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The Glass Ceiling: Equality in Hospitality

6 April 2010 Johanna Fragano




As a successful executive, an employer, and a woman, Johanna Fragano is ideally placed to referee the female fight for equality in the hospitality industry.


I was interested to read the article entitled "Women wanted" in the autumn issue of Hotel Management International, especially because I had been planning to write a few words about the recruitment and retention of female members of staff in hotels.

Because I have always been of the opinion that women should have the right to become mothers, I also feel that this should not mean the failure of a career. At a personal level I have to admit that I would never have renounced the possibility of having a child, but I have always known that a choice to bear children should not have denied me a fulfilling and successful career, and it didn’t.

Throughout the years I have battled against the discrimination of women in the workplace. Hopeful candidates with an impeccable CV, perfect knowledge of at least three languages and excellent references have been turned away time and again with the excuse: "You would be perfect for this job but you are young, you will certainly wish to have children." This is the moment when many women realise that, however capable they are, they cannot change gender and meanwhile the head of human resources is looking further down the list of prospective candidates and thinking: "What a pity, she would have been great, but a male candidate is preferable, at least we do not have to worry about him getting pregnant." Women’s progress in the workplace has always been held up by this seemingly insurmountable obstacle: motherhood.

"Companies that adopt these limiting policies are wasting opportunities and losing out on the amazing potential of a huge number of employees."

Even though it is common knowledge that the attention to detail, care in relationships, prevention of conflicts, and management skills generally attributed to women are conducive to improved results, at the moment of hiring or promoting a woman, the dilemma of an eventual pregnancy is always foremost in the mind of the decision maker. With pregnancy, children, extra time off and additional costs for the company, how can we overcome such prejudice? The answer is to understand that working mothers are not necessarily a cost, but an opportunity.

The overall cost of pregnancy is 0.23% of staff costs, according to prestigious research carried out by Bocconi University. Maternity can even be a benefit for the company and we must not be afraid of hiring women, considering that flexibility, part-time work, and other so-called perks actually allow us to benefit from the competence of women.

Equal opportunities

As an employer and a woman, I have always aimed to recruit the best talent available for my workforce, irrespective of gender. I am convinced that, should my choice fall on a woman, even if I have to lose her for a few months once or twice in the course of her career, if she turns out to be a great worker, I have still protected the interests of my company. Very rarely have I been disappointed. I hate the idea of encouraging a good employee to stay at home when I know she aspires or needs to work and that she will carry out her responsibilities with intelligence and efficiency.

"The answer is to understand that working mothers are not necessarily a cost, but an opportunity."

This attitude has negative effects not only on women but also on society as a whole. Why should we not value the competent resources of half the population, in spite of the fact that today, young women are at least as well educated as their male counterparts, thus wasting the valuable investment in their education? Companies that adopt these limiting policies are wasting opportunities and losing out on the amazing potential of a huge number of employees. There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel.

There are some inspired companies out there that accept the value of women in their ranks and have adopted family-friendly policies that can accompany women employees through the periods when it is necessary for a mother to spend more time with her family, allowing her more freedom of movement.

The results are beginning to come into focus and, hopefully, we shall see more women fulfilling their dreams of a rewarding career without having to sacrifice the joys of motherhood. Then, and only then, will women be encouraged to aim for the top jobs in our industry and maybe we will begin to see more women at board level of the international hotel chains. Believe me, it is possible.