Progress on the number of female senior executives within the pub and restaurant sector is lagging behind other companies within hospitality, travel and leisure (HTL), according to the findings of a wide-ranging review of gender diversity and female progression, published by PwC.

The percentage stood at 27.2% within casual dining; 25% in pub companies; and 21.7% within foodservice, compared to the average of 26% across HTL – however, this number fell to 20% when human resources roles were excluded. Travel companies performed the best with 29.5% of female senior execs.

The Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure 2020 Review was carried out in order to “shine a spotlight” on the hospitality sector’s progress in meeting the challenge set by the 2016 government-backed Hampton-Alexander Review. It recommended a 33% target for women on FTSE350 boards by 2020, and for women on FTSE 100 executive committees, and direct reports to the executive committee, by 2020.

Companies within the FTSE 350 already meeting the 33% target for women on boards, were: Whitbread (44.4%); Greggs (42.9%); JD Wetherspoon (37.5%). Whereas others, such as Mitchells and Butlers (9.1%); Greene King (14.3%); and The Restaurant Group (16.7%), were further from the magic number.

The report found that while women were well represented in junior and middle management roles, a gap began to emerge in roles upwards of middle management. Female talent was being held back by a limited focus on diversity, a lack of flexible working and inadequate support for women returning from career breaks, the review suggested. Another barrier highlighted was a lack of role models, which can help create women in leadership positions and opportunities for others.

Quoted in the report, Debbie Hewitt, chairman of The Restaurant Group, said: “We’re just not getting our message across very well as a sector. We’re not telling the story very well about how exciting our sector is.”

Following the research, and to coincide with its publication, PwC has announced the launch of a Diversity in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure Charter.

Tea Colaianni, who led the review, and is chair of the Women in Hospitality 2020 working group, –an independent cross-industry body that includes consultancy firms PwC, Korn Ferry, People 1st and Oxford Brookes – said: “The need to do more in the area of diversity and inclusion, and to amplify the efforts currently being undertaken by individual organisations for the benefit of the whole industry have resulted in the development of the Diversity in Hospitality, Travel, and Leisure Charter.”

The working group is calling on companies to support the progression of women into senior roles by setting themselves targets and to publish their progress annually.

Colaianni said you could count the number of female CEOs in the sector on one hand and female chairman and senior independent directors on the other.

She told MCA: “Progress in terms of female representation across the sector is slow. There are more women in senior roles than ever before in our industry and good examples of individual initiatives, passionate CEOs and chairmen who are making a difference, but more can and must be done.

“Lack of ownership and sponsorship at the top is identified as a major obstacle to improving gender balance. Diversity of thought is important, enriches conversations and decisions, is reflective of the customer base in restaurants, pubs and leisure venues, and makes moral and business sense,” she added.

The aim of the review is to inspire the industry “to collaborate, to share, to amplify the impact of individual initiatives and to make the industry attractive to women” she said.

Commenting in the report, Brigid Simmonds, chief executive, British Beer & Pub Association, said a lot of work had been done over the past eight years, through initiatives like the Women 1st campaign, to identify barriers to progression and create the right culture and systems to help more women into in senior roles.

“A lot has been accomplished, but as the WiH2020 research highlights, there is much more to do. Too often efforts to promote inclusion and diversity in the hospitality travel and leisure sectors have been hampered by a lack of real co-ordination, which has potentially stunted our collective impact,” she said. “I hope this research stimulates a real sense of partnership in the sector to address the challenge head on.”

A common weakness across the industry was a lack of ownership or sponsorship of diversity strategies from the board, with the strategy, development and execution largely left to HR instead.

Jon Terry, diversity and inclusion consulting leader at PwC, said: “A poor reputation on diversity has a negative effect on recruiting new staff, retaining existing staff and attracting customers - all of whom increasingly value and expect diversity. But a positive perception can help organisations stand out.

“Our research shows that 80% of millennials believe an employer’s policy on diversity and inclusion is an important factor when deciding to work for the company.”

The report also identified a number of steps that leaders can take to enable companies to enhance the industry’s, and their own, reputation and become a more attractive sector for diverse talent. These included: Offering more support for women returning from career breaks; promoting and advocating shared parental leave; setting up and establishing mentoring programmes; and making better use of technology to improve flexible working.

The report was based on interviews with over 100 hospitality, travel and leisure company chairs, chief executives, HR directors, recruiters and recent graduate recruits.