Priscila Costa, Partnerships Manager, Latin America, Business in the Community, reflects on how much further the Travel and Tourism sector has to go before women's' empowerment benefits from its extraordinary growth.
Working for the hospitality industry for more than ten years, and being YCI Partnership Manager in Latin America for the last five - working with leading hotels and non-profits to combat youth employment - I’ve learned the important role this sector can play as a driver for job creation for many developing countries, including my country Brazil. But one thing I’ve noticed is the industry has a long way to go as far as equal treatment of its female employees.
For the fifth successive year, the growth of the Travel & Tourism sector in 2015 outpaced both that of the global economy and other major sectors such as manufacturing and retail. In total, it generated 9.8% of global GDP and supported 1 in 11 jobs in the global economy.1 Brazil is no different, and tourism has been identified as an important sector for job creation, especially now that we have recently hosted significant sporting events. But what does this mean for women? To what extent do they benefit from this? Has the sector’s consistent growth contributed to women empowerment?
Brazil has the fifth largest population of the world, with the majority being women (51.06%), and more than half (53.6%) declared themselves as black or mixed race.2 Although the country is among the ten largest economies in the world, the model of economic growth with limited social inclusion results in a country marked by structural inequalities of gender and race. The country occupies the 85th position in human development and gender inequality according to the Human Development Report of the United Nations Programme for Development.
''Understanding tourism’s impacts on women and integrating a gender perspective on tourism development is key to guaranteeing effective economies, improving the quality of life of women, men and children towards a sustainable development''.
As one of the fastest-growing industries, tourism has a great potential to contribute to gender equality and poverty reduction. However, less attention has been paid to the unequal ways in which the benefits of tourism are distributed between men and women. Particularly in Brazil, there are very few studies that address the tourism workforce, and those that exist do not apply a gender lens. It is, therefore, difficult to understand the extent of gender inequality in the sector. The most updated report available shows that women increased their participation in formal employment from 39% in 2006 to 46% in 2013, and that there is a greater proportion of them working in tourism (46%) than in the wider economy (39%). Clearly, tourism has the potential to generate employment. However, gender stereotypes still persist in the sector, which means that women mainly tend to perform jobs at a clerical level, reproducing domestic chores, and are less likely than men to reach professional-level tourism employment. In Brazil, females represent 61% of workers in accommodation and travel agencies, which compose tourism core activities 3 along with air transportation.
In terms of compensation, there is a significant difference between men and women. The same report shows that the average earnings for men was 43% higher than women in 2013, greater in tourism than in the average of the economy (31%). In the tourism core activities, once more influenced by air transport and composed mostly of men workers, the pay gap is even larger: men receive 68% more than women. This pay gap reflects the ongoing discrimination and undervaluing of woman’s work in the sector.
Although women make up a large proportion of the formal tourism workforce worldwide,4 the barriers for them to succeed still remain. The International Labour Organisation highlighted in a recent report 5 the high levels of violence, stress and sexual harassment in hotels, catering and tourism. Unsurprisingly, it is mostly women in junior positions who experience these problems, but unlike in other sectors, women face harassment not only from colleagues and managers but also from clients. Factors such as late working hours, service of alcohol, dress codes, racism, and the sexualised nature of tourism contribute to a high-risk environment for women and younger workers.
There is a strong case for tourism businesses to capitalise on the full potential of women as a route to creating more stable communities and a richer talent pool. As a way to be competitive as a growing industry, that is set to create 73 million new jobs by 2022, the sector must guarantee and promote women’s dignity and equal treatment in order to improve their opportunities. The International Tourism Partnership (ITP) is an example of how the world’s leading hotel companies can inspire change for young women. In Brazil alone, the Youth Career Initiative (YCI) has benefited more than 400 young women, accounting for 70% of all participants. One of YCI’s global champion, Marriott International, was recognised as One of the 100 Best Workplaces for Women. ITP’s founding member, Hilton Worldwide, commits to promote equal opportunity for women, supporting capacity-building by investing in women and girls through education, training, and professional development. The Women’s Hospitality & Tourism Leadership Forum (WHTLF) brings together industry leaders, employees and students to promote leadership excellence among women in the hospitality and tourism industries.
Understanding tourism’s impacts on women and integrating a gender perspective on tourism development is key to guaranteeing effective economies, improving the quality of life of women, men and children towards a sustainable development.
 Travel & Tourism ECONOMIC IMPACT 2016 BRAZIL, accessed http://www.wttc.org/-/media/files/reports/economic-impact-research/countries-2016/brazil2016.pdf
 The aggregation of three activities whose clientele consists mainly of tourists: Accommodation, Travel Agencies, and Air Transportation.