International Women’s Day is perhaps not the most obvious occasion for a man to voice his opinion on the all-important issue of gender diversity and inclusion. But as a man who has worked for three decades in the hospitality industry, I feel a responsibility to play my part in supporting the drive for gender parity in the sector.
The rationale for gender diversity is well-known. Other than primarily being the right thing to do, driving diversity and inclusion brings a host of benefits including increasing staff engagement and therefore performance; helping businesses be more representative of their customer base; and maximising the potential of their entire talent pool – not just half of it.
Why men need to be engaged
But this is not a battle that should be fought by women alone. Affecting cultural change in an organisation requires the engagement of as many people as possible behind a set of behaviours. For example, at Accor we are committed supporters and champions of HeForShe, the solidarity movement initiated by UN Women which aims to ensure that men also take a stand for gender equality. To help us deliver on this commitment, thousands of our male employees across the world have joined the movement as HeForShe champions. Making a real cultural impact requires an inclusive approach, making sure all the people in an organisation are proactively encouraged to support the agenda.
Commitment from the top
I am lucky to work in a business that shares my commitment to this agenda. In 2015 Accor signed the Women’s Empowerment Principles, an initiative of UN Women and the United Nations Global Compact, asserting the company’s commitment to diversity and gender equality at an international level. We have an international network, RiiSE, to promote diversity and inclusion through a mentoring programme, communication campaigns, conferences and awareness-raising workshops. Globally, men currently represent 42% of the network’s 14,000+ members.
One of the key factors behind driving our engagement is the visible commitment from the very top of the organisation. Our Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Sébastien Bazin, has very publicly backed the drive for diversity and Accor’s commitment to it. For example, he has spoken at the World Economic Forum in Davos alongside UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson and UN Women’s Elizabeth Nyamayaro about how companies can help drive gender equality.
Sharing knowledge and experience
As a senior executive, I feel my own responsibility to demonstrate this commitment. Over the course of three decades, I have worked as a general manager, in finance and in operations, and my career has taken me from France to China, Eastern Europe and the UK. I believe I have a responsibility to share the knowledge and experience I have built up over that time, and to actively try to develop those who want to learn, progress and develop their careers.
As such, I take an active role in Accor’s Step Up programme, which is designed to help women in the business reach leadership positions.
The initiative combines formal training with a mentoring programme that aims to help emerging female leaders take control of their careers. It does this by building leadership attributes and establishing soft skills such as self-confidence and people’s ability to market themselves, which are vital for career development.
The programme matches mentors with mentees, who collaboratively define goals according to the mentee’s needs and aims, and who over a period of six months, work together to achieve those goals. By participating in this programme, I hope I am making a positive contribution to the more junior colleagues I am mentoring, but by doing so, I am also confident that we are improving the overall health and strength of the business, not least because I also learn something new from every mentoring relationship.
Inclusion fosters inclusion
For hotels, gender diversity is a hugely important issue. Hoteliers need to understand their female guests, corporate clients and partners if they are to thrive. Ensuring their women employees are empowered and encouraged to reach their potential is an essential part of doing so.
But gender diversity and inclusion should never be just about women standing up for women. From my experience, the vast majority of men are huge advocates of gender parity too. Ignoring what they can contribute would be folly.
By recognising the role men can have in supporting gender diversity, male employees are much more likely to feel recognised and included rather than marginalised. Engaging all employees behind the quest for parity will benefit everyone – men, women, and the business.
Inspiring leaders: three women leading the way at Accor
The Senior Executive: Karelle Lamouche, SVP sales & marketing, Distribution & Revenue Management Northern Europe
Karelle is in charge of the top line functions for Accor in Northern Europe. Working within the group since 2000, her key achievements include presiding over ibis’ vision to be the benchmark in the economy segment and a leader in customer service, by completely transforming the guest and employee journey through mobile technology.
Top tip for aspiring leaders: “Treat your colleagues with respect. Leaders can’t succeed without the support of their teams and to get that you need to earn their trust and respect.”
After beginning her career with Accor as Rooms Division Manager at Novotel Glasgow, Jacqui has held GM positions in Glasgow, Bristol, Reading and London before landing the GM job at the flagship Novotel in Canary Wharf last year.
Top tip for aspiring leaders: “Don’t be afraid to go for promotions or roles outside your comfort zone – it’s only by having the confidence to extend yourself that you expand your abilities.”
The Emerging Leader: Apolline Lecocq, Assistant General Manager, ibis Liverpool Centre Albert Dock
Starting her career as a receptionist, Appoline broadened her experience by securing herself maternity cover experience in Conferences & Events before being promoted to Front Office Manager. Since participating in the Step Up mentoring programme she has landed her first Assistant GM position.
Top tip for aspiring leaders: “Find a mentor! I have learned so much that will be invaluable in my career just by being able to speak to and be guided by someone with masses of experience.”