Senior Executive Recruitment – Why are most travel company directors and CEOs men? 

As someone in the business of senior executive recruitment in the leisure travel sector, I chat to a lot of men and women who have reached a pretty high peak in their careers.

I was recruiting for a senior director role recently and, as is often common at director level, the initial candidates who fit what the company were looking for were all male. I started to drill down and found some great women. However, when I spoke to them, the majority stated that they were happy in their current positions, and didn’t want to climb that next rung to Director or CEO level.

It got me thinking. Am I right to try and persuade them otherwise – to sell them the next senior executive jobs up? The simple answer is I’m not sure. I’m finding that there are many amazing strong, capable women in travel who have decided not to become CEOs, MDs or Directors, as they prefer to excel in their own areas, be that sales, product, commercial – or anything else. The reasons they give is that they get great satisfaction from doing well in the role they’re in, as well as continued accolades. They prefer to specialise rather than move to a more general management role. My worry is that we are putting subliminal pressure on some women in the industry by asking, ‘Why are you not an MD, or why aren’t you aspiring to be a CEO?’

Fewer women at the top of travel, hospitality and leisure

According to the UK organisation, Women in Hospitality 2020 (WiH2020), there is still a significant lack of women in the top commercial leadership roles. WiH2020 was set up to encourage companies to sign up to a 10-step programme to achieve a target of 33% of female directorships in travel, hospitality and leisure by 2020. They acknowledge that there is no shortage of women starting out in travel jobs, but they either leave or don’t progress beyond middle management. WiH2020 does list some notable exceptions: easyJet has 3 out of 9 female board members, IHG global hotel group has 4 out of 11 female board members, and Merlin Entertainment has 3 out of 7 non-executive board members, but only 3 out of 12 executive directors.

Susie Osborough, co-director of our sister company 14fiftyseven, and former co-owner of a hotel-bookings company, says, ‘I know many ambitious women but I also know that with motherhood comes a lot of guilt. They don’t apply for top jobs because they need to be seen to have no weaknesses, such as leaving at a time to put children to bed. But why is wanting to be home for bedtime a weakness?’ Susie advocates the Scandinavian model of parental leave, believing that it brings more equality between the sexes.

Susie also says she thinks women at the top are still perceived differently by some. She says, ‘When I ran my company with my husband, people would direct everything to him when we were in a meeting together. He’d have to politely say that I was an equal driving force behind the company. A woman boss who introduces new policies and change is still often considered a ball breaker or a tough cookie, yet when a man does this, he is hailed as ground breaking and innovative.’ Susie states that she feels these different perceptions are still an undercurrent in British business, and must contribute to why some women don’t progress right to the top.

Senior executive recruitment for men and women

I agree with Susie, but in my experience with senior executive recruitment I find it encouraging that I haven’t found prejudice against women. I have also run my own business following 20 years of working my way up to head of roles for three leading travel brands. I didn’t aspire to have employees, but I wanted to use the knowledge I had gained to support other MDs in my specialist areas of Travel Management, Sales Training and Organisation Development. But when asked if I would consider the next step up before I left the last two employment roles, I had to say no, as I didn’t want that for myself. I prefer specialising in what I do. Now, I’m a director and shareholder at Progressive Travel Recruitment, specialising in leisure recruitment. But, ironically, I also continue to provide consultancy advice to mostly male Senior Directors,CEOs and MDs on their organisation’s development, sales processes and people management.

However, when I’m working on senior executive recruitment I don’t want to persuade someone who’s enjoying the success of being at the top of their division that they must move up. I understand why some women don’t want that extra pressure, or change of role, and I respect their decision. I know that we have an abundance of amazing female talent within Senior Management and Director roles supporting male CEOs and MDs who are steering the ship. These women are very happy in their roles and prove the old phrase, ‘Behind every great man is a great woman’ – or rather a whole army of great women. I also know that we have a number of business women who are eager and highly capable of becoming MDs and CEOs and I am pleased to say that I have not experienced prejudice towards men or women when recruiting these Directorship roles.

What do you think? Head to our Progressive Travel Recruitment LinkedIn page to join the conversation.

Connect with Fiona Morrison-Arnthal on LinkedIn if you need help with senior executive recruitment.

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