Sexual harassment in the hospitality sector

by Jun 11, 20240 comments

Sexual harassment in the hospitality sector

Despite the passage of time, sadly nothing much seems to have changed with sexual harassment in the hospitality sector.



As a student, I always worked in the hospitality sector to earn extra money.  In hotels, bars, and cafés avoiding hands grabbing your bum and other body parts was all part of the daily “rise and grind” while delivering room service or waiting tables.

We “girls” (and we were still girls,) developed risk mitigation strategies when we probably should have focused on perfecting our martial arts skills to connect knees with groins.  The leadership approach was “suck it up and get over it.” and the seasoned, not seasonal, employees offered us workarounds to minimise the impact. Sexual harassment is an equal opportunity and inclusive activity and men groped, flashed, and crudely propositioned us all, without exception. No one was excluded

Despite the passage of time – sadly, nothing much seems to have changed.


Sexual harassment in the hospitality sector

Permanent jobs

Working in hospitality is more than a rite of passage for many, it is their full-time and permanent job. In this sector, the level of sexual harassment is higher than any other:

  • 53% of hotel workers experience sexual harassment on the job. (AFL-CIO)
  • 87% of Restaurant workers have experienced sexist remarks (80% from co-workers)
  • 37% of black employees experience racist remarks (Be Inclusive Hospitality)

Tipped workers

For workers who count on tips, to not just supplement their income, but to earn a vaguely decent wage, the negative experience intensifies. Also known as ” gratuity grooming”

  • 81% of women and 40% of men experience sexual violence as tipped workers.
  • Tipped workers experience more persistent sexual attention, are coerced into sex, and are sexually assaulted than non-tipped workers in the same industry.

And of course, the stereotyped connection between women, smiling, and earning power has never been more powerful. The industry relies on strong customer service reviews, which creates a power dynamic. In situations where the customer is always right, the front-line employee comes between the establishment and a poor negative rating. If there is a  problem, the employee could potentially lose their job.

On top of all this frequently hospitality employees work irregular hours and also have to worry about personal safety on the way home.


Sexual harassment in the hospitality sector


Workshop – How to deal with sexism and harassment in the workplace


Post pandemic

The global pandemic had a huge impact on the hospitality industry. Many women took advantage of the opportunity to upskill to leave a sector known for its culture of long hours, poor wages, and high turnover. We saw the development of a group called New Collars, comprised of more pink than blue-collar workers who learned new skills during lockdown.

These new workers came from traditionally female silo’d industries which represent 43% of the hourly paid sector, including hospitality. Waving their new certifications, these women found work in line with their new skills and higher expectations which goes some way to explaining the labour shortages in these sectors. Not unsurprisingly we saw the basic minimum wage rise.

And with massive skill set shortages in all locations  (U.S 1.1 million unfilled vacancies, Europe 2.5 million open roles) the need to address sexual harassment to create a work culture where women feel safe has never been more important.

Worth a read: Inappropriate sexual conduct – who thinks about it? – 3 Plus International

So, if you see a harassed waitress at a beach bar near you this summer, remember the customer isn’t always right.


Learn how to deal with sexism and harassment in the workplace. Contact us now.


Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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