The Shecession is the term used to describe how COVID-19 disproportionally affected working women. In the early months of the pandemic, we saw the lowest female labour force participation rate in Canada in 30 years. Women lost jobs at twice the rate of men across industries, but it was especially damaging to women in hospitality. When the accommodation and food services sector shed 48,000 jobs, 80% were women. The Shecession in tourism was especially brutal for youth and women of colour who suffered the greatest job losses.
“Shecession is the term used to describe how COVID-19 disproportionally affected working women.”
On the heels of the Shecession came the great resignation. When jobs rebounded, women who were pushed out elected not to return. In a McKinsey & Company study, 47% of leisure and hospitality employees surveyed said they were “somewhat likely” to leave their current job in the next 3-6 months. Women began to evaluate if they should stay, when other industries offered greater flexibility and job security. Tourism HR Canada reports that men now outnumber women in accommodation sector employment in Canada. There are 40% less women working in hotels than two years ago. It’s clear that in a traditionally female dominated industry, women are not dominating. They’re leaving.
The tourism labour shortage has resulted in an abundance of coalitions, working groups, and task forces focused on fixing the crisis. It seems everyone is offering advice on finding talent for the sector. What if the talent is there, we just haven’t asked what it would take to keep them, or better yet, bring them back.
“The industry has an invisible off-ramp for mid-level female management.”
I spent 20 years working in tourism and hospitality, most recently as a human resource professional with global hotel brands. I witnessed an exodus of women from the industry long before COVID came calling. It’s no secret the industry has an invisible off-ramp for mid-level female management. Instead of keeping women in the driver’s seat, we allow them to follow the exit signs to pursue careers elsewhere. We direct women to the exit even faster if they choose to start a family. There is relative parity for mid-level management in accommodation, but women only hold one executive role for every 10.3 men.
This led me to build WORTH Association, a society designed to accelerate women in recreation, tourism, and hospitality leadership. Since 2018, this grassroots organization has worked to move the dial by offering resources to elevate, educate, and advocate. Along with Laurel Sliskovic of the Sociable Scientists and two student researchers from Capilano University, we embarked on a research study aptly named Seat At The Table. We invited industry leaders to add their voices to a series of focus groups. The study produced recommendations related to balance, flexibility, benefits, inclusion, learning, and safe workplaces. Three key themes emerged. Women desire more transparency, better inclusion leaders, and more attention towards flexibility.
Research from the latest census uncovered that in Vancouver, women working in accommodation management earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. Closing the wage gap is long overdue. Women no longer wish to be left in the dark about pay grades and salaries. We recommend reviewing salary bands and being open about them, both internally and in job postings. Leaders can share their salary philosophy, elaborating on how compensation is determined and calculated. Done correctly, pay transparency is a powerful retention and recruitment tool as women seek to grow their careers.
“If they aren’t learning, they’re considering leaving.”
Women also feel some employers are not transparent in communicating opportunities and policies. Participants of the study want to know more about the business and the opportunities available to them to grow within it. They want professional development but are not clear on training allowances or budgets. As a result, organizations must evaluate how they communicate and share information, starting from the top leadership. Leaders should coach women on opportunities available and share feedback to support their career paths. This also means evaluating and enhancing professional development funds. If they aren’t learning, they’re considering leaving.
Our research showed that champions for inclusion appear to be absent in many organizations. Women are demanding a greater focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and reconciliation. We recommend creating a balanced employee resource group including executive leadership, ensuring the labour is not solely asked of women and women of colour. Organizations should set targets related to inclusion efforts, with policies and action plans to show progress. Employers must also evaluate hiring practices. This includes looking at the language used in job descriptions, using a panel to make hiring decisions and sourcing candidates from diverse backgrounds. Companies should also develop a mentorship program and provide this support to newly hired individuals and women with leadership ambitions.
We learned that one size doesn’t fit all, but all participants in our study desire more flexibility. We need to shift the traditional hotelier model and modernize our workplaces. Women want choices. This starts with evaluating benefits to explore whether a health care spending account or flexible benefits can be introduced. Respondents recognized working from home is not always a possibility given the nature of the industry. However, women desire hybrid initiatives like four-day work weeks, standardized core working hours or reduced, part-time schedules. They are seeking employers committed to work-life balance, where the culture allows unplugging when away from work. Flexibility offers women the opportunity to feel more control over their work environment, rewards, and growth.
“Women desire hybrid initiatives like four-day work weeks.”
Transparency, inclusion, and flexibility are key themes of the Seat at the Table study, but we uncovered many more recommendations through our research. The team at WORTH Association created a gender equity checklist comprised of 65 best practices for leaders to audit their organization’s inclusive practices. You can find the audit and more details from our study at www.worthassociation.com. We invite all genders to the table to continue the conversation about equity in our industry. We encourage you to take action in your organization. Let’s work to ensure our voices are heard to clear the road ahead so women can remain in the driver’s seat.
Joanna Jagger (she/her) is President of WORTH | Women of Recreation, Tourism, & Hospitality
and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.