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Hotels that Promote Women Perceived as Fairer, Less Discriminatory UH Study First to Address Gender Inequity in Promotional Opportunities of Hotel Employees

Ph.D. Student Michelle Russen

HOUSTON – January 5, 2021 Hotel managers have something in common beyond their reputations for charming dispositions and excellent listening skills – they’re predominantly men, despite women making up the majority of the accommodations workforce. New research led by the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management suggests hotel companies that promote a woman over an equally qualified man are perceived as fairer and less discriminatory, creating a stronger organizational culture and higher financial performance.

Published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, the study is the first to address gender inequity in promotional opportunities for hotel employees. The researchers surveyed 87 hotel managers to gauge their feelings on gender discrimination and perceived fairness of the promotion process.

Nearly 80% of managerial positions in the hospitality industry are held by men, who are given approximately 30% more promotional opportunities than women. The gender inequity in hotels is even more alarming. Women account for only 12% of all hotel leadership positions, from entry-level supervisor to owner.

“This is important because if women don’t believe the promotional process is fair, they’re not even going to try to apply for those positions,” said Michelle Russen, Ph.D. student and lead study author. “There needs to be more women in these top management positions. How employees perceive the fairness within the process may also directly influence the organizational culture, sales growth and employee productivity of the hotel.”

Many organizations may refrain from offering more promotional opportunities to women for fear of reverse discrimination, according to the study authors. While affirmative action requiring a certain quota of female employees and other minorities may be well intentioned, men may feel as though they are discriminated against. But the results of the survey suggest that even hotel managers who believe in reverse discrimination will view promoting a female to management as a fair decision.  

Fairness in the process serves as a signal to employees, said Juan M. Madera, UH professor and study co-author. “If a female applicant is a star, but she sees a management team that’s all men, it may signal this is not a good fit for her and the company loses out on a great candidate.”

Furthermore, he points out that if employees believe the promotion process is fair, then they will believe the organization will treat them fairly, too, which can affect other attitudes, including overall commitment to the company and plans to stay or move on.

The researchers hope their findings will influence hotel policies and training materials. Whether real or perceived, if there are feelings of inequity, there could be negative consequences.

“Financially there may be discrimination suits, cost of replacement of employee turnover, or reduced firm performance. Therefore, it is essential for hotels to have training and mentoring programs in which employees of both genders are encouraged to participate, to enhance perceived fairness within the organization. These programs must demonstrate the organization’s commitment to advancing the careers of both genders,” they wrote.

To make the process fairer, the researchers recommend creating a blind review process where initial decisions are made by removing names from employee files and objective third parties review the information and criteria for promotion, thus giving all parties a fair chance without incorporating gender, age or “like-me” biases.

“Owners and operators need to recognize that bias exists and examine how fair they’re being in their processes. Beyond just promoting females from within, these findings have implications for bringing in top talent from the outside,” said co-author Mary Dawson, associate dean for academic affairs and Donald H. Hubbs Professor at UH’s Hilton College. “If I’m a woman doing research about a company that I applied to but only see men in management, then I’d question that company’s culture.”

Chris Stipes
UH Media Relations /713-743-8186

Debbie Maurer
Hilton College Communications /713-743-5594