Addressing the ‘leaky pipeline’: the leadership role of women in tourism

By Dr Jane Ali-Knight, Professor in Festival and Event Management, Edinburgh Napier University

As we approach International Women’s Day and my in box starts to fill up with invitations to attend and speak at events, I ponder how far women in academia, especially within the tourism subject area, have progressed.

A recent report by the League of European Research Universities (2018) discusses implicit bias and the ‘leaky pipeline’ in academia citing how 59% of graduates but only 21% of (Grade A) professors are female, whereas 41% of graduates and 79% of professors are male. This bias also extends to the tourism industry, as it is estimated that around 60% of those working within the tourism industry are female, with women accounting for only 6% of those in senior board positions, and four years later, there is little evidence to suggest that this statistic has changed (Baum, 2013).

However, the times they are a-changing, at Edinburgh Napier we have a female Professor in Tourism; 2017 saw the promotion of the first 2 female UK professors in Festivals and Events and the year before the appointment of a female Vice Chancellor with a background in tourism research and scholarly activity. Many universities, like my own, are also working towards the Athena Swan status demonstrating a clear committment to gender equality and progressing the careers of women in academia.

Organisations like Women in Tourism (WIT), evolving from Edinburgh Napier University’s Destination Leaders Programme, therefore has a key role to play in harnessing this momentum to build on inspiring, motivating, encouraging and supporting women within all parts of the sector. WIT is a not-for-profit organisation, which seeks to develop a framework of activity in recognition of the challenges and opportunities available to women within the sector. Developed by a small Committee – including representatives from key organisations such as the Assembly Rooms, Criton Apps, The Edinburgh Address, Smart Tourism, and the EICC –WIT aims, through a programme of industry events, awareness raising around key policy issues and a mentoring programme, to help underpin the Scottish Government’s long-term strategic ambition to ensure a 50/50 gender balance across Scottish’s private, public and third sector organisation’s by 2020.

Recognising the need to nurture and develop the next generation of tourism leaders, WIT has also just appointed a young woman onto their board.

Once again the power of business and academia working together is evident. Women face similar challenges across both and one of my roles as a WIT board member is to look at how we can support both our students and alumni working in the industry; expand our current research base and foster closer relationships.

Baum, T. (2013) International Perspectives on Women and Work in Hotels, Catering and Tourism. International Labour Office Working Paper.

LERU (2018) Implicit bias in academia: A challenge to the meritocratic principle and to women’s careers – And what to do about it. Advice Paper (23), January.

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