SINGAPORE – While it employs women in large numbers, the hospitality industry has one woman in a leadership role for every 10.3 men in similar roles, according to the Women in Hospitality Industry Leadership report for 2022 of Castell Project. Aware of the gender disparity in the top tiers of the industry, renowned hospitality management university EHL Hospitality Business School has been running a Women in Leadership Initiative since 2018. 

Often ranked among the best hospitality schools around the world, Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne that was established in Switzerland in 1893 established its first overseas campus in Singapore last year. Jenny Ang took over as the managing director for the Singapore campus in September 2020. Prior to this, she worked at National University of Singapore’s Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music for seventeen years where she rose to the rank of deputy director. In this interaction with Women Icons Network, she talks about the need for gender inclusion at workplaces, how employers can work towards ensuring gender parity and the initiatives of EHL in this direction. 

Gender Imbalance  

According to UN Women, only 20% of managers in Asia-Pacific today are women, and this figure is even lower for women in middle and senior management positions at 17%. In Singapore, as per the Council for Board Diversity only 17.6% of board seats in the top 100 primary-listed companies in the country are occupied by women, which is even lower for the hospitality industry that has only 12% of leadership positions are held by females.

Specifically talking about Asia, Jenny believes that the centuries-old cultural norms that continue to incline towards patriarchal values meant that women were expected to play a nurturing and supportive role at home even as they began to pursue successful careers. This societal acceptance of gender roles has led to a more pronounced gender gap than that in the West and businesses have a responsibility to change this, she believes. 

“Asia’s progress in terms of gender equality has indeed been slower than in the West. However, reshaping workforce diversity is an important issue for Asian companies to address moving forward,” she feels. Governments need to elect more female representatives and Asian companies must re-evaluate their gender diversity strategies in the workplace, implementing protocols to ensure female employees are just as valued as their male counterparts, she adds  

Inclusive Workplace 

Citing a report by the World Economic Forum, Jenny shares a projection that it could take the Asia Pacific region over 195 years to reach gender equality — two generations more than the global average. She thinks that the pandemic, despite all its difficulties, provided an opportunity to the corporate world to embed policies that take into account women’s unique needs, responsibilities and perspectives to nurture a culture in which women have equal opportunity to achieve their potential over the long-term. 

To enable female leadership progression, organisations can look to continue flexible working arrangements to enable individuals to balance their work and home commitments, she suggests. “A gender inclusive workplace is not simply just about hiring more women and promoting equal pay and women in leadership roles. It is about addressing systemic issues through creating a more supportive and inclusive workplace for all employees,” she explains. 

According to her, an inclusive work culture should ensure that every single employee feels supported, valued and respected regardless of gender, race, religion and other such differences. By addressing gender inclusivity, workplaces will elevate unheard voices and value experiences, creating an environment of authenticity, respect and trust, she feels.

EHL Initiatives 

A proponent of gender equality, EHL welcomed its first mixed class of men and women in 1924. Today, 58% of students across their three campuses are females. The Women in Leadership Initiative has promoted social changes in the broader hospitality sector by addressing topics such as leadership, inclusion and belonging, entrepreneurship for women while also providing networking and mentoring opportunities to participants .

In order to curb sexual harassment that research shows hospitality industry is plagued by, the institute also launched the Sexual Harassment Prevention campaign. The Academic Advisory and HR teams work together to educate, protect and empower students and staff on the topic of sexual harassment and as well as raising awareness by working closely with stakeholders and partners under this campaign. With the help of the Non-Violence Project Foundation, which was founded in 1993 by an EHL alumnus, over 2,000 staffers and students on the sensitive topic since 2019. 

“As an institution, we have a number of integral female leaders within the Senior Management and Faculty teams, and we continue to promote leadership, culture, and policies that foster diverse, balanced, and people-focused environments throughout our institution and within EHL’s curriculum,” informs Jenny. 

Other than her, women holding senior positions at the institute include Dr Carole Ackermann, President of the Board of Directors and President of the EHL Board of Governors, as well as Dr Inès Blal, Executive Dean and Managing Director of EHL. In fact, the latter is the youngest Dean to occupy the position since the inception of EHL in 1893.

Importance of Gender Diversity 

Jenny believes that women bring a different set of skills set and experiences to the table. “It has been seen that having more females at the decision-making level encourages a greater diversity of viewpoints and perspectives, and a wider ranging set of influences that encourage innovation and creativity. According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group, companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to an increase in innovation, showing that diversity is an integral part of businesses’ profitability,” she shares. 

In her experience, women leaders help organisations improve performance as they generally tend to be more nurturing, better listeners, multi-taskers and value work-family balance. She feels that creating an inclusive environment takes a whole-of-business approach that involves everyone in the company, from the most senior person in management to the newest person through the door. While she sees it as an important thing for CEOs to own the agenda and lead it, she thinks it is also important for every employee in the company to be aligned with the same values and goals. 

Leading by Example 

Jenny feels that through promoting gender diversity, corporations add to the company culture which forms the basis of behaviours of all levels and is integral to changing workplace attitudes. “There are plenty of ways that companies can ensure gender equality from hiring diverse talent as well as ensuring equal promotions across the board. True gender equality comes from developing each employee regardless of gender by providing training for each and every employee to help them grow and establishing an equal pay system,” she says.

She believes that leading through example creates a culture of accountability, support and empathy to ensure that every employee is valued and supported. Cultivating an environment that is capable of supporting employees without fear of career penalty must be embedded in a business amidst and post the pandemic, she advises. 

“We’ve seen an increase in focus on diversity, respect and inclusion and this must continue in all establishments as a priority. As our lives continue to be disrupted by the ongoing pandemic, it’s important for employees to feel empathy, trust and support both personally and professionally from the management,” opines Jenny. She suggests promoting networking and mentorship as a great way to create an open working environment as well as assist women to rise through the ranks to ensure opportunities.