International Women’s Day 2017: How the travel industry can embrace #BeBoldForChange

International Women’s Day 2017: How the travel industry can embrace #BeBoldForChange

With International Women’s Day (IWD) 2017 just around the corner, some people may be wondering why it is still so important to celebrate this day, and whether we should be doing anything at all about #gender and #diversity in travel and tourism. The theme this year is #beboldforchange and I feel that positive and progressive #change is what we need to focus on. This is why I am excited that Women in Travel is now a fully formed social enterprise, all about leveraging a thriving travel and tourism industry to positively change the prospects for women in the sector.

Travel and tourism as a sector continues to grow. We love our leisure time and notwithstanding economic and political uncertainty, it is becoming more and more difficult for many of us to forego our hard-earned holidays. Business travel is also alive and well. So overall the sector is thriving according to United Nations World Tourism Organisation:

  • International tourist arrivals grew by 4.6 % in 2015 to 1,184 million
  • In 2015, international tourism generated US$ 1.5 trillion in export earnings
  • UNWTO forecasts a growth in international tourist arrivals of between 3.5% and 4.5% in 2016
  • By 2030, UNWTO forecasts international tourist arrivals to reach 1.8 billion (UNWTO Tourism Towards 2030)

However, it is fair to say that not enough is happening to enable women to share in and contribute to the growth of the sector:

  1. When it comes to women working in the travel and tourism sector world-wide, we know that the number amounted to a substantial 50% to 70% of the total workforce. However, particularly in emerging economies, many remain trapped in lower paid and lower skilled jobs without an opportunity to develop and make the most of their potential. For example according to a recent (2015) White Paper by the University of Strathclyde and Hong Kong Polytechnic Women in Tourism & Hospitality: Unlocking the Potential in the Talent Pool – Women make up nearly 70% of the workforce.  However paradoxically, there is a marked under-representation of women in senior positions. Women hold less than 40% of all managerial positions, less than 20% of general management roles and between 5-8% of board positions. Board Figures look better in travel according to a 2016 AWTE report (15% to 25%) but by the author’s own admission that might be because of the small sample size.
  1. When it comes to travel and tourism entrepreneurship, although touted around as the next big thing, available cross-sectoral data shows a very poor landscape. For example in progressive UK women owned businesses only amount to 17/18% of all businesses! Surely we can do more and better: ‘research from McKinsey tells us that it’s women who are capable of driving economic growth, to the tune of $12 trillion, if we only give them the chance.’

If we are to believe the figures above, change is undoubtedly needed. But what can we do to make it happen?

IWD is asking us to #beboldforchange… so if you are a senior professional in the travel and tourism industry, and whether you are a woman or a man, here are few ideas that you can implement at an individual level to support and encourage female women to thrive in the travel and tourism industry:

  • Support female colleagues through mentoring. Mentoring is a very powerful development tool and can be done informally as much as formally at a pace that suits the mentee as much as the mentor. Within a mentoring relationship many different issues can be addressed from promotion and career, to work-life balance and skills development that may not be otherwise freely discussed. As mentoring conversations are totally confidential and based on trust the relationship can be extremely beneficial and long lasting and may also raise the mentor’s awareness of otherwise unknown challenges the mentees are encountering.
  • Give them visibility by showcasing their good work and in so doing raising their confidence. Research shows that women often lack the confidence to ‘blow their own trumpets’ and therefore are more likely to be bypassed when it comes to allocating important new projects.
  • Encourage them to network internally and externally; even more importantly, take them to a networking event and ‘show them the ’ Women are often quoted to find networking difficult, citing lack of time as the main reason. Often however confidence is the real hurdle. So give them the chance to ‘test’ networking and ‘break the ice’ in a room full of strangers by inviting them to attend with you. Eventually they will feel confident enough to do it on their own!
  • Ask questions and give them a voice. If you manage women in in junior or middle positions, ask the question: What does success look like for you? What matters? What bothers you? What works or doesn’t? Too often women in more junior positions feel they cannot raise their concerns or ideas unless they are given ‘permission.’ Chances are if it matters to them it will matter to others too.
  • Be a positive role model and inspire them with your behaviour. If you do one or more of the things above you are likely to be already a role model. Young women need to know that there are senior figures in the industry who are women and men they wish to emulate in their behaviour and in their thinking. Make sure to point out these people to young people when you meet them, make sure their success stories are described together with the mindset and behaviours that enabled that success.

Happy IWD 2017!

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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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