Why the hospitality industry needs women in managerial positions: The positive influence of female leadership on employee motivation

Women leaders in hospitalityHospitality is facing many external challenges. They include globalization, the need for customization and at the same time, the industry suffers from internal challenges such as high endemic employee turnover and lack of motivation.

In such a context, we suggest: The right leadership matters and we push this further because  women in hospitality leadership are still a minority, yet they represent more than half the workforce.

We say: It is high time we look for an alternative and start thinking that more women in hospitality leadership could change this, because style matters!

The hospitality industry is a broad, constantly evolving, fast-paced environment with generational differences and globalization. Hospitality leaders are therefore in the front row to face this dynamic environment. In addition, it is well known that hospitality is a hardworking and demanding industry that requires passion and motivation at each level of the organization. This is also the reason leaders play a key role to support, guide and challenge employees. Recently, the word leader has become more present in common parlance, especially in job description such as ‘team leader’, ‘shift leader’ or ‘floor leader’. But so many still think good leaders are often male leaders.

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According to Julia Campbell, founder of Women in Hospitality (WOHO), in 2017, the hospitality sector workforce was composed of 55.5% of women but still dominated by men in managerial positions. In the Castell project inc. report 2019, only 11% of hotel company leadership positions (i.e., managing director, president, partner, CEO) are held by women. They go on the suggest that the odds of a woman reaching a top leadership position, are one woman to eight men.

Although there is a lack of women in leadership positions, two factors lead us to believe that female leaders could be more effective than male leaders. Research showed that

  1. Women manifest leadership styles that relate positively to effectiveness[1] and
  2. Female leaders tend to be rated by others as more effective than male leaders[2].

Knowing this, we demonstrate why the hospitality industry needs more women in the most senior managerial positions and choose transformational leadership to underpin our point of view.

Transformational Leadership as an effective leadership style

One of the biggest challenges hospitality leaders are facing is to continually motivate the employees to fulfill their highest potential. Leaders offer guidance to an employee to make their own decisions, think outside of the box and solve a problem. Failure of leadership is very costly: turnover, absenteeism, low performance, customer dissatisfaction, among many others, are some of the consequences.

Additionally, the industry faces several challenges resulting in the need for customization. Such challenges are the reason why employees must constantly adapt their behaviour in order to provide efficient service. To drive efficiencies and profitability, hotel companies have to adapt, customise and that requires effective leadership. We can therefore make the logical assumption that effective leadership style is the catalyst to support motivation and achieve performance towards success and cohesion.

Transformational leadership style

We suggest, the effective leadership style needed could be the transformational leadership style. It is built around nurturing characteristics. It is the reason why transformational climates enable the enhancement of employee commitment and the quality of services and therefore performance. Transformational leadership improves employee loyalty, social behavior and satisfaction[3].

Thus, transformational leadership could play this strong and effective role in the hospitality industry, simply because of its attractive features such as the ability to increase passionate commitment, generate opportunities, provide progressive vision, create a strong purpose and meaning but also to build positive expectations. In other words, transformational hospitality leaders push their associates to stay motivated and productive.

Female leadership in hospitality

Success stories of Women in Hospitality demonstrate that female leadership exists. Women seem to possess success factors in management: interpersonal skills, determination, patience, pleasant behavior (smile), and the capacity to recognize their mistakes and apologize. Furthermore, female leaders and executives venture to revolutionize the management style and culture by providing a more accommodating and nurturing environment. Female leaders score higher on transformational leadership aspects and they are efficiently able to be corporate leaders, not only in the hospitality industry, but in the global economy at large1-2. They tend to listen to their co-workers, respect different points of view, and find solutions to given problems. Female managers support their staff in a closer way than male managers[4]. Female general managers inculcate the value of cooperation and teamwork, delegate more and are more patient than male managers [5]. Additionally, women demonstrate high performance on organizational work and problem-solving, financial, management and knowledge about the economy. These characteristics have been emphasized frequently in research.

Moreover, globalization has transformed the way organizations are structured, becoming less hierarchical. Leadership style in such flat organizations needs to be built around collaborative, caring and nurturing characteristics, namely the transformational leadership style. The dynamic work environment of hospitality with its constant evolution and globalization requires then transformational leaders.  To sum up, transformational leaders are associated with a “feminine style” in which the leader is caring, encourages followers and shows consideration.

Research questions: Can transformational leadership be called female leadership? Does female leadership affect employee motivation?

