Hospitality Industry
4 min read

Celebrating International Women's Day 2021 with Women in Leadership (WIL)

Dr Sowon Kim
Written by

Triggering an interest in gender inequality

At the age of 15, I asked my father how I could become a diplomat like him. My Korean father, a military colonel by profession, responded that the best option for me would be to get married to a diplomat. While his intention was to protect me from a tough (and toxic) system influenced by the country’s dictatorship he knew inside and out, I was nevertheless surprised and disappointed by his answer. Yet, this also triggered in me an interest in gender equality (equal rights and opportunities). All the traveling and living abroad had impacted the way I experienced the world despite the conservative education and upbringing I received.

Fast forward two decades, I joined EHL after having worked in different industries and academic institutions. In an exhibition of EHL alumni who had reached the C-suite, only well-groomed men featured in a black and white photo hanging on the wall. There was not one female executive that our young women could look up to. Yet, women make up 60% of the EHL student body! The lack of female role models couldn’t have been more glaring.

In addition, how would this influence the perceptions of our male students: that it is “normal” that top leaders are men, perpetuating the unconscious bias and systems that have held back generations of women? This was an epiphany moment. Change was urgent. After all, among our 25,000+ alumni, only 17% of the executive roles are occupied by women and not surprisingly, this modest number mirrors the situation in the hospitality industry, too.

The first person I approached with the idea of WIL was the Global Alliance & Partnership Director, Valérie de Corte (back then Alumni & Industrial Relations Director). Valérie generously gave me the opportunity to moderate a Women in Leadership Career Panel embedded in the Career Fair back in fall 2017. She then connected me to Business Development Director of Advisory Services, Alexia Muteke Ceppi (back then Senior Consultant of Advisory Services), who was passionate about women empowerment. Around the same time, Communications Director Meloney Brazzola and I started to collaborate more, and her role has been critical in enhancing the visibility of WIL projects through various communication channels.

 

The birth of Women in Leadership

As a team, these three phenomenal women - and with advice and support from Dr. Inès Blal(the first woman to be appointed Executive Dean and Managing Director (Lausanne Campus) in the institution’s 100+ years of existence) - contributed to the creation of the Women in Leadership (WIL) initiative in 2018.

WIL aims to effect social change at EHL and the broader hospitality community in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5, Gender Equality. WIL covers topics such as leadershipdiversity, inclusion and belonging (DIB); women entrepreneurs; networking, mentoring; managing work-family, flexible work arrangements; and sexual harassment. WIL’s activities promote one of EHL’s values, namely Respect, and directly contribute to achievingone of EHL’s sustainability goal, specifically "Care for our People". Both are geared to fostering safety & wellbeing and diversity & inclusion in our EHL Community.

 

WIL achievements

So, what has WIL achieved in the last three years? Since 2018, WIL has hosted a dozen events to educate, inspire, and empower women with a total outreach of over 700 participants. While this is a modest number, our events are attracting an increasing number of participants, both women and men. Our latest event, ELEVATE: a panel discussion featuring our outstanding female alumnae who shared their professional experiences with insights and tips on what worked well – and not so well – when navigating their careers and businesses. Going forward, we aim to organize ELEVATE on an annual basis, with the date coinciding with International Women’s Day.

In 2019, WIL launched the Sexual Harassment Prevention (SHP) Initiative in collaboration with Academic Advisory to educate, protect, and empower students on this sensitive topic, which is a veritable plague in the hospitality sector. SHP is one of the very few bottom-up, transversal projects at EHL that has been able to raise awareness across differentdepartments and engage with multiple internal stakeholders in a large-scale collaboration. Through SHP, over 1,700 first-year bachelor students have been trained on this topic via our external partner, the Non-Violence Project Foundation (founded by an EHL alumnus in 1993).

We’ve designed the “SHP Student Journey”, a three-tiered intervention method that covers the entire bachelor program. The journey includes: a Basic workshop (prior to their first internship); an Intermediate workshop (prior to their second internship), and an Advanced workshop (prior to joining the labor market). We also formed the “SHP Student Taskforce” a group of volunteer and motivated students involved in the initiative who make valuable contributions such as: proposing the architect of the SHP intranet webpage; creating the SHP icon; participating in the SHP corporate video; and collaborating with the Values Ambassador to embed the SHP Awareness Day into the “Respect” Values Week that will run for a week in April across the entire institution. We recently kicked off a research project on SHP that will measure the effectiveness of interventions and shed light on how behavioral training programs impact individual attitudes and the role of gender. 

In 2020, I was invited to Co-Chair LeadingHôtelièreswith Xenia zu Hohenlohe, Founding Partner at Considerate Group. LeadingHôtelières was founded by Frank M. Pfaller, President and CEO of HoteliersGuild community, and co-founded by Lindsey Ueberroth, CEO at Preferred Hotels & Resorts. The mission of LeadingHôtelières is to accelerate the UN’s SDG5 Gender Equality in the hospitality industryand is underpinned by the commitment and talent of exceptional women dedicated to making a difference. With the Covid-19 pandemic, the working theme of LeadingHôtelières was set to be Driving flexible working structures in hotels. I am heading the large-scale flexibility study working side by side with practitioners and academics to bridge both worlds. The study aims to better understand hotels’ flexible working structures, the different types of flexibility, their antecedents and consequences on critical outcomes (e.g., innovative capabilities, organizational resilience, and employee wellbeing).  

In 2021, together with HoteliersGuild’s LeadingHôtelières, IUBH University of Applied Sciences (Germany) and Institut Paul Bocuse (France), we launched Young Hôtelières Insights (YHI). YHI is space dedicated for aspiring female hospitality leaders where they can contribute to our industry with their reflections, ideas, trends and hot topics as viewed by their generation. A compilation of these inputs will be featured in the associated communication channels with the aim to develop the professional visibility of our top female students in a network of established hôtelières/hoteliers.

Looking back, I am grateful, despite his remark, for my father - who is now proud of who I have become and what I do - because the frustration and sense of injustice I felt worked as fuel to envision and drive change that will benefit the future generation, including my own children. Looking ahead, I am very excited about what the future holds and about the needs-driven and research-based WIL projects that will emerge and contribute to the transformation that is so needed in our society.

Hospitality Industry  Did you know?  80% of employers say soft skills are increasingly important to company success  Read more

Written by

Associate Professor at EHL

Got a story to share? Become an EHL Insights contributor

Learn More