Thursday, 1 December 2016

Female Travel Leaders - On Leadership and Courage

On the 8th November 2016 the third Women in Travel Meetup took place within the context of international, B2B travel trade fair, World Travel Market (London).

Female and male attendees alike from places as diverse as India, Kenya, Switzerland, US and many others shared their stories over an afternoon that included two panel debates, one on leadership and one on entrepreneurship, group mentoring sessions heaving with women looking for advice from insightful and experienced industry mentors and networking.

I organise this event with the aim to build an international, supportive community of women and like-minded men who can share their stories, challenges, opportunities as well as mentor and learn from each other.  It will never cease to amaze me how much energy, positive mindset, collaboration and friendship filled the room on the day or indeed the buzz on social media that followed.   As I reflect on some of the stories and the wisdom that was shared I cannot help but being amazed at the quality of work that is being done across the world, as well the sheer determination, the enthusiasm and desire to make a difference that I have heard on and off stage!  Some of the key points that I brought home from this year’s event are relevant to all women and worth sharing with a wider audience. I am sure they will resonate with many of you reading this article, whether you work in services, manufacturing or agriculture!

There was an agreement that, as women, we must take ownership of our careers. Ultimately no corporate will now a day present you with a plan as to how you may get to be the Chief Executive! This is true for men and women alike according to Giles Hawke, MD of CosmosTours who spoke on the leadership panel, but if you are a woman, and especially one in her fifties, it is possibly even more important to ensure that you keep your skills up to date, relevant and refreshed. Another speaker, Rachel O’Reilly of Kuoni UK, mentioned how her mother had retrained and specialised in her 50’s continuing to add valuable knowledge to her experience. Ageism appears to be an issues particularly affecting women, with a member of the audience stating that at 45 she had been deemed too old by her employer to become Cruise Director.  The travel industry has historically enjoyed and perhaps supported a ‘young’ image, yet ‘silver travellers’ – as we were reminded by members of the audience – are a growing opportunity and besides, we all expect to live longer and are healthier and are active for much longer. So what exactly does ‘old’ mean?

So what stops women from rising to the top in the travel industry? Well, more and more women are on their way up, but there is still a lot to do! Self-confidence was highlighted on and off stage as a key issue for women, hand in hand with what is known as ‘imposter syndrome’, the feeling of being a fraud, of not being deserving of the role one has achieved.  It makes perfect sense that women appear to grow in confidence with age and experience but at the same time that is when they begin to encounter ageism… There is no doubt that women have a lot to offer to the industry at all ages. It is a question of talent as mentioned before and we only needed to look around the room to find talent-a-plenty!

When talking about leadership, ‘authenticity’ was a concept women kept referring into in conversation and in the debates. Knowing yourself and being yourself are key to success, key to deciding what success is for you and how you wish to live your life. ‘Do I have to grow and seek funding as entrepreneur?’ asked Natalia Komis on stage. Yes, that is kind of expected of you as entrepreneur but can I instead give myself permission to stay who I am and measure success by doing things I love. These words resonated with many in the audience…

We heard throughout the afternoon that learning is critical to improve ourselves as professionals, as leaders, as human being. One member of the audience made the point during the discussion that ultimately if one is passionate about her work or about an idea or product, one has just to go for it, and either win or learn. Failure as such was not even contemplated!

When it comes to talent it was said that it needs to be continuously nurtured and developed. Perhaps more could be done in this industry to ensure talent is retained and maximised. The point was also made that talent should be as diverse as possible because this is what organisations need to succeed in today’s fast pacing and ever changing world…and talent rises above every other distinction, it is not dependent on race, cultural background, religion, sexual orientation and the likes!

It was interesting that all speakers in the first panel mentioned that at the start of their career they had been inspired by some leading women who acted as their mentors and supporters. This is a critical point because we all need to be able to look up to somebody and we all need to see ‘people like us’ in positions we aspire to achieve, in order to believe that we too can get there one day. Role models can be found anywhere and honestly speaking throughout the afternoon I engaged with many women that in one aspect or another could be deemed as role models.    

