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Women in Hospitality – Closing the gender gap

On November 8th, ASSET-H&C and IECD, in partnership with  ÊMM Hotel Saigon, organised a conference on Women in Hospitality in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Around 70 guests, including representatives from both the French and Vietnamese public sector, the tourism and hospitality industry, the educational sector and from NGOs, joined the event. Inspiring speakers came from different countries of the region to exchange on the topic.

Within the hospitality industry, women make up nearly 70% of the workforce, however there is a marked under-representation of women in senior positions, with women holding less than 40% of all managerial positions and less than 20% of general management roles; as well as an over-representation of women in low-skilled and low-wage jobs.

The objective of the conference was to debate and discuss this paradox by exchanging on obstacles and sharing solutions for the empowerment of women in and through the hospitality industry in Southeast Asia.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Vincent FLOREANI, French Consul General to Ho Chi Minh City, highlighted the importance of gender equality for the French government. “By my presence here, I wish to express the support of the French authorities for the actions undertaken to promote gender equality and to show my personal support for this conference and for the vocational training projects of young people, especially women, in the Hospitality and Catering sector.“

Mrs. TRAN Thi Phuong Hoa, Vice-President of the Women’s Union of HCMC gave an assessment of the situation of women in Vietnam. There are still existing barriers, such as gender inequality, society’s prejudice toward women’s capabilities, or conventional perceptions of women’s duty being the family caregiver, all of which have been posing challenges to women, especially in terms of entrepreneurship. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that there have also been considerable changes in the society’s perceptions and awareness toward women’s roles in socio-economic developments."

During his presentation on barriers to women’s career advancement, in Vietnam and the region, Dr. Matthew MCDONALD, Senior Lecturer at RMIT’s Asia Graduate Centre, noted that “in Vietnam, the rate of participation of women in the workforce is higher than in other countries but women often do the most insecure, low skilled and low paid jobs.” He distinguished the structural barriers (society’s conception of women’s role, lack of equal opportunity legislation, etc.) and the psychological ones (own conception of women’s role, leadership perception, etc.).  

After a first part focusing on contextualisation, the conference highlighted individual and collective achievements and initiatives to close the gender gap in the industry, in the form of two panel discussions animated by Mrs. Nia KLATTE, Sustainability Coordination at EXO Travel, and Mr. TRINH Van, Director of La Boulangerie Française HCMC.

In a first panel discussion, Mrs VO Xuan Thu, General Manager of Victoria Hotels in Mekong Delta region, Mrs. NGUYEN Dung, independent sommelier in Hanoi and Mrs VO My Thi Van, Vice-Principal of Saigontourist Hospitality College and founder of Boniva Chocolate, shared their inspiring stories, the barriers they faced as women and the way they overcame such challenges. 

“After graduating, all the students are at the same level but when I meet them a few years later, I realise that men have been promoted faster. In a group of 20, 11 men are executive chef, but only one woman. I asked the students the reason why and they said that many women, even if they are aware that they can handle this kind of job, are less inclined to ask for it.” said Mrs. VO Thi My Van, who encouraged women to seize opportunities more and keep some time to develop and pursue their own interests.

Mrs VO Xuan Thu, who was the first female General Manager at TMG Hospitality, underlined that the main challenge faced by women is time: “This job requires a lot of working hours and you have to accept irregular working schedules; it is difficult to balance personal life and work, especially as there is still a perception that women have to sacrifice their career to take care of their family.”

A view shared by Mrs NGUYEN Dung, who told the audience about the ongoing challenge of having her family understand and accept the nature of her work as well as its constraints, despite being in the industry for 10 years already and having won the title of Vietnam’s Best Sommelier in 2016. Mrs NGUYEN Dung also shed light on the negative image that women can be associated with when working in the hotel or F&B industry; she advised  her female peers to fight those stereotypes with strong personal principles and urged them to deconstruct their own prejudices of what women can or can not do.

Mr. TRINH Van, co-moderator, summarised speakers’ various interventions: “in all your stories, we can feel how important the ‘passion’ was for you to get where you are now, starting with taking time to really ask yourselves what you liked and wanted to do. You also showed that it was key to create and to seize opportunities for yourself, especially learning ones and to believe in your abilities to succeed. Finally, we saw how important one’s environment is, how people have been around you at some point or continuously to inspire you, guide you, support you and help you grow.”

The second panel focused on initiatives promoting women inclusion and empowerment in the sector and trying to lift some of the barriers discussed earlier. It gathered Mrs. Cavelle DOVE, Founder of the Yangon Bakehouse, Mr. PHAM AN Jimmy, Founder of KOTO, and Mrs. Valerie Marina BARRIOS, RiiSE Champion for the region at AccorHotels Group.

Mrs. Cavelle DOVE, who founded in Yangon a social enterprise transferring cooking skills to vulnerable women, shared “when we started the Yangon Bakehouse we wanted to give women an opportunity to earn income because when you give income to a woman, the whole family is better off. We wanted to give women an opportunity to make a difference in the context of Myanmar where there are still a lot of challenges.”

This is also the goal of KOTO’s project “Her Turn: Women’s Economic Empowerment”, an initiative to train and integrate women in the hospitality industry presented by its founder Mr. PHAM AN Jimmy, who highlighted that “education is a way to break down the stigmas and perceptions, it is a slow process but it is changing.” KOTO is also developing mentorship programmes for their female alumni in order to promote career development amongst those who tend to get stuck in middle-management positions.

Representing AccorHotels, a major industry actor, Mrs. Valerie Marina BARRIOS  introduced RiiSE, a 14,000-member network encouraging women AND men in the hospitality group to take action for equality and diversity, and some of the initiatives undertaken by AccorHotels in the region, especially in terms of parental benefits (harmonisation at company level, fair parental policy for all, etc.).

In her closing remarks, Mrs. Menchie DIZON, Founder of Trip.Club, highlighted that companies that promote gender equality perform better because there is a diversity of perspectives. What helps women to speak up more and be more active is when they have more flexibility (e.g. about child care). It is about building an environment where people can become their best self and not about giving priority to one gender over the other.”

Guests and speakers had further opportunities to debate and exchange on the topic during a Q&A session and a networking cocktail with delicious products from La Boulangerie Française HCMC.

Source: ASSET-H&C and IECD

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