Q&A: Glion's Judy Hou

The key challenges facing female GMs in the UAE

Judy Hou, CEO/Chancellor Glion Institute of Higher Education.
Judy Hou, CEO/Chancellor Glion Institute of Higher Education.

Judy Hou is the first female CEO of Glion Institute of Higher Education, which educates young adults in the art of hospitality management and prepares them to be tomorrow’s leaders in the industry.

Hou is on the editorial board of Hotel Business Review Journal and has authored several articles in Hotel Executive and Hotel Management Asia and she spoke at the Women in Hospitality and Tourism in Asia Conference in Singapore earlier this year.

What are the key challenges female GMs face in the UAE? How do these compare to Western Europe and the USA?
Female leaders in the UAE and in other countries around the world and across all industries face similar challenges when it comes to their careers. Women experience a lot of preconceptions from society when establishing a work-life balance, which can be very discouraging. This becomes more pronounced in the hospitality industry which is very demanding with its long working hours.

Is there a glass ceiling for women in hospitality in the UAE? If so, how can women break through this?
Although more and more women are working in the industry and in some regions they even outnumber males, managerial positions are still mostly male dominated. The glass ceiling is an issue not just in the Middle East but globally and across every industry. I believe that in order to correct this imbalance, women need support from the industry itself. To attract and retain women, the hospitality sector can introduce female-led mentoring programmes, leadership programmes to provide ambitious women with support and flexible working hours, and job sharing to help balance professional and personal commitments, since hospitality is a 24/7 industry.

Are there barriers to progression beyond GM level in the UAE for women?
The barriers for female GMs to progress in the region perhaps seem more prominent due to more obvious pressures and preconceived notions from society regarding women’s role in the family and the workplace. However, there is also a lot of support here for women, for example domestic help is more affordable in the UAE than it is in Europe.

Is the fact that there are actually around eight female GMs in Dubai an example for progress?
This is indeed a great sign of progress and I expect that we will see more and more women occupying such positions. Worldwide, not just in the UAE, companies are waking up to the huge potential available to businesses focusing on women. One billion women will enter the global workforce in the next decade and with the hospitality and tourism sector one of the fastest growing in the world, it goes without saying that women will have an unprecedented opportunity to shape its future.

Has there been an increase in recent years in women enrolling in courses at Glion?
In Glion, we have 47% male students, compared to 53% female, which points towards a larger ratio of tomorrow’s hospitality leaders being women. All of our students take management and leadership courses and the fact that female students now outnumber their male counterparts not only shows growing interest, but also the willingness and determination of women to pursue a career at the top of this challenging sector.

What are your top tips for women looking to pursue a hotel general manager role?
My message to working women is that each of us also needs to take an active role in this change and inspire other women to do so.

We should never lose sight of these three pillars:
1. Be authentic and be true to yourself — understand what type of leader you are and define what success means to you.
2. Always challenge the status — we need to make ourselves visible and apply for those positions in order to get them.
3. Continue to take steps to improve upon your knowledge and skills — we need to learn from every experience, be proud of those achievements and not be afraid to be put in situations that are outside of our comfort zone.

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