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Inequalities that women face working in the UK hospitality industry: Gendered challenges associated with pay gap.

Inequalities that women face working in the UK hospitality industry: Gendered challenges associated with pay gap.
Author: Leah Williams
1 Commentries
Abstract: This discussion paper seeks to the examine the complexity of inequalities and challenges women face, contributing to the issue of gender pay gap that considerably exists within the UK hospitality industry.

Key words: Inequality, Challenges, Gender pay gap, Gendered roles, Stereotypes, Work-life balance, Mentoring , Self-imposed Barriers.

The UK hospitality mean pay gap is the percentage of 12.4% as of 2019. However, the exposure of the gender pay gap is not the case of women receiving lower pay for the same level of occupation, but the disclosure of men dominating higher job roles, with only 11% of women occupying managerial roles. Moreover, the discussion of gender equality has extensively increased the amount of reporting within UK Hospitality (PWC, 2019).

The factors for why gender pay gap exists within the UK hospitality industry are complex in their nature and are not as simple as could be originally perceived or assumed. The hospitality industry has been exhaustively acknowledged as a significantly challenging environment for women concerning career advancement and job satisfaction. This exposes inequalities with a combination of challenges contemporarily existing within the UK hospitality sector; gendered roles, stereotypes, work-life balance, absence of mentoring opportunities, self-imposed barriers, and the potential argument of the notion of the glass-ceiling (Calinaud et al., 2020). However, what are the underpinning reasonings of the barriers and challenges imposed upon women, contributing to gendered segregation and the existing pay gap? These barriers are contextual, often overlapping and this has been examined within primary research of multiple academics. Such barriers and challenges faced have been recognised by researchers at various levels, individual, intersectional, interactional, and institutional.

At the interactional and intersectional level inequalities, expected gender roles, and stereotypical behaviours are embedded within hospitality workplaces. Research pinpoints that hierarchal structures exist exhaustively within larger corporations in respect of horizontal and vertical segregation, as women are often stereotyped into lower positions than men (Calinaud et al.,2020). For example, women working in UK hospitality occupy roles such as housekeeping, at a staggering percentage of 90% (PWC, 2019), catalysing women to be remarkably absent from senior decision-making roles. Moreover, caring roles and responsibilities of women are known to filter through to hospitality workplaces, contributing to patriarchal division of labour (Calinaud et al., 2020).

It is also suggested that at the interactional level stereotypes affecting women can lead to self-esteem issues, instigating women’s self-perception and capabilities individually within the workplace (Boone et al., 2013; Calinaud et al., 2020). This is in alignment with newer research considering the challenge of self-imposed barriers contributing to women individually holding back from career advancements. Moreover, it is argued that a ‘shift’ is influencing womens personal priorities (family responsibilities) over career advancements more so than other challenges (Boone et al., 2013).

At the intersectional level, predominantly research shows that the biggest challenges women endure is work-life balance. Clinaud et al. (2020) uncovers that women have limited opportunities for career progression, as the concept of the ‘ideal worker’ and ‘workaholic behaviour is elevated within the UK Hospitality workplace. Additionally, extensive hours are usually necessary at senior level positions, with little to no option of flexible working hours. This causes women to opt out of applying for senior level positions or request for lower-level positions. This means that majority of mens careers within the hospitality industry are a linear pattern appose to women with miscellaneous turning points; heavily influenced by family orientated decisions, being a major challenge (Clinaud et al., 2020). This is perfectly highlighted within surveys conducted by Boone et al. (2013) with respondents from both men and women agreeing that the most outstanding barriers that women face is the priorities of ‘family’ primarily disrupting women.

