17 GENDER AND TOURISM – Contributions by Inês Carvalho

I have always been interested in social justice and equality. Therefore, I was very excited when I got a grant to work as a research assistant in a project related with tourism and gender at the University of Aveiro in Portugal. I was 25 at that time, and I had just finished my Master’s dissertation in Management and Planning in Tourism. This project, known as the ‘Gentour project’, had the goal of studying women’s vertical mobility in the tourism sector. I worked two years and a half full-time for this project. Through my involvement in this project, I had a great opportunity to gain research skills and to really delve into the topic of gender and tourism two years before starting my PhD in this field. During this period, I particularly recall the enthusiasm I felt when taking part in a conference at Linköping University (Sweden) in 2010: Equality, Growth and Sustainability: Do they mix? The variety of themes and approaches adopted by the researchers who presented their works during this conference was surprising and profoundly enriching. There were still so many questions that could be addressed in relation to gender issues in the tourism field, and so many ways to answer these questions as well.

I was also involved in preparing a submission of a second research project on gender and tourism at the University of Aveiro. The preparation of this project was not only very demanding for everyone involved, but also very challenging. In fact, it seems to be true that you can only love and value something after you work hard for it. At the time I thought that if I developed my doctoral thesis also in the field of tourism and gender, I would be more connected to this ‘baby’ project. In 2011, I received a PhD grant to investigate gender issues in tourism. I had the opportunity to stay more than two years in Sweden and be a visiting doctoral student at Tema Genus (Unit of Gender Studies) at Linköping University. Here, I established contact with many researchers that approached gender from quite a variety of perspectives. This was a great opportunity! In this context, I was able to grow as a feminist and as a critical thinker.

While at the beginning of my research career I did not have an explicit feminist positioning, I considered that it would be important to explore this approach more deeply, and to overtly acknowledge this. In my opinion, this was an important step because it allowed me focus on women’s voices and experiences, on gender power relations, and the invisibility of gendering processes. I wanted to raise gender awareness and engage in social critique. Below, I will explain my main contributions to the field of gender and tourism. Although I have 19 publications on tourism and gender, I will only highlight the three main ones.

A better understanding of women’s career advancement in tourism

Nowadays, careers are no longer seen as long term. Careers are increasingly boundaryless (Arthur & Rousseau, 1996), i.e., not constrained by the boundaries of an organization. Instead of ‘climbing the career ladder’ within the same organization, individuals are expected to be mobile and change jobs frequently in order to reach the top (Cassel, Thulemark, & Duncan, 2018).

In the article “Agency, structures and women managers’ views of their careers in tourism” (Carvalho, Costa, Lykke, & Torres, 2018), the goal was to provide a better understanding of women’s career advancement in tourism. The careers of women senior managers in tourism were analyzed from a boundaryless career model perspective and with a gender lens. This study was a result of my PhD thesis.

The women senior managers interviewed followed three main types of career paths to reach senior management, sometimes combining them: linear paths in the same company; job rotation across companies; and entrepreneurship. Mobility was regarded as an important career asset for these women. In most cases, even mobility that did not imply upward progression was considered valuable because it provided key learning experiences, intrinsic rewards, or important contacts. Although most entrepreneurs were ‘pushed’ rather than ‘pulled’ into starting their own business, their discourses reflected their fulfilment, motivation, and enthusiasm about their businesses.

This study allowed for a deep reflection on what enables and hinders women in their career progression, and how they regard such enablers and barriers from their own perspective. The women in this study strongly emphasized their own agency and active role in career-making. They regarded their careers as an outcome of their own effort, hard work, competence, dedication, agency, and a desire to seize challenges leading to intrinsic satisfaction, even if these implied leaving prominent or stable positions to embrace risky challenges. Hence, women placed the key for career success at an individual level rather than at a structural level. Even when women had structural enablers in their organizations, they were more likely to emphasize their active role in managing such opportunities or in making the right career choices rather than the fact that they had such opportunities. Although these women faced gendered and non-gendered difficult moments and barriers, they tended to downplay such difficulties, avoid victimization, and favor instead individual coping strategies to achieve success.

