Women's rights

Women working in hotels often work in low-status positions, and often receive low wages and unequal opportunities. Women travelling alone and female hotel staff are particularly frequently exposed to sexual assaults.

Women working in hotels are overrepresented in lower-skilled and poorly paid jobs and are more often employed in part-time and temporary positions than men. Housekeeping and waiting services have a particularly high female labour force. This segregation of women in the hotel industry negatively impacts their ability to participate in decision-making processes and be promoted. According to a recent report by the organisation Equality in Tourism, women made up 27% of all board members in examined boards of major hotel chains, while various other studies have shown that women account for more than 50% of the workforce in the hospitality industry. When working in the same position, women are often paid less than men.

Women traveling alone and female employees are particularly frequently exposed to sexual harassment by hotel staff or customers. Customers are often not held accountable for their offenses.

Exploitation of housekeepers
Glass ceiling and sticky floor: women's careers
Sexual harassment
Women travellers
Social devaluation and invisibility: Spanish Housekeepers
Atypical recruitment: feminisation of the housekeeping sector
Wage discrimination: Tenerife
Female hotel workers: Mexico
Exploitation of housekeepers

Tourism's dirty secret: The exploitation of hotel housekeepers

A study by Oxfam Canada, examining the working lives of housekeepers in Toronto, Canada, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and Phuket, Thailand, found overarching trends in working conditions for all three destinations.

  • Housekeepers working in non-unionized hotels earn wages that fall below living wage standards, receive scant benefits and have little to no job security. They have to clean a large number of rooms every day and are expected to work overtime without pay if they cannot meet the room quota within their eight-hour shift.
  • Housekeepers face serious health risks and suffer high rates of injury from muscling king-sized beds weighing more than 100 pounds and using harsh cleaning chemicals all day long.
  • Women working as housekeepers also face high rates of sexual harassment. (…). The women often suffer in silence because customers are rarely held to account for their actions.
  • Organizing in the hotel sector has been extremely difficult due to employer resistance and a climate of fear generated by negative management practices. (…). The recent trend to outsource housekeeping services to temporary work agencies has put workers further at risk.
  • In addition to the hardships they face at work, housekeepers also struggle to find adequate care for their children. (…). The situation is worse for migrant women who live far from their family support networks.
Video on the 2017 report by Oxfam Canada on the exploitation of hotel housekeepers
Glass ceiling and sticky floor: women's careers

Glass ceiling and sticky floor

People 1st, a UK consulting company focusing on personnel management, surveyed the retention of women in the hospitality and tourism sector in the UK.

Its 2017 report found that 65% of all part-time roles in the hospitality and tourism sector are filled by women, rising to 72% in hotels.

According to the report, men and women have a similar career path until the age of 22. After this point the number of women in the sector starts to fall slightly before declining steeply at the age of 33. Whilst this trend is not unique to hospitality and tourism, sector businesses are according to the report finding it harder to retain and promote women after maternity leave.

The “Sun, Sand, and Ceilings” 2018 report by Equality in Tourism found that the percentage of women in hotel boards rose considerably from 16% in 2013 to 27% in 2018, with men still far outnumbering women within all of the companies examined. The report found significant variation between examined hotels (see also risk card on Tour operating / Women’s rights).

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment, gender and diversity

Certain job positions within the tourism industry, such as receptionists and housekeepers are more likely to suffer harassment situations. Moreover, it has been observed that trans workers suffer specific harassment due to their gender identity and other discriminations such as the obligation to wear a uniform and use a toilet that does not correspond to their gender.

In September 2018, major hotel chains in the U.S. announced that they would introduce increased measures to better protect their employees. Measures include training and portable panic buttons.

The portable safety device helps employees alert security personnel if they feel they are in danger or a compromising position. 

The panic button will be rolled out in a range of U.S. cities by various hotel operators, including Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, and InterContinental Hotels Group.

In addition to the device, the hotel operators are providing employees with on-going training and education about reporting sexual harassment and ensuring anti-sexual harassment policies are in place in multiple languages. 

Women travellers

Women travelling alone often face sexual harassment and verbal and physical assaults when walking on the streets, taking taxis or public transport, and staying at hotels.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation study published in 2017 ranked the world’s 19 largest megacities based on how dangerous they are for women, listing Cairo as the most dangerous city and Delhi and Sao Paolo as the worst cities for sexual violence and harassment.

