College women who are seeking roles in the hospitality industry have a few worries that are top of mind, including the potential struggle to balance family with work. Here’s a deeper look at those concerns.
“Is it true that I have to give up having a family if I want a career in the hotel business?” That’s a question I hear often from college women majoring in hospitality.
When talented young women ask this question, it’s a problem for an industry seeking talent. To learn more about the root issues, I joined two women executives to speak with 30 young women at Michigan State University about their hopes and concerns for careers in the hotel business during Castell on Campus.
This is an impressive and talented group of young women. They are serious about business and they have high hopes and aspirations. Facing a major inflection point in their lives, they also have concerns.
These were the top three topics on their minds.
Can I have kids and a career?
The students asked this question in several forms, and it’s obviously one of their major concerns. They want to know if they have to restrict their careers if they want to have kids.
Disturbingly, they are preparing to tamp down their career years before they expect to have children. This reduces their earnings at the time, their value to hotel companies and their long-term prospects. Yet, according to McKinsey & Company’s 2017 report “Women in the Workplace,” “just as many men as women say they’ll leave to focus on family, and the number that do is remarkably low: 2% or less.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 70% of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force with more than 75% employed full time. And mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40% of households with children under 18 today, compared with 11% in 1960.
Women are going to work, women are going to have children, and women’s careers are going to be vital to their families. Women’s careers also are going to be vital to the hospitality industry. Put simply, women are a majority of the hospitality industry workforce and a majority of the college talent pipeline.
Can I travel and have children?
These young women are aware that travel can be a significant aspect of career development in the hospitality industry. They also are interested in travel. For many, travel is one of factors that attracted them to their major. But, as they get close to graduation and evaluate career jobs, they wonder if choosing travel will cost them the opportunity to have a family.
Many executive women in the hospitality industry have families and continue to travel. There are myriad ways women organize their families to combine travel and successful parenting. However, this is rarely visible to college students. Absent a view of the possibilities, these students wonder if the hospitality industry is a good fit for them.
Do I have to know everything about the hotel in order to move up?
If you are a perfectionist, and high-performing college women often are, then having to perform perfectly at every job in every department in a hotel feels like an insurmountable obstacle to a career. The question surprised me, and then I remembered having the same worry when I was graduating from college. At some point, we realize that it’s important to understand the various departments in a hotel, but we all specialize.
It is vital to the health of the industry (and, quite frankly, the health of society) that we share more information about the range of hospitality industry careers and career trajectories with college women. As we listen and understand their concerns, we need to consider what messages this industry should be sending to young women considering where to invest their time and energy. As the industry faces a talent shortage, this extremely talented pool of young women is a terrific resource, if we let them know the opportunities we offer.
Peggy Berg is director of the Castell Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing gender diversity within the hospitality industry. The group hosts annual advanced training programs designed to help women reach the next level of career advancement. The Castell Project also maintains and provides the WSH (Women Speakers in Hospitality) List for industry events and conducts surveys and studies to track industry gender advancement.
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