100 Years of Suffragettes: International Perspectives for the Travel Industry

100 Years of Suffragettes: International Perspectives for the Travel Industry

This year marks the 100th anniversary of British women gaining the right to vote and I was honoured to be asked by team at WTM London to chair a panel debate on the subject, with some truly empowered ladies.  While it may seem like distant history, the centenary has been a cause for both celebration and reflection on the parallels between the international women’s movement of the past and the fight for women rights still going on today, most notably:

  • Sexual harassment, as demonstrated globally by the sweeping #metoo movement in recent months
  • Gender pay gap, investigated recently in the U.K. and much of the western world and yet to be eradicated in most professions notwithstanding more stringent regulations/laws
  • Political representation, which is quite polarised throughout the world, seeing emerging countries such as Rwanda rush ahead of the ‘old world’.
  • Economic participation gap.  According to the 2017 WEF’s gender parity report/index this is still one of the toughest gap to close. The index measures Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. Given the continued widening of the economic gender gap, it will now not be closed for another 217 years; yet the world as a whole could increase global GDP by US$5.3 trillion by 2025 by closing the gender gap in economic participation by 25% over the same period.

Taking this a step further, it is also important to think through the role that the Travel & Tourism industry can play to accelerate gender equality through economic and social empowerment.  Given that the industry is a major employer and that worldwide 50-60% of all employees are females, are we truly satisfied that the industry is doing all it can to address issues such as pay gap and even more basic rights to education and health, particularly in emerging destinations?

The Suffragettes movement was spearheaded by renowned suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst who was a passionate leader, inspiring woman and great communicator. Emmeline did not enjoy the benefit of social media yet she was able to turn the movement in to a global one, as demonstrated by the support enjoyed by the suffragettes in countries as far as India. In recent years global gender advocates and leaders have emerged amongst both males and females. For example actress Emma Watson in the HeforShe campaign but overall the movements have been mostly about the power of collective leadership. As women in industry if we join up our voices we can achieve greater power and influence. In the UK we have a number of organisations supporting to various degrees the personal and professional empowerment of women in Travel & Tourism but elsewhere this may not be happening. Yet, self-governed grassroots movements are often proven to be most effective in providing the tools for the economic and social empowerment of women. Do we do as industry encourages, what groups are available and to what extent can we support them?

Ultimately, Suffragettes fought very hard in the belief that women ought to claim their rights and play an active role in every aspect of public life, economically, socially and politically. Emmeline Pankhurst said “Men make the moral code and they expect women to accept it. They have decided that it is entirely right and proper for men to fight for their liberties and their rights, but that it is not right and proper for women to fight for theirs.”

In the UK travel industry, a small group of women including myself started to raise the topic of glass ceiling, gender pay gap and career about 15 years ago where, at least initially, we were met with some resistance. Today, not only is awareness spreading, but the business case for gender diversity in the workplace is fairly well rehearsed. Yet the question remains: What have you / your organisation done to increase opportunities for women to take the righteous role in industry?

I look forward to taking the discussion forward within WTM 2018 and would love to hear your views in advance!

Please feel free to comment below or email me in private alessandra@womenintravelcic.com

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Alessandra is founder of social enterprise Women in Travel CIC which she launched in January 2017 to provide communities in key regions (for example UK, Middle East, Africa and Latin America) with a sustainable livelihood by enabling women to become economically independent through entrepreneurship and a thriving career in the travel and tourism industry. Alessandra is also Chief Mentor & Consultant at Everyday Mentor, where she provides mentoring, coaching and consulting services to a range of clients in the commercial and public sector. Alessandra also collaborates with a number of Universities, including Hertfordshire, Normandy and Surrey. Alessandra is passionate about gender in tourism and has written and spoken extensively on the subject over the last 12 years, including at the United Nations World Tourism Day. She is well known as co-founder of Shine People and Places – a boutique outfit dedicate to supporting women in the workplace - and The Shine Awards for Women Achievements in Travel Tourism Hospitality and Events, which she ran between 2004 and 2010 before Sector Skills Council People 1st took them over. Prior to Shine Alessandra worked at KPMG, where she built the Travel & Tourism division, and the World Travel and Tourism Council. Alessandra has an executive MBA from the University of Ediburgh/Grande Ecole Pons combined; she is a qualified coach/mentor for performance in the workplace and she is a member of several industry bodies including AWTE and the UK Tourism Society.

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