Many women shared stories about the obstacles and hurdles they had encountered along the way to leadership, entrepreneurship and success. It takes incredible resilience and courage to sell your house to start a business; to denounce sexual harassment in the workplace, to attempt to cross the ocean on a canoe, or put yourself forward for a senior position when you are possibly the only female candidate. But that is also the only way to go and women recognise this and do not sit still, they do what’s needed. ‘You just get on with it’ said somebody from the audience…and that perfectly summed it all up!    

[A slightly amended version of this article was also published on the HRZone magazine and can be viewed here ]

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Monday, 21 November 2016

It Is a Slippery Slope For Gender Equality

Oh my, what terrible weeks we are experiencing. We started the month with  more refugees losing their lives trying to cross the sea to safety; Calais Camps misery and unexploded bombs in London. We then progressed with the American election. But there was another important piece of news  however that appeared lost in a sea of information and that I wish to discuss in my blog today as it is equally relevant to women and to equality (or lack of it):  The World Economic Forum published its Index of Nations for Gender Equality. 
The index measures equality around some key parameters: economic empowerment, political empowerment, education and health. Some pretty key criteria if you ask me, but - guess what? - UK has gone down from 9th to 20th place. Not to mention US and Australia, even further behind at 45th and 46th place respectively. So now it is estimated that there won’t be gender equality for another 170 years – an increase on last year’s estimate of 118.

On the other hand, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Rwanda, Ireland, the Philippines, Slovenia, New Zealand, and Nicaragua are all at the top, even so, only the first five have closed the gender gap by 80% or more. I am sure many of you won’t be surprised that most Scandinavian countries are there. But, had I asked you to guess the top ten, Rwanda, Ireland, Philippines and Nicaragua would have not exactly come to the front of your mind. Surely here in the UK we are better, more progressive, more open minded and make decisions based on a meritocratic system?

Let me tell you, as somebody who has lived in this country 23 years and has been a passionate advocate for women for over 10, OH NO WE ARE NOT! And so we are slipping inexorably towards the bottom. But why?

Well, I have my theories.

First, it’s that ‘old boys’ network cliché.  Except, it is not a cliché at all, it is true. You want to look at the private sector, public sector, educational institutions, you name it. In most places the same people rule, who met in the same schools, went to the same universities, enjoyed a similar upbringing. Those networks are made up by ‘boys’, and dominate the establishment so you are either in or you are not, women and men alike.

This approach is pervasive and affects most areas in society, but especially those linked to political and economic empowerment. The British 50:50 Parliament initiative says that only 3 in 10 MPs and Peers are women, equivalent to 30% or so. Rwanda’s figure sits at 64%.

We also know that in the UK men continue to denominate top-table seats across the FTSE 100. As for hundred private companies that are not required to publish any figure, I fear the worst.

‘Old boys’ continue to choose ‘old boys’ as their successors, protégés and mentees.

Nothing can change that unless some important but still fringe government-led initiative becomes mainstream and an increasing number of women rushes through the flood gates, making it possible for the younger generation to push ahead. Or more likely, let me tell you, it will be by introducing quotas.  I can see your noses curling up in disdain, but here’s the proof: 
  • Board quotas have been introduced in countries such as Norway and Iceland. Top spot.
  • Quotas have also been introduced in many African parliaments, including Rwanda, another top spot holder.

Then, of course, we must talk about childcare, share of caring responsibilities, flexible working, and paternal leave. 

In Scandinavian societies the State has legislated in favour of working families  (of whatever denomination) and granted the flexibility, child care and leave necessary to retain women in the workforce and grant them the economic independence that ultimately adds £££ to the country’s GDP.  In some of the other top spot country, I suspect that community network and extended families come to the working woman’s rescue. Here in the UK most of us have the worst of both worlds. No community network and not supportive legislation and company policies to speak of.  And even when the company policy exists, its ‘old boys’ culture is decisively against it.        

