Emma Hynes, IHG Hotels and Resorts

To mark International Women’s Day on March 8, 2023, HM is giving female leaders in the accommodation industry a platform to share their views on ways to support women in hospitality careers.

Here, IHG Hotels & Resorts’ Director of Operations – Australasia & Pacific, Emma Hynes, discusses finding her feet after maternity leave and the ways employers can support parents in this position.

Getting diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) right isn’t easy: the key is in recognising that each individual has their own unique needs or requires different resources in order to be successful. It’s a concept which is often missed in the broader DE&I conversation.

With the gender diversity lens, an obvious need is around returning to work after maternity leave. I personally experienced wonderful support from my team and peers – though, as a senior female operations lead, I was navigating somewhat blindly with not having a role model in this space, so I focused on finding the best approach and balance that worked for me. At times I found I needed to push myself a little harder but, in doing so, I hoped to pave the way for others, showing other female leaders that it was absolutely possible.

Employers can support parents by offering a phased approach to return to work, understanding the mental load a returning mum might carry, acknowledging the bravery of taking on career ambitions alongside parenthood, and providing resources and education to address the stress and fatigue that might accompany it.

Recognising that careers aren’t always linear: breaks can be hugely important, whether for family, travel, care, to nurture a human, or for almost any other reason. It can make people diverse thinkers and dynamic problem solvers, as well as building soft skills such as empathy, resilience, energy, balancing demands and planning, all of which I’m sure we can all agree make better all-round leaders.

In terms of equity, one of the most important needles to shift – and one that is often discussed – is that of removing the gender pay gap. This will happen when more females step in senior leadership roles, as well having a workplace culture that embraces flexible work arrangements, offers effective programs and initiatives, and embraces the fact that careers can often pause, pivot and progress alongside changing personal situations.

One of the biggest roles we can all play in supporting women in hospitality leadership careers is helping them to develop and strengthen their self-confidence, as this is often cited as a barrier to taking the next career step. Mentoring and sponsorship programs like IHG’s Rise initiative, play an important role in a women’s career and sometimes, a simple ‘nudge’ or a friendly conversation can make all the difference.

This doesn’t happen by accident – companies need to be purposeful about creating an environment where there are opportunities that work for everyone to develop their careers. Companies need leaders who can guide the way, creating and forging the path forward, making it visible, accessible and intentional through succession plans, development opportunities and inclusion – this will hold our female leaders steady throughout their journey – right from the very beginning and continuing as their career soars.