Female Leadership in Hospitality

Women are working to increase their visibility and position in the hospitality industry.

Lodging, food, and drinks are the mainstays of the hospitality industry, which provides services linked to leisure and customer satisfaction. The industry is dominated by female employees, who make up an estimated 55.5 percent of the workforce.

But when it comes to leadership, the balance skews heavily toward males. In the lodging industry, women filled just 10 percent of high-level leadership positions (such as CEO, president, partner, director, or owner) in 2020. In the restaurant world, only 22.4 percent of managerial or executive chef positions were held by women—and the percentage dropped lower as establishments’ prestige increased.

Female leaders are pushing to rectify this situation. “[The] dynamics of corporate leadership in the…industry are changing,” explains an article on the website HospitalityNet. “Despite facing challenges in the workplace and balancing personal lives, more women are breaking the glass ceiling by putting themselves forward for leadership roles.”

They are not doing it alone. Various organizations are recognizing the value of female leadership and are actively working to increase women’s visibility and position in the hospitality industry. By doing so, they are opening C-suite and other leadership opportunities to candidates with the drive and talents to excel at the highest levels of business.

These types of qualifications are not gained through experience alone. Many skills must be learned through hospitality management courses and academic programs such as Washington State University’s Online Master of Business Administration. Offering both a general MBA curriculum and a concentration in hospitality business management, WSU’s Online MBA degree program prepares candidates for a variety of successful careers in the hospitality industry.

Benefits of Female Leadership

A study published on the website HospitalityNet looked at the potential benefits of female leadership in the hospitality industry. The central question was whether female leaders were more likely than men to have a leadership style that inspired and motivated employees. The study particularly examined transformational leadership, a style that uses rapport, empathy, and inspiration to engage employees and form them into integral, high-functioning units. Quiet and calm, transformational leaders are brave, confident, and willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

The results of the study showed that female leaders did, indeed, score significantly higher as transformational leaders than men did. This trait, in turn, significantly and positively influenced employees’ attitudes: Hospitality workers with female bosses were more motivated and worked harder on the job.

In an article on the same website, 3 female hospitality leaders were interviewed regarding their personal opinions on the matter. All 3 felt that women brought certain positive qualities to the table.

"In general, women tend to be more interactive, stimulating high-quality relationships, bonding, and connectivity among team members,” said Rebecca Kwan, general manager of Lan Kwai Fong @ Kau U Fong and chair of the Hong Kong Hotels Association. “Women are usually focused on the well-being of their team so that it does the job well,” agreed Anke Ebinger, WorldHotels’ regional director of sales for Central Europe.

Interviewees emphasized, however, that a balanced gender mix was the best option of all. “Both genders bring a different skill set to the table. That is why diversity in the workplace is extremely important,” said Susan Keels, general manager of the Royal Park Hotel in Rochester, NY. By this way of thinking, the hospitality industry could benefit greatly from having a more equitable balance of men and women in leadership positions.

The Castell Project

Gender balance is the guiding principle behind the Castell Project, an initiative launched in 2017 to assist the advancement of female professionals in the hospitality industry. To accomplish this goal, the group hosts an annual Castell Leadership Program, which, it says, “is designed for high-potential women at the point where competition for the next level intensifies.”

The year-long program helps executive women increase their odds with gender-specific learning in 5 crucial areas: communication and negotiation, finding and maintaining advocates, boosting executive presence, building a network of high-achieving women, and learning techniques for disciplined career development.

The Castell Leadership Program offers 2 tiers: the BUILD program for emerging leaders who hope for executive-level hospitality careers, and the ELEVATE program for proven leaders in the hospitality industry who wish to take their skills and performance to an advanced level. Available by application only, the Castell Leadership Program offers targeted information and education to help women advance their careers.

In addition to its Leadership Program, the Castell Project also maintains what it calls the WSH list—a list of more than 1,000 women at high levels in the hospitality industry who are available as speakers at conventions and other events.

“The podium is important because it grants visibility and builds reputation for rising executives. It is one way that people are recognized and build a personal brand for their expertise. This visibility leads to connections and opportunity,” the organization explains. “If women are not visible, their careers cannot advance competitively.”

A third function of the Castell Project is the production of an annual report summarizing gender breakdowns in hospitality management. The comprehensive report divides its findings into subcategories such as leadership in hospitality accounting, asset management, marketing, operations, and so on. The report also covers the participation and attendance of women at industry-specific conferences. By tracking these statistics from year to year, the Castell Project keeps an eye on trends and changes in hospitality leadership gender.

The Women’s Hospitality Initiative

While the Castell Project mostly targets the lodging industry, the Las Vegas-based Women’s Hospitality Initiative (WHI) takes aim at food and beverage purveyors.

“While many graduating culinary students are women, females represent just a small portion of executive chefs or restaurant owners, especially in Las Vegas,” Elizabeth Blau, the initiative’s cofounder, told Food & Beverage magazine. “WHI will meet the clear need to educate and train women, from those in high school and college to those already in the business, to thrive in the restaurant industry.”

Founded in January 2020, the WHI is still in its infancy—but it has big plans. The organization intends to support women in 3 ways:

  • Conducting research through partnership and collaboration
  • Providing education to emerging female leaders in restaurant hospitality, starting at the high school level and extending all the way into the highest levels of the workforce
  • Providing mentorship, advocacy, networking, and community support

Through these efforts, the WHI hopes to see women moving into higher-level positions of the dining industry not only in Las Vegas, but eventually across a broader area. “Our goal is to achieve gender equity…and we have already seen our community galvanizing around these efforts in an extraordinary way,” Blau says in the Food & Beverage article.

Be Prepared

Programs such as the Castell Project and the Women’s Hospitality Initiative are a welcome development in the hospitality industry, which many people feel is overdue for a move toward greater gender equity. These programs are raising awareness of a situation that is ripe for change. At the same time, they are also giving women the tools to advance their careers.

As in any industry, however, fortune favors the prepared. Women who have laid the groundwork for executive success—for instance, by obtaining an MBA, particularly one with a concentration in hospitality management—are especially likely to benefit from programs championing female leadership in hospitality. Through a combination of hard work and good timing, women in hospitality today are positioned to succeed like never before.

About WSU’s Online Master of Business Administration Program

Washington State University’s Carson College of Business delivers one of the top-ranked MBA programs in the nation. WSU offers an online MBA course curriculum designed to equip students with the tactics, knowledge, skills, strategies, and other resources utilized by today’s high-profile business leaders. The Online MBA degree program offers hospitality management courses in services management, international tourism strategy and planning, and hospitality operations analysis. For more information, visit WSU’s Online MBA website.


 Recommended Reading:

More Women Are Joining the C-Suite. Here’s How They’re Doing It.

3 Ways Female Business Leaders Positively Impact the Bottom Line

All About Hospitality Business Management



Statistics on female leadership in hospitality – eHotelier.com, Castell Project, DataUSA

Changing dynamics in hospitality industry – HospitalityNet

Benefits of female leaders – eHotelier.com

Interviews with female hospitality leaders – eHotelier.com

The Women’s Hospitality Initiative – Women’s Hospitality Initiative