry can take. The first is in making efforts to truly listen to your colleagues. 

Male-dominated environments can make it very difficult for women to speak out and raise concerns - many women will shy away from becoming opinionated in the workplace due to bad past experiences, or due to there being a lack of women in senior roles who could echo them and offer support. So, when the women in your team raise concerns, make an effort to listen to them, if only so that you can be confident that your response is directly related to what they are trying to tell you.

Allyship also comes in the form of speaking out when you see inequality in the workplace. This means that male colleagues should also raise concerns if they see or hear something in the workplace which goes against equality and inclusion. This form of allyship is perhaps the most important way that men can support their female colleagues.  

Making efforts to improve the hospitality industry should be a movement where both men and women work towards improving diversity and inclusion.

Be sure to note the difference between speaking out and speaking for. Don’t make the mistake of speaking for your female colleague and misusing her voice - speaking out against inequality is using your own voice and your own power, and this is the correct approach. 

To be an ally, speak out against inequality. However, you can also be an ally in a less action-orientated way by offering support, or an ear to listen to and understand the experiences of your female colleagues. Support can be in something as simple as acknowledging an experience that you deem unequal, and letting your colleague know that you saw, understand, and that they are not alone. 

The Future of Hospitality 

When asked about the future of hospitality, the industry panel was clear in prioritising equal pay and getting more women into senior positions as being a major step towards equality in the workplace. 

Both of these things will encourage more women to look towards taking roles in the industry and making a career in hospitality, filling vacant roles and boosting staff retention rates. 

The media also has a huge role to play here; choosing to celebrate and feature a greater variety of players in the industry, especially women, is critical. Young women looking to make a career in hospitality should be able to look at the faces of the leaders of the industry and feel represented.  

Diversity and Inclusion should also not be considered a ‘box ticking’ exercise, or an attempt to get underrepresented people in the same room as the current leaders. Efforts to make the industry more equal should be thorough and candidates should be valued for their skills and what they bring to the table. And, once these people are in the room, they need to be listened to and included in the conversation.  

Moving Forward

Lorraine Copes shared an anecdote noting the parallels she saw between the growth of sustainability in the industry when compared to equality, diversity and inclusivity. She recalled that 15 years ago sustainability only occasionally was brought up in conversation, and many large hospitality businesses refused to get on board with making major environmentally conscious changes because these changes required extensive thought, effort and time. 

Fast forward to today and sustainability is in nearly every conversation within the hospitality industry. This is reflected in the invention of the Michelin Green Star, the award given to sustainable hospitality businesses. The culture and the conversation have shifted, and we can hope that we can shift it again towards equality, inclusivity and diversity.   

At the end of the day, change does take time and effort, and in a notoriously fast-paced industry, making the time and space to have serious conversations, let alone time to implement changes, can be difficult for many people to consider. 

However, just as we are moving towards sustainability becoming an ordinary and essential part of business success in the industry, we can hope to have this same effect for implementing inclusivity, diversity and equality.  

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