Home Guest Columns Inclusivity Is the Key to Gender Diversity: Open the Door Please!

Inclusivity Is the Key to Gender Diversity: Open the Door Please!

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Marloes Knippenberg

Belonging to hospitality, the most service, people-oriented industry, you tend to be impacted by everything the world is undergoing at any given time—technological zeitgeists, global economic slowdowns, unexpected weather turbulence, in addition to the human quest for knowledge, disruptions, and innovations. Regardless of the environment, less represented groups on a leadership scale change the social engineering in decision-making. For decades, boardrooms have lacked women inclusivity, but now, industries have adopted and started promoting changes as more women sit at executive boards and rank high on global progress indexes. It has now shifted from a sole focus on gender diversity to an industry of inclusivity, where there is balance and unity between men and women.

United Colors of Inclusion

Tiana Amann

It should be the duty of corporates to create awareness internally around inclusivity and correspondingly to support and equalize opportunities. This can set off a chain reaction amongst team members, and the wider industry in leading and inspiring innovative, inclusive, effective, and efficient work forces. In our organization, Kerten Hospitality, we firmly believe in supporting the young generation—both women and men—to succeed by giving them ownership and a leadership start. For us, the best success stems from empowerment of a young leader and not by a diversity-imposed quota. So it happens, that women mentorship and youth learning development are both important in fostering change and that is why we enclose them in everything we do.

Being a Woman in the Hospitality Industry

As a young woman, starting out in the modern, transitioning, hospitality industry, the basic expectations of any firm are that inclusivity is so organic, it is not even a topic to be examined and developed as a statistic anymore. This is not solely up to a corporate framework but equally lies in the hands of each one of us as individuals, to continue in advocating and facilitating supportive, inclusive collaborations, and forums to be heard and succeed on. It is not about the challenges and obstacles to overcome, but in fact, about an empowering and exhilarating position to be in and to be celebrated. Being a woman, a part of an inclusive, motivating, supportive team means being treated with respect, politeness, and courtesy, sometimes even more than our male counterparts. As women, we take great pride in ourselves, in our image, which also greatly translates to pride in the businesses we run and careful decision-making processes. We naturally have that “touch of femininity” that makes a small difference while delivering huge impacts in balancing workforces, translating to increased guest satisfaction and greater success of businesses.

To be a young (business) woman in such a socially creative, cultural, and modern society is proving to be advantageous with increased advocacy, leadership programs and support initiatives.

Why is Female Representation Important in Executive Roles?

Today, statistics show that with a heightened advocacy for female empowerment and inclusion, hotel boards are understanding the need for female representation in decision making. The integration process should be top bottom, starting from the executive board.

Here are the numbers from McKinsey & Company, whose research points that the most diverse companies are now more likely to outperform less diverse peers on profitability. They base their conclusions on research, which in 2020 concluded that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.

Today, a growing number of young women travel, choose to work globally and are independent breadwinners. They are encouraged to grow, over-achieve, and strive to be best-in-class and to lead teams and projects, all while excelling at them. The industry should now be focused on the inclusivity of surrounding social and physical communities, in creating and presenting equal opportunities, equal access, and equal chances to grow and succeed. By facilitating and creating corporate spaces with like-minded individuals taking great initiatives in establishing collaborations, and knowledge-share, it better equips young (female) executives to succeed and have their voices heard. This results in an appreciated, organic, gender neutrality and inclusivity within the workplace.

Where to Start with Diversity & Inclusion

Female representation within top levels is an important image socially, to encourage young girls and entrepreneurs to grow their business and widen their goals and horizons. With an increased investment and advocacy in female youth education, this motivation needs to be carried throughout the business world in providing working opportunities for these women after their graduation.

