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Race and gender bias hurts hotel sector

Published:Tuesday | March 3, 2015 | 2:19 PMCharlene Williams

As a Jamaican, I respond in support of the story about the challenges facing Sam James, 'Racism at Tryall?', published in The Gleaner on Sunday, February 1, 2015. The claim that Jamaica's labour force does not have qualified professionals for executive/managerial positions in the tourism industry is simply not true. I propose that the real problem is social prejudice, including gender and racial bias, that afflicts Jamaica's tourism employers.

According to my recent research (Jamaica's Tourism Employment: The Role of Gender, Department of Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo, Canada, 2013), Jamaica's tourism industry contends with the pervasive issue of social prejudice. I conclude that while there may be a scarcity of qualified males for top positions within the hotel accommodation sector, there is an abundance of qualified females. However, the problem is that foreign-owned hotels are less likely than local establishments to hire female managers.

According to information from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (2000-2008), the majority of professional and higher-ranking positions in the national labour force were held by women (57%). However, the situation in the tourism industry is the extreme opposite. My study examined hotels in the major tourist areas. In Montego Bay, more than 90 per cent of managers were male, followed by Ocho Rios with more than 80 per cent. Hotels in Negril had the highest percentage of female managers - just over 30 per cent.

These employment figures are not in line with the ratio of male-female graduates from the University of the West Indies in the period 2000-2011. Females outnumbered males five to one in the bachelor's degree programme in tourism management; and seven to one in the master's! What are the credentials of the top-ranking males in Jamaica's tourism industry - whether local or expatriate - compared with the female employees who are reporting to them and doing most, if not all, the work?

Given the scarcity of qualified local males, it can be assumed that managerial and executive positions within Jamaica's tourism industry are filled by expatriate males. Earlier studies by Costa, published in 2012 by the Journal of Teaching in Travel & Tourism, acknowledge the inequality in tourism employment between expatriates and nationals.


negative social characteristics


It is well established in research findings published by others such Shekella (2011) and Boonabaana (2012) that the negative social characteristics of the tourism industry adversely affect the attraction and retention of quality employees and are among the reasons that tourism has not delivered on its potential benefits to islands such as Jamaica, which are so dependent on this sector.

As long as the tourism industry in Jamaica continues to privilege men for managerial and executive positions, while undervaluing and underutilising women with higher-level education and training, our competent females, with sterling academic credentials and a passion for tourism, will be forced to migrate or venture into other professions to earn a living and develop their careers.

Tourism employers, especially foreign-owned hotels, persist in claiming that they cannot find competent people of Jamaican nationality to fill management positions, so they will continue to give expatriate males the top jobs. Our people with abundant capacity - whether male or female - will rarely get the chance in Jamaica to get a foot in the door of the executive suite.

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