More than gender: Why travel tech companies need to hire diverse talent

Travel is, broadly speaking, a worldwide phenomenon, and it follows that the technology supporting travelers and suppliers is similarly global.

But global by definition implies inclusivity and diversity – for something to be global, everyone must be allowed to participate on equal terms. Can we really describe the travel technology industry as inclusive and diverse?

My answer is: Not yet, but we’re starting to see improvements.

Programs such as Phocuswright’s Women’s Leadership Initiative, set up to connect and encourage female advancement into leadership roles within travel tech, are helping raise awareness about gender equality in our space. Conversations are taking place, in boardrooms and on the travel conference circuit, more often than before.

Discussing equality is finally starting to become a strategic priority rather than a token gesture.

Culture clubs

Growing up in Denmark, there was a social network in place to encourage women back to work after childbirth, and I assumed this was the case across most of Western Europe.

But after working in numerous international environments over the years, I quickly became aware that not everyone had such a positive educational and/or social upbringing. In Britain, for example, it seemed women were actively discouraged from returning to work after childbirth.

As such, I have flown the flag throughout my career for diversity and equality of opportunity. I’ve come across many women who did not have the same background as me, and I’ve encouraged them to be stronger, more challenging and confident, to really understand what they want out of their life and career and how these goals can be achieved.

Mentoring

I have always mentored junior staff, simply by taking an interest and offering advice. Today, mentoring is formalized in many big travel technology firms, and an internet search brings up many guidelines and suggested best practices.

But approaching mentoring with a tick-box mentality serves little purpose.

Mentoring should not be about the old imparting their wisdom on the young. Often I have found my own assumptions challenged by diving deep into issues with younger co-workers. I have gained as much from my mentees as I hope they have from me.

A successful mentor/mentee relationship is based on more than just a weekly meeting. It requires work on both sides, because an important part of mentoring is recognizing when the mentee is about to take a wrong turn. Mentors need to be strong enough to point out potential mistakes.

And mentoring is more than spellchecking cover letters and suggesting professional development courses. Mentoring is about making people feel assertive enough to speak up in meetings, confident enough to apply for senior roles and articulate enough to get up on stage at conferences and events.

Skillsets

The workplace equality arguments have changed over time, either as a result of what is meant by “the workplace” or as part of wider social concerns. An area of interest for me is the established idea of men having “hard” skills and women having “soft” skills.

This need rethinking. In my world, people have skills. I have noticed a change in how these so-called hard and soft skills are seen, but, again, there is some way to go. There are more female software developers, architects and pilots than before, but these hard skill jobs are still male dominated.Join the conversation

Nursing, teaching and retail are soft skill-based and remain female-dominated but the ratios are changing. Gender-biased career choices still happen and are a result of this distinction between hard and soft skills. The sooner this distinction is dropped, the better.

Soft skills are as valuable as hard skills within a travel tech organization. A male CEO can have advanced hard skills but needs soft skills such as empathy and emotional intelligence to truly succeed.

Similarly, women do not get into the still-male-dominated C-suites by just by being a good listener. I have worked with men and women who have possessed a bit of both, and anyone can enhance their understanding of the one less natural to them. All you need to do is try.

Age

Another component of women’s leadership dialogue is about diversity in general, and another area I am passionate about is age diversity. My take here is that the input from the older generations within the workplace can benefit the entire organization.

When you have a meeting with an early baby boomer, a mid-period millennial and someone from Gen Z, the conversation will be more productive than having three people of the same age talking to each other and reinforcing what everyone thinks they know already.

Older people in business are not stuck in their ways. We have seen the tech-driven changes in the workplace, to say nothing of the marketplace. Our approach to new technology is different from our digital-native peers but no less valuable.

Conclusions

Let’s face it – there’s a lot happening in the world today, which sits awkwardly with my desire to live in a world which is inclusive, diverse and fair. Many people around the world are discriminated against on the grounds of their gender (or their religion, sexuality or race). When this discrimination is backed by legislation, it makes the fight harder for us all and all the more important.

Travel tech firms – and peers from other tech-based verticals – have some autonomy. There is no reason why women in the workplace cannot have exactly the same opportunities as their male peers. This is a basic demand.

Getting women into the workplace globally in the first place is perhaps the issue – if 8-year-old girls are being told by teachers to stop coding and start sewing, there is trouble ahead.

Travel tech firms can only deal with these macro issues indirectly, which is why role models are important: As we start to see more female CEOs, CTOs and data scientists, perhaps today’s female Generation Alphas will demand to be taught about qubits rather than quiches.

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