THE ADVANCEMENT OF women in leadership ranks at hospitality businesses in the U.S. has been slow and uneven across companies and specialties, reveals an inaugural report by the Castell Project.

“If you are in the industry, at a gut level you know this to be true,” said Peggy Berg, founder and president of the Castell Project, a new program with a goal to grow the number of women in leadership in the U.S. hospitality industry.

The benchmarking study titled Women In Hospitality Industry Leadership is “the first time we can say we know it’s true and we have proven it.”

The Castell Project released the report Jan. 22 during the Americas Lodging Investment Summit in Los Angeles. The 18-page study was co-sponsored by American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Women in Lodging committee.

Peggy Berg, founder and president of the Castell Project and its leadership program.

Berg is a former hotel owner and founder of The Highland Group, a consulting and advisory firm in Atlanta, which she sold several years ago. She has long been bothered not only by the lack of women in leadership but by the industry’s acceptance of the gender bias.

“We have made progress, but it has been slow,” said Berg. “And it’s been very uneven across specialties and across companies.”

For example, women seem to have made progress in the area of operations, but lag in such specialties as finance and development. In addition, Fortune.com in 2017 named only five hospitality companies among its 100 Best Workplace for Women – Marriott International, Hilton, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants (owned by InterContinental Hotels Group), Hyatt Hotel Corp. and Concord Hospitality Enterprises.

Women in Hospitality Industry Leadership will be an annual report that benchmarks how the industry is doing in advancing diversity, Berg said. “We know companies that have more diverse leadership are more profitable over time.

“We know we have a long way to go. We are losing too much talent along the way. That which we can measure and report can be acted upon. We now have a benchmark, and now we can set goals and encourage improvement.”

The AHLA Education Foundation has granted Castell Project $20,000 to finance the next two years of the benchmarking report.

Today, the odds of a woman getting a promotion in the hospitality industry is 10 to one, meaning men have been 10 times more likely to be promoted to the principal/partner or president levels than women. Men are four times more likely to be promoted to executive vice president and more than twice as likely to be promoted to senior vice president, vice president or district level.

Women are of vital importance to the success of the hospitality industry, says the study. They comprise more than 50 percent of its employees and 70 percent of the student body at university hospitality schools. They also make nearly 80 percent of all travel decisions. Compare that to the fact that women make up 5 percent of industry CEOs.

“The hospitality industry, in spite of its dependence on women, lags other industries,” says the report.

Along with benchmarking the progress – or lack thereof – of the professional growth and advancement of women in hospitality, the Castell Project has created the Castell Leadership Program that provides training and networking to help female employees hurdle career plateaus.

Studies have shown that for some reason, many women advance only so far in their professional careers before they hit a wall and are unable to go any further. Berg and the Castell Project board of directors don’t know why that is, but they aim to tear down the barriers to advancement by providing women with continuing education.

It held its first class in May. Since then the 25 women have received training and built a support network with teachers and other women in the program. Sponsor of the initiative is Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

A second group of women will be selected to participate in the second class that begins in February. The candidates are referred by their bosses.

Other initiatives are in development, including creating a list of female experts available to participate in conference panels as well as creating teams of program graduates who will continue to encourage, teach and mentor one another throughout their careers.

For more information on the leadership program, the Castell Project and its benchmarking study, visit www.castellproject.org.