Purpose – Although equal employment opportunity (EEO) legislation was introduced in Australia two decades ago, women's position in the labour market has not improved markedly. This paper seeks to understand the reasons for women's lack of progress by examining the processes that underpin the (gendered) division of labour in the hotel sector using the analytical framework of customer-oriented bureaucracy. Design/methodology/approach – The study is qualitative in nature, consisting of case studies within the Australian luxury hotel industry. The concept of customer-oriented bureaucracy is applied as a lens for interpreting the data. Findings – The findings suggest that gender segregation is established and maintained, at least in part, by the dual pressures of customer orientation and bureaucracy. In addition, however, the results highlight the importance of supply-related factors. Thus, the concept of customer-oriented bureaucracy, in its current form, only partially accounts for gender segregation. Policy regarding EEO in Australian firms requires re-thinking if more substantive and lasting changes are to be achieved by women. Research limitations/implications – The qualitative nature of the research may limit its “power” and generalisability. Future research could incorporate a quantitative analysis of gender segregation and EEO in Australian workplaces. Practical implications – EEO policy responses in Australia should be sharpened in order to more effectively reflect and redress the factors contributing to women's disadvantaged position. Originality/value – While customer-oriented bureaucracy is a useful model for understanding gender segregation, the findings presented illustrate that it has limitations. These may be addressed by extending the concept and incorporating supply-related issues, affected by employee preferences. The shortcomings of Australia's EEO legislation are also highlighted.