Social devaluation and invisibility: Spanish Housekeepers

Social devaluation and invisibility

70 million tourists visited the Iberian Peninsula in the summer of 2016 but the maids do not earn on this business. Many of them work six to seven days a week for little more than the legal minimum wage of 655 euros. Their tasks being considered an extension of domestic work and care often results in devaluation and invisibility of women's labour participation.  Due to the self-organisation of housekeepers in Spain, the housekeepers' workforce has gone from being invisible to starring in crucial moments of the political debate. The kellys associations have managed to create their own image and break with their work's invisibility. However, working conditions and perceived wages still reflect the undervaluation they suffer. 

Short film (4 min.) by Deutsche Welle about the working conditions of Spanish housekeepers and their protests.
Atypical recruitment: feminisation of the housekeeping sector

Atypical recruitment

Atypical recruitment, which includes temporary, part-time contracts and outsourcing, seeks to adjust workers’ availability to the company’s needs and is based on a highly fluctuating demand. Since women do most part-time, temporary, and informal work in the hospitality industry, it can be argued that atypical hiring is a gender inequality in the tourism labour market. The reasons why women represent most part-time contracts are varied, although generally, they are due to the need to reconcile work life with other responsibilities such as caring tasks. Another group of with a high percentage of part-time contracts is congresses and events hostesses, a group subjected to high job flexibility and feminisation. Another example is the guides on tourist buses, which are hired part-time, as companies argue that services operate only during the day, making it challenging to organise two shifts of eight hours each. Moreover, temporary contracts are higher in women, immigrants, under-35-year-olds and companies that have more than 51 people on staff. Companies use temporary contracts to reduce wage and labour costs, often through temporary work companies. These contracts’ consequences for working people are diverse: intensification of work, lower wages, and/or restricted access to social benefits such as sick leave or paid leave. On the other hand, outsourcing has been a phenomenon that has affected many workers in the tourism sector. In recent years, many hoteliers have opted for this strategy to reduce fixed costs, introduce new technologies by specialised companies, diversify their offer by incorporating external services and improve quality while focusing on the key business activities. Subsequently, outsourcing has been extended to the housekeeping department. The department’s high feminisation is a crucial factor in understanding why it has received more outsourcing, as historically men have led the unions, the demands and the negotiations. 

Wage discrimination: Tenerife

Wage discrimination

The tourism sector has a low average wage for a large part of the workforce, while being subjected to harsh working conditions. These effects are intensified within a context of gender discrimination, understood as a devaluation of feminised work that is reflected in wages. This wage gap is due to discrimination based on the potential productivity of men and women. Another factor that affects wage differences between men and women comes from the very nature of contracts. Without considering its general seasonal nature in the tourism sector, there is a majority presence of part-time contracts among women. For a long time, this has been considered an advantage to reconcile their time at work with the tasks of caring for children or dependent people, despite this affecting the total remuneration obtained. For example, at the Hotel Best Tenerife, in 2017 the housekeepers (92% women) received a productivity bonus of 139€, while the housekeepers (85% men) received 640,67€, despite both positions being in the same professional agreement and having the same base salary. 

Female hotel workers: Mexico

Abuse and insecurity: the trials of female hotel workers in Quintana Roo

Abuse and sexual assault of female hotel workers is a major and growing problem in Quintana Roo, according to an investigation by the newspaper El Universal, and most cases go unpunished. The newspaper said that over the past five months it conducted interviews with dozens of former and current hotel employees in the Riviera Maya, reviewed assault and rape complaints and spoke with victims and their families. It said the stories of the mainly young employees, many of whom move to Quintana Roo from other Mexican states or Central and South America, show that violence in the tourism sector is constant.

Taking action 300x190

Take action

Policy and process

  • Integrate clauses on non-discrimination and customer safety in contracts with accommodation providers / Supplier Code of Conduct

Supplier assessment

  • Ensure supplier assessments are conducted in a gender-sensitive way.

Training and capacity building

  • Train procurement staff on gender issues in the hotel industry and how they can address these when interacting with suppliers

Responsible product development

  • Select hotels who have specific measures in place to ensure the safety of women travelling alone (e.g. "women only" floor, security button etc.)

Find more information on potential measures to take on the "take action" site. 

Learn more

Find more information in the Resource Centre.