For our young girls today to become motivated and visualize their future they need a representative role model in executive roles showing them that it is in fact possible. Women also need to support other women in advocating for one another and providing opportunities for one another. It is rewarding to see how our two female Kerten Hospitality GMs of the properties in Jordan and Jeddah are successfully leading and motivating teams to excel and be better day after day. To be able to experience this gender shift and the positive feedback and influences coming from the change in having female GMs has been purely inspiring.

Female Leadership in Middle East

The Middle East’s landscape is very much akin to the global context of women in hospitality leadership roles. On one hand, women are required to work hard to prove their capabilities and on the other they are given many opportunities to develop and succeed professionally. For the past 15 years since my travels and work assignments in the region I have witnessed tremendous changes that were led by the younger generations and forward-thinking women. Yet, the fact that there are only three women on Forbes Top CEO list for the region paints a picture that is in need of a “diversity” rethink.

I myself have always worked hard, challenged myself constantly and helped other women and the young generation along the way. Building a team means being the facilitator and the moderator and empowering creativity for collaboration between all. We at Kerten Hospitality have always been seen as young, non-conventional and innovative, because we do things differently, and that is not because 60 percent of our team are women but because 100 percent of our team shares the same company culture and beliefs—to self-challenge and strive for constant improvements. It has always been easier to connect, network and build growth when united around an idea rather than a quota.

It has been an organic progression for us to grow by a women-led team. When leading by example shows results, why question things. We ensure that there is compliance in that all employees share the same values and are working towards the same goals when it comes to equality and inclusion. We seek out young female professionals that are looking for a space to grow their business or excel within the industry and provide them with just that: an opportunity. That is the beauty with our collaborative engagements and concepts created with a purpose. For instance, our brand Nakhati, which is launching soon in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, provides women with the opportunity to enter the workspace and own their business and to later expand their network.

Purposeful Leadership: The Way Forward

There can never be fluid gender balance if all partners are not geared towards the same goals. It is one thing to integrate this into corporate goals, but we must deliver on our actions in showing the diversity across all organizational and corporate levels.

There should also be a heightened accountability from all partners, and members in the organization in that they are acting and working towards a more equal environment. Transparency about decision-making and integration are vital and it sits with every single hospitality individual.

Inclusivity, creating gender equality through opportunities and empowerment happens only when aligned and united—in teams, in larger Women Groups and around the Board tables. Being role models helps raise awareness and motivates others to follow suit. Purposeful leadership can drive growth only by keeping an open mind, a listening ear, and a beating pulse for the industry. Diversity seems like the easier next step, however, inclusion is the key to leveraging it, to increase performance and succeed socially.

About the Authors

CEO, Kerten Hospitality, Marloes Knippenberg was a speaker at this year’s Young Hoteliers Summit 2022, the largest student-run hospitality summit in the world. As the award-winning CEO of Kerten Hospitality, Marloes leads the disruptive lifestyle hospitality group dedicated to the management of mixed-use developments in key global destinations. Marloes’ many distinctions include being listed in the Hotelier Middle East Power List three years in a row since 2019, being selected in the Hotelier Middle East 25 “Women in Hospitality Power List”, and winning CEO Today’s 2020 Business Women of the Year recognition in hospitality. A pioneer of innovation, Marloes brings expertise in topics such as sustainability, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and international lifestyle hospitality. In the YHS panel Reconstructing Leadership, she joined other hospitality experts in discussing the best ways to adapt to the changing needs and expectations of employees following the pandemic.

Sustainability and People Culture Coordinator, Tiana Amann is a hospitality management master’s student based in Germany with a professional background and bachelor’s degree in hospitality and destination management. Born and raised in The Bahamas, Tiana shares a passion for hospitality operations and community development and is eager to combine her knowledge in the industry, sustainability, and community work. For the past two years, Tiana has assisted in starting a nonprofit in The Bahamas geared toward fighting climate change and promoting community involvement through backyard and community parks agricultural developments. Tiana has joined Kerten Hospitality to work on further integrating sustainability and ESG practices into the business developments.

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