A Fight Worth Fighting
Published15 June, 2022
Photo credit Steph Townsend
Moving beyond the ‘old-boys’ club’: CapU instructor established WORTH Association to advance equity for women in the tourism industry.
To get to know my students in TOUR 471: Human Capital Planning, I ask them to write their names on a folded piece of paper, followed by the title of their dream job in tourism.
Over the years, I have noticed a frustrating trend: women generally play it safe, choosing titles such as co-ordinator or supervisor, whereas men daydream about senior roles like General Manager, Vice-President, or CEO.
I wonder what role I would have written had I been assigned this icebreaker when I was a student. As a young woman, I had leadership ambitions in the industry but little guidance or support to navigate my path within it. Like most women I know, I endured sexism, bias and harassment in my twenty years working in hospitality. I even experienced pregnancy discrimination as a human resources executive — my “dream job” at the time.
I witnessed firsthand the inequities of the industry and how frequently women exit. An invisible off-ramp exists for mid-level female management, and they are often directed there if they choose to start a family. I can’t understand how it’s possible that women are not always dominating in a female-dominated industry.
This led me to create WORTH (Women of Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality) Association. Founded in 2018, we support self-identified women with mentorships, scholarships, networking and career resources. It’s the organization I needed when I was 19 years old.
Throughout the pandemic, tourism was among the hardest hit industries with the greatest number of job losses. The off-ramp became very crowded. I watched helplessly as my friends, former colleagues and students left the industry in droves due to layoffs and closures.
On the heels of the “Shecession,” called this because so many COVID job losses were held by women, came the Great Resignation.
When jobs rebounded, women who were pushed out elected not to return. WORTH Association’s mandate has evolved from advancing women in leadership to simply retaining them. Tourism operators now face a significant labour crisis, yet few people are addressing the gender imbalance that has driven so many women away.
I set out to discover how the industry might retain women of recreation, tourism and hospitality. Thanks to CapU’s Unified Grant, I hired two research assistants from the School of Tourism Management. Julie Johnson-Lepine and Sebastien Laroye joined fifty industry leaders in a focus group at the Vancouver Lookout to find some answers.
In the Seat at the Table study, we produced recommendations related to balance, benefits, inclusion, learning and safe workplaces. Findings suggest the industry needs more transparency, better inclusion leaders, and improved processes for flexibility. We created a gender equity audit, a tool that organizations can use to evaluate their score on 65 measures for progress.
School of Tourism Management
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I may not have used my voice when I was 19, but I absolutely use it now. Luckily, I found my real dream job. I will continue to advocate for equity so that students entering tourism can pursue their ambitions without any detours. Helping women know their worth is worth fighting for.