Flexibility and Stability: How the Travel Industry Can Support Working Parents

July 14, 2022
Amy Gilmore (she/her)
6 min read

Amy Gilmore (she/her) is a researcher for the Fly Green Alliance (FGA), a sustainable aviation consultancy. Founded and run by a female CEO, FGA is committed to promoting gender equality in the industry, in addition to flexible working. She joins our expansive network of Women in Travel who’re shaking up long-standing inequities to propel change for a better represented travel industry. Like Amy, we want to hear from you; if you have a story or resource you want to share with the Women in Travel community, you can email social@wetravel.com.

In 2018, 63% of two-parent households in the US had both parents working according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A similar average figure for the European Union was reported by the OECD in 2019. While the percentage of households with children varies considerably from country to country, with an estimated 40% in the US, it is clear that working parents make up a very sizable proportion of the global workforce.

A recent article from Hospitality Net estimates that the hospitality and travel industry accounts for one out of every ten employment opportunities, bringing the number of people earning their living in the sector to a stunning 330 million in 2022. And now as the industry recovers from the losses of Covid-19 and as our appetite for travel returns, travel and tourism jobs are being created at the fastest rate of any sector of the economy. The key to filling these roles will be employers recognising that our relationship to work has changed. Specifically, in order to attract working parents, travel businesses will need to offer increased flexibility and better policies and perks.

Here are a few ways that travel companies can better support working parents: 

1. Offer Real Perks

Benefits packages should be thoughtfully tailored to the needs of the individual where possible; there isn’t a one size fits all solution. For example, bonuses (although a great perk) aren’t the solution to a poor work-life balance, in fact, it can propel the “work harder” mentality. And if your bonus is free travel, it’s not a perk for working parents with young children either.

Instead of offering the common perk of free travel, you can instead extend travel discounts and allowances–including free refunds–to friends and family so that it can be used by others to come visit and stay locally. An example of this can be seen at Booking.com, which gives employees 25% off on any booking up to £1,000 a year that can be shared with friends and family. If you’re unsure where to start, businesses can use a rewards and benefits platform like Thanks Ben which aims to make benefits flexible and personal to employees. Their platform boasts an 83% monthly engagement rate so employees must be enjoying those benefits! 

2. Promote Gender Pay Equality

The recognition that fostering diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace is imperative to employees’ satisfaction and growth has been growing for some time. Gender equality, equal pay, and company culture, as well as overall job security are not new priorities for employees. And the answer to retaining working parents may be found in ensuring these objectives are met.

For example, the aviation industry has taken steps to increase the number of women in senior roles and under-represented roles to 25% by 2025, by introducing an industry-wide initiative. The International Air Transport Association introduced its “25 by 2025” initiative in 2021, as part of its efforts to build back better from the pandemic with diversity and inclusion at the heart of industry’s restart efforts.

Addressing the gender balance in aviation and travel more generally is crucial to attracting and retaining the best talent so needed in the industry today, including working parents. Especially as the gender employment gap is larger for parents.

According to the OECD Family Database, gender pay gaps have decreased in the majority of OECD countries, yet a gap of 10-20% still exists in most nations. A report published in early 2022 by WiHTL and PwC found that hospitality’s gender pay gap increased for the first time in three years between 2020 to 2021, from 5.4% to 7.7%. Their findings reflect how the pandemic has disproportionately affected women and the travel and hospitality sector, but also more positively, how travel companies recognise that transparency and disclosing gender pay gaps is key to sending the signal that they are holding themselves to account and serious about creating meaningful change.

Another way companies can address this pay disparity is through the mentoring and sponsorship of female talent. An example of a successful initiative is IHG Hotels and Resorts’ RISE programme, a 12 month mentoring programme designed to support women becoming General Managers, which has made significant success in reducing their gender pay gap.

3. Shared Parental Leave Policies

Helpful to working parents, shared parental leave policies allow parents to choose how to share the care of their child after adoption or birth. These policies highlight how complex the issue is and how all parents should be both legally entitled and encouraged to be able to share the caregiving responsibilities throughout a child’s upbringing. However, with uptake of shared parental leave by fathers as low as 2% in the UK, employers have a role to play in communicating the benefits of shared leave as well as making sure managers and HR professionals are confident with how it works. Having a diverse workforce with parents at all levels willing to share their experiences can reduce any stigma around parental leave. 

I spoke to Kristen Ellerbe Taylor, the VP of Technology at PrecisionHawk, about parental leave and gender equality. She shared, “I believe one of the first steps is the normalization of caretaking. We must elevate the issue above just being a woman’s issue to being a worker’s issue before we will be able to create equitable sponsorship opportunities for women across the board.” 

And while the discussion around gender equality and parental leave can focus on the experience of women, The New Dad Research Series has found that given the shared responsibilities of parenting, ‘Fathers are caring and committed to their roles in the workplace and at home, but are also highly conflicted. They want to climb the corporate ladder but also want to spend more time with their children. They assert that their children’s interests are their top priority but are also highly susceptible to the demands of their corporate cultures’.  Employers can help with this by offering flexible work solutions and encouraging shared parental leave benefits.

4. Offer Flexible Working Solutions

Another essential incentive for parents is flexible working hours – a trend accelerated by the pandemic. According to McKinsey, 52% of employees now prefer a hybrid working model, up from 30% before the pandemic. Among that 52%, employees with young children are the most enthusiastic about remote work models, reported the Guardian

Schedule and location flexibility allows parents to work from home and to arrange hours around parenting, often offering both parents the opportunity to try out something that might not have been workable, and employers to tap into an expanded talent pool.

I am a mother of a two-year-old and work part-time in hospitality in a small team of five (with most of us balancing part-time work with parenting). Our employer allows us, with our supervisor, to manage our own schedule. We all work together to produce a task list working around everyone’s availability.

5. Provide Resources and Support

Mentorship programmes, additional resources, and longer term development initiatives can also help to both attract and support working parents in travel and tourism. Currently, the travel industry faces the challenge of restoring customer and employee confidence after a long period of uncertainty and many job losses. Being open and transparent and acknowledging how employers intend to address these challenges could encourage workers to return to the industry or stay within their roles. 

Being a parent brings a unique set of pressures with around 80% of parents in a Harvard Business Report stating their caring responsibilities affect them at work; for example, guilt for finishing early, time off to look after a sick child, and worries over teenagers’ anxieties. Fostering a healthy company culture that embraces flexibility while keeping employees engaged and nurtured can help offset the stresses and anxieties of family life and maintain productivity. 

Companies of all sizes can take advantage of experts and provide access to resources. For example, Flight Centre South Africa offers all parents access to Parentwise, a parenting support programme. And many companies use an organisation called Parental Choice which offers many services including a Working Family Wellbeing Programme with talks, webinars and lunch and learn sessions. If travel businesses want to better support working parents, they can look into offering some of these additional resources. 

The travel and hospitality industry more broadly is renowned for being adaptable. It has been dealt some serious challenges over the last couple of years and recruiting and retaining the best people will continue to require innovative policies. The industry now has the chance to outline their goals and vision and truly invite people to work with employers rather than for them. Recognising and reselling the unique attractions of working in the travel industry is a great way to celebrate why many love it so much. Travel companies have been consistently voted as some of the best companies to work for and now that benefits are such a hot topic, there is some very useful guidance on how companies can improve the work life balance of employees, including for those who are working parents.