The topics of youth empowerment and women’s rights continue to feature highly on today’s news agenda – from gender-based wage discrepancies between Hollywood greats to the recent grim stats on youth unemployment closer to home. Hellen Lebone from the Hilton group takes a closer look at this important issue.

Many are of the opinion that in today’s society, although there has been much discussion around the topic of equality and diversity, very little action has come to fruition to activate change. As women in leadership we need to be determined to spark transformation around the topic of diversity and equality in the workplace, and I firmly believe that women are catalysts of their own fate.

In my own ecosystem at Hilton, learning and development is an integral part of our business. We regularly hire people who may not have all the requisite skills and experience, but who have the right values and great potential and attitude to succeed. Nurturing talent in this way is a sustainable approach to conducting business, which is good news for hotel owners, for shareholders, for our guests and for our communities.

We are facing a global crisis of more than 70 million unemployed young people, and we consider it our responsibility as a company to build the skills of the youth we bring in to raise our leaders of tomorrow. Here in South Africa, last year alone our annual Hilton internship event saw over 80% of delegates set to receive hospitality internship grants comprising of young, Black, female South Africans. For many, this will create an invaluable pathway to success leading to employment opportunities across the industry. More broadly, to tackle this global problem, Hilton has pledged to connect, prepare and employ one million youth by 2019.

As a business we know that it takes more than one corporate to change the world. This is why we lean on various partners and organisations such as CATHSSETA to champion alongside our mutual cause. A culture of learning is a part of the very essence of Hilton’s ethos. We have various programmes to assist our staff in finding their passion and purpose. We believe that they need to view their jobs as something more than just a means to earn a living.

One such scheme which helps to achieve this is Hilton’s Elevator Programme. The graduate development programme upskills Team Members with the potential to become General Manager’s (GM) over a period of time. During the first nine months candidates are placed within a hotel and make their way through various departments. Thereafter they are moved into another hotel, within the region or abroad, where they are able to learn about different cultures, language and cultivate leadership skills.

Knowing full well that the transition between education and the job market can be somewhat daunting, we have worked with our global partner, the International Youth Foundation, to deliver an additional programme called Passport to Success. It is aimed at bridging the gap and equipping new Team Members and other young people with the life skills and basic administration skills required to excel in a work environment. To date, across Middle East and Africa the scheme has trained over 2,300 Team Members in person, over 2,000 Team Members online, almost 500 local young people in person and 58 trainers, including 15 master-trainers.

I believe that support structures such as this aid employers in creating a positive working environment with real recognition and rewards. Being passionate about women’s development in the workplace, I feel that businesses need to engage in the right kind of conversations to educate and empower women. This is the foundation on which the recent conference was built on.

Our responsibility lies in creating platforms to educate and empower women. We haven’t made the progress needed, and change stems from initiating conversations that enable and inspire. We don’t have a critical amount of women in power. We need to be intentional on creating career paths, succession plans, networking opportunities and mentorships geared for the development of women. We cannot ignore the fact that as women we are also sometimes blocked by “softer” barriers. Our confidence and perception is often skewed by past actions or in some cases the fear of failure. We are very fortunate to belong to an organisation such as Hilton that understands the task at hand and fully supports the empowerment of women from executive level.

Testament to this is Hilton’s Diversity and Inclusion strategy that was launched in 2015. Through the implementation of the Diversity & Inclusion strategy in the last year, Hilton Africa and Indian Ocean managed to increase female leader compliment from 27% in 2015 to 33% by the end of 2016. Our goal is to now create a strong female talent leadership pipeline to enable us to appoint our first female General Manager (GM) as soon as possible, a decision that I am proud to be involved in.

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De Hoek Country Hotelwinemaker Guy Webber