So here we are, down to the 20th spot. With a woman as country leader, we hope that things will improve in due course, but – as the recently launched Women Equality party (WE) has already publicized – her first 100 days have made no difference to gender equality. I am waiting impatiently to see if the next 100 will.    

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

This Girl Can…. in a latex leotard?

I am reposting today a blog from Claire Hazle, director of Marketing and Ecommerce for Cosmos Tours and Cruises, Avalon River Cruises, Archers Holidays. Claire discusses female empowerment and how a latex leotard may or may not have to do with it… Whether you agree with Claire or not, she makes some interesting points! Claire was a mentor at the Women in Travel Meetup that I organise and that took place last week at World Travel Market 2016. She can be contacted @clairerosehazle
I inadvertently caused a minor Twitter stir recently. Whilst watching X Factor on a Saturday night, I sent an innocent tweet that questioned why Little Mix had to wear such skimpy outfits (latex leotards and thigh high boots, in case you missed it) and asked why we couldn’t provide young girls with female role models who wore more ‘normal’ clothes.
I received a torrent of response, from supportive likes and retweets to accusations of my disempowering women and policing what they wear.

The most disheartening insight was how many of the angry Twitterati perceived the girls performing in their ‘perky dominatrix outfits’ (The Telegraph) as a symbol of empowerment.

“I think they’re being great role models by showing girls that they can wear whatever they want” said one. “Women’s bodies aren’t some shameful disgrace thing, as a young girl myself, [they] have always empowered myself and other girls my age” said another.

Yes, girls should be able to wear what they want, but should we be measuring female empowerment by the length (or absence) of our skirt? Is ‘because we can’ a valid argument? In my opinion, that X Factor performance represented the antithesis of empowerment. It suggested to me that the feminist swing-o-meter is in danger of lurching too far the other way, into a place where we risk hailing false symbols of equality that are in fact re-cementing inequality. I am yet to see a boy band perform on stage in their boxer shorts, ‘just because they can’.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see all women wearing sacks, and of course we should be able to celebrate our sexuality. However, it feels as though there is a sub-section of young women coming up through the ranks whose view of empowerment is diametrically at odds to that of the generation above them. Empowerment and equality should be about having a voice and being heard. It’s having the courage to voice an opinion and being respected for that opinion. It’s having equal access to financial, political and social opportunities across all sectors of society without compromise or repression. It’s respecting each other and not feeling like you have to conform to a particular norm in order to succeed. It’s choosing to stay at home to bring up your child, or indeed choosing not to have children, and not feeling like you are letting ‘the side’ down in doing so. Empowerment is about having choices, and using those choices wisely.

I am fully aware that I risk sounding like I’ve turned into my Mother overnight. Perhaps I have. But do you know what? I’m proud if I have, because she is a fantastic woman and a great role model. She has supported me throughout my career, wanting me to have the opportunities that she didn’t when she was growing up in post-war Britain. She’s encouraged me to carve my own path and to stay true to myself. I’ve worked in a number of male-dominated organisations over the years where that’s been tested, but I hope I’ve gained the respect of my teams and colleagues along the way by sticking to my own particular brand of leadership, which has been strongly influenced by my sense of self as a woman.

As a senior business woman and also as a step-mum, I feel a palpable responsibility to be a suitable role model. The reason I am mentoring at Women In Travel at WTM is because I truly care about helping people to achieve their potential. Empowerment breeds responsibility and a sense of achievement and self-worth. Most of all, I encourage people to find their own style that they can embrace, whether male or female. As my step-daughter grows up, I will help her to see that she can do anything and be anything, with dignity and inner strength.
Find your own voice. Be heard. Don’t compromise who you are, but keep in perspective what empowerment truly means. And do me one small favour…..make sure you’re wearing something that won’t make you catch a chill while you’re doing it.