At the institutional level, leadership styles within hospitality workplaces often lack mentoring opportunities to assist women with progression, along with women lacking individual planning. Instead of the opinion of intentional discrimination that explains the notion of ‘glass ceiling’, the alternative phrase ‘invisible obstacle course’ is described exposing the difficulty of pinpointing challenges that women endure amongst organisational culture and power relations (Boone et al., 2013). In accordance, the research of Dashper (2020) consists of interviews/mentoring concluding that mentoring opens possibilities taking small steps of change at the institutional level, to confront often invisible and ingrained gender inequality and obstacles within UK hospitality. Positively, the figure of women occupying managerial roles (11%) within UK hospitality has increased over the last 5 years and various UK hospitality businesses and the UK government have worked towards closing gender pay gaps. However, it is recognised that gaining complete understanding of gender pay gap is challenging (PWC, 2019). Crucially, flexibility should be a permanent choice for women. Resilience, self-efficacy, and mentoring schemes is equally important to the assistance of the hospitality companies (Calinaud et al., 2020).

Ultimately, this research highlights that women in the hospitality workplace should not suffer with lack of career progression because of inequalities and challenges discussed. Research shows that hospitality institutions can attain accountability and improve gender equality policies and education to overcome the inequalities of gender pay gap within the UK hospitality industry.


Boone, J., Veller, T., Nikolaeva, K., Keith, M., Kefgen, K., Houran, J. (2013) Rethinking a glass ceiling in the hospitality industry. Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, 54(3), pp. 230-239.

Calinaud, V., Kokkranikal, J.,Gebbels, M. (2020) Career advancement for women in the British hospitality industry: The enabling factors. Work, Employment and Society, pp. 1-19.

PWC (2019) Let’s make it years not decades: Closing the gender pay gap in hospitality, travel and leisure- UK: PWC. Available from Let’s make it years not decades: Closing the gender pay gap in hospitality, travel and leisure (pwc.co.uk) [accessed 03 May 2021].
A Commentary on: Inequalities that women face working in the UK hospitality industry: Gendered challenges associated with pay gap.
Author: Leah O'Neill
As a woman seeking to enter the hospitality industry, as a professional, upon the completion of my degree this topic is of particular interest. The progression of women increasingly being appointed managerial roles in the past 5 years highlights the response to contemporary research by industry leaders and governmental institutions, increasingly offering schemes to assist women’s growth within hospitality and removing the ‘glass-ceiling’ or ‘invisible obstacle course’ present (Boone et al., 2013). Conversely, statistics including how merely 11% of managerial roles within the hospitality are occupied by women disprove more dated theories that both ‘the hospitality field is rapidly becoming sex neutral’ and that women are equally as likely to ‘enjoy promotions’ as men, highlighting a lack of progression within the industry (Umbreit and Diaz, 1994; Sparrowe and Popielarz, 1995).

The expected gender roles and stereotypes identified by the author, that arguably have generated statistics like women occupying 90% of housekeeping roles, also stem from wider society and primary socialisation. Goffman (2006) depicts the influence of socialisation on personal ‘values, norms, and social practices’ that are sustained and carried through ones career and life. Thus, the role of women in society traditionally being the natural caregiver correlates with the ostracisation from senior-decision making roles and further contributes to the discussed patriarchal division of labour.

The hospitality industry is notorious for its heavily ‘labour-intensive’ nature, thus the lack of both social and flexible hours available to those working in roles towards the top of the hierarchal scale are limited, further excluding women from pursuing these careers as demonstrated in the discussion paper (Khuong and Linh, 2020).

Overall, the discussion paper can be commended for representing a contemporary issue women face within the hospitality industry utilising contemporary sources. Looking forward, the issue regarding inequalities faced by women within hospitality should be addressed to ensure an even playing field for future professionals to grow within the industry.


Khuong, M. N., and Linh, U. D.T. (2020) Influence of work-related stress on employee motivation, job satisfaction and employee loyalty in hospitality industry. Management Science Letters, 10 3279-3290.

Sparrowe, R. T., & Popielarz, P. A. (1995). Getting ahead in the hospitality industry: An event history analysis of promotions among hotel and restaurant employees. Hospitality Research Journal, 19(4), 99-118.

Umbreit, W. T., & Diaz, P. E. (1994). Women in hospitality management: An exploratory study of occupation choice variables. Hospitality and Tourism Educator, 6(4), 7-9.