FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Balancing the Scales for our Women

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Balancing the Scales for our Women

FHTA, 3 March 2022 – Imagine a gender-equal world. A world that is free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination where gender equality is simply the platform from which equality in all areas is practised as part of a natural order.

Collectively we can all “Break The Bias.”

That is the campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2022 which will be commemorated on March 8.

It calls for the world to work together to shape a more equal future and recovery from the pandemic and highlight the gaps that remain so we can work on these more effectively.

In the global tourism sector, there has always been an acknowledgement of the immense contribution of women to the industry.

Were you aware that in most regions of the world pre-COVID, women made up the majority of the tourism workforces, but tended to be more concentrated in the lower-paid and informal jobs in tourism?

The 2018 Global Report on Women in Tourism commissioned by the World Tourism Organisation states that 95% of the people employed in tourism around the world were women, yet they were usually relegated to lower-level positions and earned comparatively less than men.

So acknowledgement yes, but not quite the recognition that women hope for.

As we continue to develop policies to enhance our economic development, we must enhance our efforts to empower women to participate fully in economic life on all levels, whether it is in Government, in commerce, education, sports, finance or law.

And not just in hospitality, medical or social services where women are expected to have higher numbers by default.

This is critical in building robust economies; achieving sustainable development goals for economic development, sustainability, and human rights; and improving the quality of life for women, and consequently, that of the communities and countries they are part of.

For the tourism sector, the impact of greater gender equality and women’s empowerment would be highly beneficial, for the well-known reason that diverse and gender-equitable organizations usually perform better.

By the same rule, countries with more women in Government and civic leadership roles have better-performing economies, education, policies and believe it or not – less crime.

As one of the largest employers of women and young people in Fiji, tourism’s overall imbalance of gender representation in management positions is being addressed at all levels.

Bar the nasty bump on the road that the pandemic caused us, this challenge must continue to be reviewed

Part of the recognised reason for this imbalance comes from the very nature of tourism as an industry.

To be a business player in this environment requires being open every day of the week, or available for rostered work, working long hours and managing and working with teams that must deliver consistently great service.

After all, your business is always about making your customers happy.

Or you risk losing your competitive edge and eventually your customers.

Add to this are the challenges of ensuring a holiday or special event can still take place despite adverse weather like cyclones, flooding or storm surges and the ensuing impact of these on power or water shutdowns, transportation links being cut off and medical emergencies, and you get a sense of the strength of character and leadership qualities tourism managers are expected to have in spades.

Long hours at work and away from family and friends requires a passion for your work that can continue to light the fire in your belly.

And women that want or have children find it difficult to juggle motherhood and a demanding career that requires physical and mental aptitudes and attitudes that never falter.

That is not to say there aren’t already some formidable examples of female leadership in this space.

It’s only that there are simply not as many as there could and most definitely should be.

This is largely due to many women choosing employment that allows them to continue to be closer to, or more closely support their families.

So choices are already more difficult for women and the pandemic added another layer of uncertainty that forced many industry workers to review where they worked and even the industry they were working in.

While it isn’t just tourism that is lagging in its gender balance in management roles, tourism can be the leader in changing this.

It might be true that with the often 7-days-a-week job requirements, long hours and industry-related challenges; local women have had a more difficult time moving up the proverbial ladder, that’s not to say that it cannot or has not been done.

Women have ascended to top-level jobs in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
Yet, the instances are too far in between to be considered a revolution.
It has been said often enough before, that we should hire for attitude and train for skill.

To develop the tourism industry into a workforce of more inspiring local leaders, our ambitious youth must be encouraged to embrace positive, “can do” attitudes if they are serious about being in an industry that can throw the most experienced, or highly qualified manager unexpected curveballs, with a crisis seemingly always just around the corner.

We need innovative young people to have the energy and will to contribute meaningfully to our development goals and be encouraged to do so in an inclusive environment that celebrates diversity.

The Global Report on Women in Tourism goes on to note that targeted interventions by public, private and civil society actors that include promoting equal pay, tackling sexual harassment and encouraging the recruitment of women into high-level employment helps to promote decent work for women.

Gender-sensitive policies at the national level increase women’s economic empowerment that is then more effectively implemented into sectors like tourism.

While investment in skills training for women can lead to greater outcomes for gender equality.

As a progressive industry, albeit just coming out of a holding pattern currently, these issues are already in play and being seriously addressed at several different levels.

The biggest recognition and acknowledgement for Fiji and the reason tourism could get back on its feet – are for the many women who aided in raising the vaccination levels of our population.

These brave and hardworking ladies from the Ministry of Health & Medical Services led the way in safely administering Fiji with vaccines that provided an important layer of safety against the virus.

These women worked long hours away from home, managing anxious and often difficult crowds.

Tourism staff may not have much in common with health workers except for the high number of women employed in both sectors, but they became kindred spirits who can match any need to keep going until the job is done.

Persevering, supporting and ready to make any changes so, onwards and upwards, let’s have all women working towards personal, organizational and national goals.

We see you and we acknowledge you.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 3 March 2022)