By Katherine Price
It’s been widely recognised that efforts towards a sustainable future must also encompass gender equality, with women disproportionately impacted by climate change-related extreme weather events and the empowerment of marginalised genders in hospitality will require support across the board, from community and property-level to C-suite.
“If you say that sustainability is about being a responsible company with purpose and focusing on the long-term, if that is your definition of sustainability, which it is for Radisson – we don’t call it sustainability, we call it responsible business – equity, inclusion, are part of sustainability,” points out Inge Huijbrechts, the global senior vice president of sustainability, security and corporate communications for Radisson Hotel Group who was named one of Sustainability magazine’s 2023 Top 100 Women earlier this year.
“It tends to focus a lot on net zero and on these quite technical commitments and actions that any company needs to take. But in the end, it’s also about who you are as a company towards your employees, in your communities, about stimulating more responsible consumption.”
Huijbrechts oversaw the group’s commitment to net zero by 2050 last year, which includes halving its emissions by 2030, towards which this year Radisson is focused on transitioning properties to renewable electricity. “We not only know where we are going but our steps in the intermediary, which is essential,” she says.
When asked which female leaders she is inspired by, she quotes Ilham Kadri, CEO of Solvay; Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank; and Catherine De Bolle, executive director of Europol.
“Women should support each other more. We should honour the leaders who are out there because they are examples to ourselves and the next generation,” she says.
Radisson is looking to improve its proportion of female general managers, which Huijbrechts suggests comes with good mentorship programmes. The business’ leadership is currently 32% female, with a target of 50% by 2030.
“I think the one thing we can all do as leaders, consumers and business professionals, is to make sure that we make the responsible choices, whether it is to travel responsibly and travel green to your next holiday destination, go to a responsible hotel, and when you are hiring someone, think about diversity, think about having a diverse pipeline of talent,” she adds.
“Try to make an effort to find a diverse pipeline of talent even though it may not be ‘easy’. Practice this in your day-to-day, and that’s how things change.”
Brune Poirson, chief sustainability officer at Accor who has been heading the group’s sustainability efforts since 2021, also made the Top 100 list, and Accor has likewise committed to net zero carbon emissions globally by 2050 and a 46% reduction in its absolute emissions by 2030.
“We must take care of the areas in which our hotels are located and become a real contributor to the development of this territory. This requires a special mobilisation to preserve the biodiversity that surrounds hotels, helping to create natural and healthy places to stay,” she says.
“Ultimately, we need to ensure our hotels are operated within the planetary boundaries, lowering their environmental impact and maximising their social impact on local communities…
“We are implementing within Accor a true governance around sustainability, involving all leaders and ensuring there are clarified accountabilities for all commitments (carbon, plastic, food waste, women…). This goes hand in hand with the deployment of a methodology in the way we approach our commitments, from setting objectives, to deploying the right tools and resources, measuring our baseline, auditing our results, and reporting on a regular matter.”
She agrees that environmental goals go hand-in-hand with gender equality and preventing catastrophic climate change will be critical in achieving the latter, with climate-induced disasters often exacerbating gender-based violence.
Accor is targeting 34% of its general managers to be female by the end of this year and 40% by the end of 2025, compared to 31% in 2022; as well as 40% of its global executive committee members by 2025, up from 32% last year. A global methodology is also in place to narrow the company’s gender pay gap – within its UK business, women’s median hourly pay is currently 3.6% lower than men’s.
The company is also part of the Gender-Based Violence Coalition to combat sexism, sexual harassment, and domestic violence; supports La Maison des Femmes, which helps women in difficulty or victims of abuse; and partners with Fondation des Femmes, France’s foundation for women’s rights.
“I was lucky enough to have mentors who have supported my career. Beyond the conversations we had, what really helped me was that they were role models for me,” says Poirson. “They had children, a successful career, and the ability to pursue their lifelong ambition. They helped me realise that we can overcome some of the limitations that society imposes on women.”
When asked to name women who inspire her, she says there are women she respects and are thankful to, and women she looks up to.
“Greta Thunberg and Vandana Shiva fall into the first category. I think that they play a vital role in mobilising and raising awareness beyond the usual suspects that make up the world of sustainability professionals. I am deeply grateful for the work that they do,” she explains.
“In the second category, I include women such as Christine Lagarde, who change things from within. They have the courage to challenge a world dominated by men and traditional ways of thinking that put the profit above everything else.”