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Thursday, 10 November 2016

A #Brave #Woman Indeed!

Hillary Clinton was defeated in the US election this week.

Below I have provided the transcript of the most important passages in her 'concession' speech, which is in my opinion one of the most courageous, graceful and inspirational I have come across.

Her resilience and leadership resonates throughout and we can and must be proud of what she has achieved on behalf of all women!

‘This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.’

Passage #1
Last night I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country.
I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans. This is not the outcome we wanted or we worked so hard for, [...] But I feel pride and gratitude for this wonderful campaign that we built together. This vast, diverse, creative, unruly, energized campaign.

This is painful, and it will be for a long time. But I want you to remember this.
Our campaign was never about one person, or even one election. It was about the country we love and building an America that is hopeful, inclusive, and big-hearted. We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. But I still believe in America, and I always will.

We must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power. We don’t just respect that. We cherish it. It also enshrines the rule of law; the principle we are all equal in rights and dignity; freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values, too, and we must defend them.

Passage #4
Our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years, but all the time. So let’s do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear. [...] say with one voice that we believe that the American dream is big enough for everyone—for people of all races, and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people, and people with disabilities. For everyone.
So now, our responsibility as citizens is to keep doing our part to build that better, stronger, fairer America we seek.

I’ve had successes and I’ve had setbacks. Sometimes, really painful ones. This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.
It is, it is worth it.

To all the women, and especially the young women, who put their faith in this campaign and in me: I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion.
Now, I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day someone will—and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.
And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.

I still believe, as deeply as I ever have, that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strengthen our convictions, and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us. Because, you know, I believe we are stronger together and we will go forward together. And you should never, ever regret fighting for that.
My friends, let us have faith in each other, let us not grow weary and lose heart, for there are more seasons to come and there is more work to do.

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Thursday, 20 October 2016

What Have I been Up To?

OH Dear!
For the first time since launching this blog I have been away from my key-board for an entire month!
NOT GOOD, I hasten to say.

But if you have been following me for a while you know I am not one likely to be sitting still.

In-fact I have been 'beavering away', working on articles, a major event and indeed a new company launch (more on this later - watch this space!). So please do not give up on me just yet!

I thought it would be a good idea to provide an overview of all my latest ventures.

Read, share tweet about it, feedback to me, leave comments...the more the merrier!

HR Magazine - '5 Pitfalls to consider before setting up a mentoring programme '

HR Magazine - 'In praise of procrastination - the good, the bad, the ugly'


The Women in Travel Meetup at World Travel Market, London, 8 November 2016

Full programme
click here

Group Mentoring
click here


Jazz FM Radio Interview

download the MP£ of my interview here

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions .
You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Why We Could Do With The Right #Woman for the Job As Well As the Right Person for the #Job.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about recruiting the right person or indeed the right woman for the job. I am picking up this topic again today in light of what we are reading about 'mistreatment' of women at Apple Inc in Cupertino, California and also the culture that is emerging from the comments made by those who suffered the mistreatment, with the environment described as 'toxic' by female employees according to the New York Times.

I think we can all agree that any job should be assigned to the best person for that job. This means that nobody should really pay any attention to gender, sexual inclination, race or religion, but simply to the mix of expertise, experience, mind-set and skills that make that individual the most suitable for the job.

I think this is absolutely ‘fair enough’ and can hardly be disputed. However, I would reiterate that  the right person for the job cannot be found unless it sought among a variety of backgrounds, gender, communities etc. that mirror the diversity in our societies and also in our customers and audiences, supplier base and colleagues.

Thus, I would argue that unless the recruitment process provides access to a range of candidates that include women as well as men, and women and men of different races and backgrounds, the recruitment will not produce an outcome that is representative of what we see out there in the real world.

When I was discussing this with the male executive that spurred my first blog on the subject, he suggested that ‘it would be a very sad workplace indeed the one where only white, middle class men were appointed to senior roles and to the board’. But, unfortunately this kind of workplace is still common place and in-fact one hears of too many executive recruitment processes in which diversity is not identified as a key criteria at the outset. Apple's female workforce is over 30% of the entire population but the company was recently criticised by investors for having a very white and male board.

