IHG Hotels and Resorts SVP Managing Director – JAPAC, Leanne Harwood

IHG Hotels and Resorts SVP Managing Director – JAPAC, Leanne Harwood, exclusively reflects on the meaning of International Women’s Day and the work that must be done to improve outcomes for women in the industry.

While it’s been wonderful to see the inspiring IWD messages over the past week, all that #BreakTheBias energy and enthusiasm mustn’t be limited to just one day of the year. Freeing the world of bias, stereotypes and discrimination should be the focus of every one of us, every day.

What’s needed is real conversations, real action and real change – “deeds not words”. This morning’s news of the Gender Pay Gap Bot intrigued, amused and outraged me – the little tyke trawled through corporate Twitter posts, highlighting companies whose equality boasts didn’t live up to their own hype. Brilliant! I’m all for a bit of ra-ra, but not if it’s just gender-washing.

Our industry is not perfect, but we have made great strides. The pay gap in the Accommodation and Food Service Sector is 6%. While that’s an improvement from 13% just a year ago, females make up 53% of the workforce so clearly the story should be vastly better.

Some of the great initiatives IHG, our peers, and the Accommodation Association are introducing are well documented, and I know that we will get there.

The Association’s big call out this year is to ensure that the face of our sector is more representative of those working in it and the wider community.

Our Panel Pledge captures our determination to have more representative conversations and conferences – an all-in approach and an ever-vigilant lens to make sure that we are all actively promoting and supporting those who haven’t traditionally had the privilege of the spotlight. It might be uncomfortable at times to challenge the status quo but we are proud to issue the challenge of inclusion and diversity as a starting point.

Personally, I’m pretty proud of the work IHG is doing in this space. I am very much aware that we still have quite a way to go with true equality across our hotel GM population, but I believe in cultural change, not quotas, so we are flipping our model and offering industry-leading myFlex and myBenefits making it easy and rewarding for anyone to work in our industry.

I’m proud that more than two thirds of IHG’s corporate leaders (Directors and above) are female, and I thought it would be nice to share some of their voices here.

Lisa Rangitutia, Director of Commercial – Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific (ANZSP)

“I hope that every woman out there has at least one great human in their professional lives that will tell them: “you can do it, you are good enough for that promotion, you can ask for more money and flexibility, and your family does come first.” I’d also love to see everyone getting the invite to golf days, sporting events & Friday night drinks at the pub – without the assumption that its only for a particular group. We have an important part to play in ensuring gender bias in the workplace does not go unchecked.”

Monique Curry, Commercial Advantage Director – JAPAC

“Knowing that bias exists is not enough. We all need to take action to break it – from the way we talk and think at home and in the workplace. As a mum of two boys and a little girl, I am ever mindful of my approach when talking to the children – often catching even myself in a gender bias ‘Don’t push your sister, she’s not as strong as you!’ I want to reinforce to her that she is strong and capable and ensure my sons don’t see a sister as weak and fragile. The same carries through into the workplace – celebrating our differences while acknowledging that women are as strong, competent and fierce!”

Zoe Capouch, Key Account Director, National Sales – Australasia

“Without a doubt people are the most valuable asset of any organisation so, for a company to know its full potential, true gender equality must be achieved. This won’t be reached by chance; it will be achieved when conscious decisions are made every day at every level to give women the opportunity to thrive.”

Mardi Sparrow, Director of Human Resources – Australasia

“We need to focus on pay parity and creating financial independence for all – as a single mother of two, daughters my ask of education and businesses today is to treat everyone as an equal with pay matching performance.  Creating financial education opportunities for females will ensure they understand and value their worth, being financially independent to make life choices.”

Véronique Domin-Reid, Director, Commercial – New Hotels & Global Sales Japan, Australasia Pacific (JAPAC)

“We need to challenge gender biases, both conscious and unconscious, collectively as an industry. If we all adopted a progressive mindset and inclusive behaviours, we would see seismic change. It is up to us to lead the way.” 

Koyeli Khan, Global Account Market Director – Australasia & India

“Personally, I wish there was no such thing as IWD, because it really isn’t a conversation that should need to be had. A diverse world should just be the norm – where women do not have to fight for pay equality, and a world where benefits like Parental Leave are not just offered, but men feel comfortable taking it without the fear of losing face or being ribbed or by friends and family.”

Winni Yuan, Director, Global Premium & Lifestyle Brands – Japan, Australasia & Pacific

“Women in the workforce from all walks of life should be empowered and celebrated for being our authentic selves – no matter if we are fierce, fun, nurturing, or whomever we truly are – we should be free to succeed without being stereotyped or judged.”

Leanne Zeid, Director of Groups and Meetings, Regional Sales Australasia

“We need to challenge our teams to take real action for equality – change doesn’t happen just because we want it to. We need to lean and take meaningful action every day, from gender equal interview panels when recruiting, to providing a flexible workplace that embraces all and alienates no one.”

Lynda Ugarte, Head of Human Resources – Japan, Australasia & Pacific

“The experiences of covid have opened many eyes to how one might balance life and work, with practical learnings and some personal ‘aha’ moments around what’s been missing or needs to change. My hope is that this accelerates equality, including the taking of the various leave types available to workers and remove the bias towards thinking around a woman’s role. Ultimately a person who can navigate life and work concurrently, will be a valuable employee and a better human.”