Let's Put an End to Lip Service
3 steps for achieving gender parity in the travel industry
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. You’re at an industry event and the keynote speaker (male, probably) talks passionately about the need for companies to diversify their leadership teams.
Or maybe you’re at a board meeting when the CEO (again, most likely a man) proudly proclaims the company’s new initiative to hire more female executives. For the fourth year in a row.
I can imagine you’re all nodding along because, let me let you in on a little secret: talk is cheap. Nothing is easier than talking about gender parity.
The hard part is creating a repeatable, objective process for actually hiring, mentoring and empowering women to help them develop their careers.
The steps toward this goal may not be as catchy or shareable as grand promises, but here’s the thing — concrete steps are the only way we’re going to achieve gender parity in the travel industry.
In fact, a recent study from Phocuswright distills this problem down incredibly clearly.
According to the study, a full 76% of respondents cited the “absence of a plan to cultivate talent” as the number one obstacle to helping employees (especially women) rise to leadership positions.
Let that sink in. Seventy-six percent.
Clearly there’s a huge gap between what travel companies say they’re doing to promote gender parity and how their organizations are actually set up to achieve it.
And without the processes in place to make gender parity a reality, it’s really nothing more than lip service. Well-intentioned, understandable lip service, but lip service nonetheless.
I’m writing with a desire to keep moving the conversation forward so we can put an end to gender parity lip service in the travel industry.
Here are 3 things you and your company can do right now to take actual steps toward a more equal, more diverse travel company.
1. Make it a priority and measure progress regularly. There’s a saying that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” and that applies perfectly to gender parity. It’s not enough to (even publicly) announce your intentions to strive more gender parity, you must announce the plan that goes long within the steps you will take to measure and evaluate progress.
The key here is to set milestones, and then to report on them. That same Phocuswright study revealed that there are important steps to take on your path to gender parity, and these are exactly the developments you should be tracking publicly: unconscious bias training, pay scale updates, employee resource groups and more. When you announce your initiative, include benchmarks like these to ensure that you’re consistently moving forward and not just paying lip service to the cause. And if you miss them? Be honest about it.
2. Expand your candidate pipeline. One of the defenses you’ll most often hear from companies when confronted with their lack of gender equality is that they “can only hire people who apply.” The implication here being that they want to hire stronger female candidates (and more diverse candidates in general) but they just don’t have those type of candidates in their applicant pool.
Well guess what: You have the ability to control the size, makeup and skill set within your applicant pool. And one of the best ways to do this is to be explicit about your desire to build a more diverse workforce. Offer candidates the opportunity to speak with female leaders within your organization. Attend recruiting and networking events that emphasize diverse candidates. Publish a blog post on your site reaffirming your goal to achieve gender parity within your organization. Contract a recruiting firm that specializes in finding diverse leaders.
Look, it may take time and effort before these initiatives bear fruit, but you have to be committed to putting in the work. Start small but stay committed. Your company won’t become gender neutral overnight, but you have to start by making the effort.
3. Create a system to retain and empower female leaders. Putting a plan in place to help get women into leadership positions and expanding your candidate pipeline are great places to start, but you can’t stop there. In fact, it’s only after those two things have been accomplished that the real work begins. That’s when it’s time to create a scalable system for not only putting women in leadership positions, but also one that helps them stay, grow and improve once they’re there.
That’s where a mentoring and career development plan becomes so important. What are you doing to help support the female leaders you’re trying so desperately to install? How can you help them develop the skills that might otherwise be holding them back on their mission for career growth.
In the Phocuswright study, respondents routinely called out skills that are important for leadership positions in the travel industry, things like: complex problem-solving, people management and negotiation.
Some of those skills are exactly the ones that women are thought to “lack” and that might preclude them from leadership roles. So why aren’t you helping the women in your organization nurture and develop these skills?
Create a program that helps women develop and improve these skills. Find mentors. Fund leadership training opportunities. Create a safe, comfortable way for employees learn from and provide feedback to each other.
If gender parity is truly important to your company, then it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. Don’t just talk about the changes you want to make, or make a token investment in a single program, event or initiative. You have to keep. Working. At it. Day in, day out. Create a budget for it, hold yourself (and your company) accountable when you fall short, and prove that you’re committed to moving beyond lip service and actually creating the change you speak so passionately about.