Why this matters is not only because it has long been identified by extensive studies on this topic that mixed teams are more innovative and productive, so diversity makes commercial sense and it is good for companies' bottom line.

The fact is that particularly in traditionally male dominated industries such as technology, engineering and the likes, women candidates tend to be harder to find because women know at the outset that they are going to be faced with a challenging culture, in which women may be sidelined, overlooked for promotions, made to feel inadequate and so on. This inability to attract women however perpetuates the current culture and create further barriers for talented women to be attracted to that industry.   We find ourselves with a 'Catch 22' type situation.

Workplace culture is critically important in today's highly competitive markets. It drives employees engagement and as such it has an immediate impact on your customers and again on your bottom line. Companies spend a lot of time and energy analysing workplace culture, deciding whether their own culture is 21st Century ready, as one may put it.

So, to the question why the right person for the job might actually be the right woman for the job we can now provide not one but two answers: 

1. We need more women in the workplace and in senior positions in order to positively affect workplace culture, eliminating outdated behaviours and communicating to possible new recruits that the company culture is inclusive and collaborative.  
2. We also need more women in the workplace because in practical and simple terms mixed teams are more effective and productive.

As today's news demonstrate, not even the trendiest and apparently most desirable places to work  are immune to this, but women speaking up can hopefully lead to incremental change.

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Summer of #Inspiration, #Women Through the Lens - Sarah Prentice

Welcome to the last of this feature blogs! Summer is over and so all good things
must end. I hope you have enjoyed reading about women's roles and careers and 
before we go, do not miss the interview with Sarah Prentice. Sarah used to be my mentee and she has gone on to really great things in the catering and hospitality industry. Enjoy!

Describe what you do, your job/s
I am the Business Development and Marketing Manager for an independent contract catering company called Blue Apple. We run fantastic staff restaurants within the business and industry sectors and my job is to win new contracts and to lead our Marketing and Design Team who produce all of the promotional material for our 55 restaurants.

What does a typical day look like?
The beauty of this job is every day is totally different. What might be a priority in the morning can often change throughout the day. After a quick cuppa and catch up with the team I check and respond to my emails. I work closely with Lucy our Business Development Co-ordinator on any outstanding tender responses which is crucial to our success, this might include completing financial spreadsheets, writing bid responses and designing menus. One day I might be office based all day and the next I could be on a sales visit, meeting a potential customer and visiting their onsite restaurant or hosting a sales visit to one of our restaurants so that our prospective clients can see and taste what we do.
What are the best and most challenging things about your career?
I love it when we win new business, it is so rewarding and you just can’t beat that euphoric feeling - I wish you could bottle it! The toughest part of this job is when you have put your heart and soul into a bid and then lose. You need to be resilient, learn from your mistakes and move on to the next opportunity. My previous boss told me about the SUMO position = ‘Shut Up and Move On’ and it always makes me laugh and move on to the next opportunity with a positive ‘go get it’ attitude.
How did you get to where you are today, including qualifications and skills?
I didn’t enjoy school - I left with a few GCSE’s and didn’t go to college or university, but I always had a good work ethic and was never out of work. I worked for an international coffee company for many years as a customer service/sales executive and developed in sales from here. I have worked my way up to my role by hard work, learning from others and having the confidence to put myself forward for opportunities and then delivering them. With the right attitude you can go far!
What would you recommend to a younger colleague wanting to start her career in your area or sector of expertise?
The hospitality industry is the best place to be. There are so many amazing opportunities for everyone, be it in sales, marketing, finance or of course in the kitchen as a chef, plus it can be really well paid. The contract catering industry is crying out for hard working individuals and lots of the bigger companies have fantastic placement schemes for school leavers or graduates. Having a passion for food obviously helps!