In order to assess these questions, we created a survey evaluating two factors : employee perception of leadership style of their manager and their own motivation at work. The assessment of leadership style was based on the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) developed by Bass and Avolio that identifies if a leader tends to practice transformational style (1 = never to 5 = always).

Moreover, employees were asked to describe their manager/supervisor with three adjectives. These adjectives were then categorized based on what we expect from a transformational leader. Employee motivation was assessed with the items such as “I am willing to do extra-work if my supervisor asked me to” or “If my supervisor gives the team a goal, I am willing to do efforts to reach it”.

Our respondents

This survey was completed by 69 individuals from 23 countries across the word, working in the hospitality industry. The predominant nationalities in Europe are French, Swiss, Spanish and Italian, and outside of Europe are Indian, Russian, Chinese and American. The majority of respondents are between 18-24 years old with between 1 to 5 years of experience in the hospitality industry. Even if 62.32% of them are female, the supervisors/managers evaluated for their leadership style are 63% men.


Can transformational leadership be called female leadership?

In order to answer this question, we compare the scores of transformational leadership of male and female supervisor/manager based on the MLQ evaluation. Results showed that female leaders score significantly higher (4.16/5) than male leaders (3.44/5). In other words, we can conclude that employees of female leaders perceive their leaders as being more transformational leaders than those of male leaders.

Additionally, analyzing the adjectives used by employees to describe their supervisor/manager, we noticed that female leaders are more often described as transformational than male leaders and that is significant.

Theses adjectives have been divided in five categories based on transformational leadership characteristics.

POWER determined, perfectionist, demanding, tough, direct, goal-oriented, assertive
CHARISMATIC smart, incredible
SOCIABLE friendly, relaxed, kind, outgoing
PROFESSIONAL good advisor, well organized, hard worker, effective, steadfast, great leader, strong communication skills, competent, pedagogue
COOPERATIVE helpful, comprehensive, patient, listening, guiding, open-minded, understanding
PEOPLE ORIENTED human, calm, attentive, down to earth, empathic, careful, respectful

Our survey revealed that transformational leadership can be called female leadership as women used this style more often than men and are frequently described as transformational leaders.

Does female leadership affect employee motivation?

In order to answer our second research question, we predicted that the transformational leadership of supervisors/managers perceived by their employees positively influenced employee motivation. This hypothesis has been statistically confirmed. There was a positive link between transformational leadership style and employee motivation. Thus, yes, female leadership affects employee motivation in a positive way.

The influence of women leaders in hospitality

To conclude, even though in hospitality it seems that women are still restricted to certain roles such as human resources or rooms division, these findings point towards validating that there is a potential need to welcome more women in leadership positions in the hospitality industry.

We have demonstrated that women’s inherent transformational leadership style directly and positively impacts the employees themselves, the organization itself, but also the industry. Also, female leaders tend to behave more often as transformational leaders. Based on the employees’ perception, this leadership style is recognized and appreciated in a way that it positively  affects their motivation. There is no doubt that this leadership style is efficient in the hospitality industry and results in positive achievements. The evidence of women playing such an important role is important to be highlighted and needs more support from the hospitality industry.

As final words, we hope to have brought to the fore that women in leadership seems to be valuable and could increase employee motivation and reduce employee turnover.

“Being a strong and effective leader can be challenging at times, but it is also incredibly rewarding, We are all challenged with insecurities of different kinds—no human is immune from that feeling—but it’s how we acknowledge those insecurities, persevere despite them and leverage our strengths that really defines us as leaders.” Stephanie Linnartz, Global Chief Commercial Officer, Marriott International

About the authors

Hélène Cregut-Aston and Annick Darioly are from Les Roches Global Hospitality Education in Switzerland.

[1] Eagly et al. (2003). Transformational, transactional, and laissez-fare leadership styles: A meta-analysis comparing women and men, Psychological Bulletin, 129, p.569-591.

[2] Paustian-Underdahl, S. C., Walker, L. S., & Woehr, D. J. (2014). Gender and perceptions of leadership effectiveness: A meta-analysis of contextual moderators. Journal of Applied Psychology99(6), 1129-1145.

[3] Chully, A. A., & Sandhya, N. (2014). Impact of transformational leadership style: A review of global studies in the past 5 years. International Journal of Science and Research (IJSR)3(8), 791-798.

[4] Ng, C. W., & Pine, R. (2003). Women and men in hotel management in Hong Kong: Perceptions of gender and career development issues. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 22 (1), 85–102.

[5] Marinakou, E. (2014). The Glass Ceiling and women in management in the Middle East: Myth or reality.

Tags: female leadership, motivation, transformational leadership


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