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. 


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    Leadership Coach

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