The contribution of this study was to reveal the importance of interpreting women’s experiences and career paths from a critical perspective. Agency may be overemphasized in women managers’ discourses about their own career progression, while the role of both structural enablers and structural barriers is minimized. Gender-aware research is needed to scrutinize the lingering gendered obstacles that remain and that may be ignored by more superficial and less gender-aware research. Although it is important to analyze the role of individuals in their own career-making, it is also important not to neglect how individuals are constrained by societal structures (Mooney, 2014). The majority of women in the study faced obstacles that men are unlikely to face in the workplace. In the article, we concluded that:

(…) it seems that in the absence of structural solutions to such obstacles, women resource to their own agency to achieve their professional goals, because they prefer to focus on the positive side and on what they can do to overcome obstacles, rather than feeling victimized. While this attitude certainly makes a difference, recommending women to become ‘super-women’ should not be the proposed solution for this structural and cultural problem in organizations. (p. 10)

A contribution to the understanding of how the construction of the “ideal tourism worker” is marked by gender

In the study “Gender, flexibility and the ‘ideal tourism worker’”, published in Annals of Tourism Research (Costa et al., 2017), we carried out a feminist analysis of ‘ideal tourism worker’ discourse. We analyzed the main characteristics that tourism managers desire in the ideal tourism worker. Availability, the willingness to travel on business or to work overtime are among the most desired characteristics in the “ideal tourism worker”. Tourism managers perceive men to have these characteristics more than women. In this paper, we coined the term “availability-related flexibility” to describe how tourism managers in this study perceived flexibility. This term is defined as “employee’s ability to be available at short notice for over-time, out-of-shift work and to spend multiple days away from home on business” (p. 73). We also concluded that perceptions of who is perceived as an “ideal worker” are related to gender. This study revealed that women are perceived as less flexible than men due to their social reproductive roles, regardless of whether they have family responsibilities or not. Hence, the clash between gendered social reproductive roles and business demands constrains women as “ideal tourism workers.” Moreover, women’s presumed lack of availability is construed as a preference for family over work without taking into account the gendered societal pressures that often force women to bear all or practically responsibility for family-related commitments. Hence, this study presented an important contribution concerning the role of availability in the construction of the ideal tourism worker, highlighting how such construction is highly gendered and contributes to reproduce gender inequalities.

The most important contribution: Analyzing gendering processes to unveil inequality

I consider that my most important contribution to the tourism field so far has been the paper called “Beyond the glass ceiling: Gendering tourism management” published in Annals of Tourism Research (Carvalho, Costa, Lykke, & Torres, 2019). This article directly stems from my PhD research and some additional reflections. This was a joint publication with my three PhD supervisors. This study is strongly articulated with feminist theory, thus providing a significant contribution to the field of gender both within the tourism field, and to gender research more generally. It criticizes the “glass ceiling” metaphor, which leaves the situation of women who are above the glass ceiling unproblematized, as if after the ceiling was broken there were no more challenges to be met. It also leaves non-intentional forms of discrimination unproblematized. Therefore, Acker’s (1990, 2012) conceptualization of gendering processes was used in this study instead of the glass ceiling theory.

Acker completely changed the way gender is understood in organizations. She developed a theory for examining how gender inequality is institutionalized and perpetuated in organizations through gendering processes (Acker, 1990). Such gendering processes are often concealed and may seem to have nothing to do with gender, but they reflect embedded gendered assumptions about women and men, and masculinities and femininities. The fact that they are often difficult to detect prevents gender inequality from being perceived as such. In this study, Acker’s framework was considered as described in her 2012 article, which identified four sets of gendering processes that reproduce gender inequality in organizations:

  • First set – organizing processes that establish how wage is determined, or how decision-making and power are distributed, among other processes;
  • Second set – organization culture reflected in certain attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviors, including beliefs about gender differences, equality, and (un)acceptable gendered behaviors; also, in certain organization cultures inequalities are denied, while in others there may be an effort to de-legitimize them;
  • Third set – interactions on the job across both the same and different hierarchical levels, including supportive and friendly interactions but also criticisms, opposition, consensual or exploitative joking, or harassing;
  • Fourth set – gendered identities constructed in the workplace, brought with the individual into the organization and changed as men and women participate in work processes.

