Interviews

29239 07 Mar 2022

I see an increase in women assuming positions of leadership within the Hospitality industry says Beth Potter

Beth Potter, President & CEO, Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) speaks with Hozpitality Canada on women's day

Tourism contributes significantly to the growth of small businesses and creates thousands of jobs in Canada. Tourism jobs can be found in every corner of the country, from coast to coast to coast. It is the only industry that employs Canadians in every province, territory, and electoral district. Tourism employs roughly 1.9 million people in Canada, accounting for one out of ten employment (9.8%). Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) make up 99 percent of the tourism industry in Canada.

According to Tourism HR Canada, the hospitality industry, which comprises Travel, Services, Accommodation, Food Beverage, Services, Recreation Entertainment, and Transportation, employs many women (Statcan, Census).

Because of their disproportionate position in the hardest-hit tourism industry, women are disproportionately affected by business closures and decreased operations, resulting in job losses and/or reduced working hours.

Women make up more than half of middle management and front-line jobs in hotels worldwide, but they are underrepresented at the top.

Surveys were administered to management teams of nine hotels in Calgary, Canada, to study possible variables that drive this gender discrepancy at the top-most administrative structure of hotels in Canada.

The surveys inquired about gender disparities in career development in the Canadian hospitality industry and suggestions for how to decrease gender discrimination in the industry.

The findings suggest that organizational hurdles are the most often mentioned factor preventing all hotel employees, regardless of gender, from progressing in their careers.

Hozpitality.ca spoke to Beth Potter, President CEO, Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC), on International Women's Day. Beth Potter is an accomplished leader with over 35 years of diversified provincial and national association experience, with 20 years in tourism. From 2011 to 2021, Beth served as President CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO), representing over 200,000 tourism businesses. Beth led the advocacy efforts for the provincial tourism industry establishing the industry as a recognized economic driver for the province and fostering a collaborative relationship between business owners, tourism organizations, and governments. Under Beth's leadership, TIAO received the Industry Leader COVID-19 Response and Recovery Award from Destination Northern Ontario.

  1. Why is it important to celebrate women's day?

Women have traditionally been underrepresented in higher education and access to jobs and have faced gender-based disparities and biases in the labour market. We've been able to make huge inroads in some of these areas in the last few decades, there is still much to be done- especially when it comes to seeing women in executive roles. I've been in tourism since 1990 and have definitely seen an increase in women assuming positions of leadership within the industry, but there are still key challenges we face with respect to narrowing the gender pay gap and ensuring more support for working parents. Celebrating Women's Day to me is about acknowledging the strides we've made while raising awareness of the continuing challenges we still face.

I have a daughter, two granddaughters, and four nieces, and I want their experiences in life to be without bias, and I never want them to feel undervalued.

  1. How would you address the cultural concerns that contribute to the income disparity between men and women?

It's incredibly disheartening to know that the gender pay gap still exists. On an hourly basis, women make 89 cents on average for every dollar made by a man in Ontario. And that gap is larger for racialized women, women who are newcomers, women with disabilities, Indigenous women, and trans women. I've read the research that indicates that factors like education, job tenure, industry, and demographics can only explain about 30 percent of that gap which leaves 70 percent unexplained. It could be societal expectations, gender discrimination, unconscious bias, or other factors. It's incumbent on all leaders to be aware of these possible causes and to mitigate against them in the hiring, promotion, and compensation practices of their workplaces.

  1. What are the most successful strategies for combating feminism's negative stereotypes, particularly in the workplace?

The most effective way I have found to counteract negative stereotypes of women in the workplace is two-pronged: it is focusing on diversifying the candidate hiring pool for all positions as well as on creating an inclusive organizational culture that supports employees once they've been hired. And as I was fortunate early on in my career to have had the support of talented women in the industry, I am a big believer in providing mentorship opportunities to women through professional networks and leadership-development programs and have actively mentored many young women throughout my career. It gives me satisfaction to know that those women have all moved on to new careers opportunities because of their own growth in experience and gained confidence.

  1. Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman?

While explicit gender bias had largely disappeared from the workplace by the time I launched my own career, there were still implicit challenges due to the enormous work of feminists of the preceding decades. We must remember that discussions on diversity, equity and inclusion only really began in earnest in the 2000's. In the 1990's, we weren't talking yet about the gender pay gap, or the lack of mentorship opportunities, or even the petty annoyance of having things "man-splained" to me. Early in my government relations career, it was not uncommon to find myself at an evening event as the sole woman at a table for eight. This often happened because other women felt compelled or obligated to be at home for their families in the evening. I've spent a lot of time uplifting women to take part in these networking events and am pleased to say, these days, more are.

Apart from academia, there wasn't a cultural lexicon in place yet to describe the lived experiences of professional women many of whom were the second or third generation of women entering the paid workforce in their families in the 90's. While we owe to previous generations tougher legislation around equal pay for equal work, I think my generation has done much work around changing workplace norms to mitigate against some forms of implicit gender discrimination.

  1. What is the most valuable piece of advise you've ever received?

The best advice I've been given is simply to know your stuff. Knowledge is power the more you immerse yourself and the harder you work to understand the subject matter at hand, the more your expertise will speak for itself. The women thing, the age thing, or any other thing is ultimately irrelevant when it comes to acquiring knowledge the diligence to pursue it, the tenacity to understand it, and the wisdom to share it these are the traits that will help women succeed.

  1. Who do you believe is in charge of addressing women's issues?

We all are. Women are exactly half of society and the whole of society benefits when we capitalize on the talents, intelligence, and abilities of all workers, regardless of gender. It's incumbent on all sectors of society to eliminate barriers to the advancement of women in the professional world as well as to champion women's causes and speak out against gender inequality.

  1. What can we do to eliminate gender stereotypes?

It starts first with education. Girls' self-esteem, ambition, and expectations are the first victims of gender stereotypes. So, introducing more female role models into the classroom and reviewing curriculum and materials to ensure that they do not perpetuate stereotypes is crucial. I know that school boards across Canada have done much work in this area in recent years, and we're seeing the collective fruits of those efforts with more women than ever completing higher education, joining the workforce, and assuming more leadership roles than in the past. Still, stereotypes continue to persist and lay at the root of discrimination and exploitation in the workplace - such as the "Me Too" movement in 2017 which began as an exposure of the film industry, but then widened to include many other industries as well. No matter the industry, all workplaces need an explicit zero-tolerance policy toward gender discrimination that's clearly communicated to all employees. Additionally, businesses should be thinking about how they can renew their internal commitments to supporting women workers through leadership development, coaching, and hiring.

  1. Where do you assume the most significant challenges will transpire?

It's easy enough to hire more women and to change corporate culture through policies and programs. But managing one's own internal biases and magnifying that out across the office, the wider organization, and whole industries are harder. Being aware of our own internal biases and disabusing ourselves of unconscious gender stereotypes is the long game. And it's a game we can't afford to lose.