The aim of this paper was to analyze how the identification of such gendering processes can contribute to a better understanding of women managers’ careers in tourism. We wanted to analyze how gendering processes were embedded in women managers’ organizations and in their daily experiences throughout their careers. Twenty-four women top-level managers in hotels and travel businesses were interviewed. Inequality was visible across all the gendering processes analyzed:

  • There was occupational segregation, as well as inequalities in recruitment, promotion, and wage setting practices in several of women’s current or previous organizations (first set – organizing processes);
  • There was a strong emphasis on “total availability” in these organizations. A macho mentality also prevailed in the organizational culture of some businesses, mainly through the resistance of male top managers towards women (second set – organization culture);
  • This type of work culture had consequences in terms of gendered interactions, e.g., exclusion of women, sexist jokes, sexualized interactions, and women not being taken as seriously as men (third set – interactions on the job);
  • All these aspects affected women’s internal gender constructions. Hence, they felt the need to prove themselves either by showing availability or showing their competence (fourth set – gendered identities).

The identification of gendering processes helped unveil discrimination processes and practices, particularly hidden discrimination, which was subtly ingrained in organizational culture and gendered interactions, where inequalities were less visible and harder to pinpoint – and thus also harder to de-legitimize.

Hence, our study suggested that gendering processes can not only be a good tool to identify gender inequalities, but also to understand their nature. Three main subtexts underlay the gendering processes identified:

i) women’s incompatibility with the notion of the “ideal” unencumbered worker and assumptions of women’s greater family-orientation;

ii) the expectation that women are less competent and less suitable for management than men; and

iii) male homosocial ties that lead to practices that exclude women (e.g., informal networking outside office hours).

Finally, this study contributed to expand on Acker’s framework. Acker had not considered how the various gendering processes are deeply interconnected. For example, the theme of “availability” was visible in all four gendering processes:

  • Organizing processes: jobs were divided along gender lines into those which demanded more availability and thus offered more rewards, and those that did not;
  • Organization culture: the “total availability” work culture presupposed an ideal worker without family responsibilities;
  • Interactions on the job: less available workers were excluded from networking activities at night;
  • Gendered identities, which were influenced by the prejudice of women as less available; therefore, women felt the need to prove their availability to be regarded as competent individuals

Another contribution to Acker’s framework was the discussion of how sexuality fits within it. Previous authors had included it within interactions (third set) or as a determinant of segregated sex-typed jobs (first set) (Benschop & Doorewaard, 1998; Dye, 2006). In this study, we observed that sexuality was most visible in interactions (third set). For example, some women avoided dinners with clients or had to be more careful with their attitudes and clothing so as not to convey a “wrong message.” It was not visible in this study that women had been chosen as managers because of their gendered attributes (first set). In fact, sexuality is likely not a common determinant of women’s assignment to management positions – in contrast to other occupations where women’s physical attributes might be more valued. Therefore, in studies of women managers sexuality may fit better in the analysis of the third set of gendering processes, i.e., interactions.

Finally, Acker’s analysis of gendering processes does not shed much light on gendering processes spanning across organizations. Our study suggests that organizations are not isolated but that they expand beyond organizational boundaries due to societal pressure and the interdependence between organizations. Although some organizations may have favorable environments in terms of gender equality, their potential is limited. They are embedded in relations of interdependence with other organizations where a gendered culture is more ingrained. To conclude, this study showed the importance of articulating tourism research with feminist theories to expose gender inequality in tourism organizations, and to bring more critical reflection to the field.

How to reach me

You can find me (or my publications) here:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/in%C3%AAs-carvalho-b7069912/

Research Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ines-Carvalho

E-mail: ines.carvalho@universidadeeuropeia.pt and inescarvalho.prof@gmail.com


Written by Inês Carvalho, Universidade Europeia, Portugal
Read Inês’ letter to future generations of tourism researchers


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Carvalho, I., Costa, C., Lykke, N., & Torres, A. (2019). Beyond the glass ceiling: Gendering tourism management. Annals of Tourism Research, 75, 79–91. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annals.2018.12.022

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Costa, C., Bakas, F. E., Breda, Z., Durão, M., Carvalho, I., & Caçador, S. (2017). Gender, flexibility and the ‘ideal tourism worker.’ Annals of Tourism Research, 64, 64–75. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annals.2017.03.002

Dye, K. (2006). Acker Through the Looking Glass: Exploring Gendered Sub-Structures as a Method for Understanding the Gendering of Organizations. Saint Mary’s University, Halifax.


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