Comment: We are all accountable for gender empowerment

Women in Travel’s Alessandra Alonso says the future of the industry depends on maximising everyone’s contribution to the workplace

Every March we celebrate International Women’s Month, and more specifically today (8 March) we mark International Women’s Day (IWD), with this year’s theme being ‘Inspire Inclusion’.

IWD is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political contributions women make but also a stark reminder of the greater efforts still needed to achieve gender equity and inclusion. According to the World Economic Forum Gender Parity Index at the current rate of progress it will take 131 years to reach parity, but closer examination shows as much as 162 years to close the Political Empowerment gender gap, and 169 years for the Economic Participation and Opportunity gender gap.

Travel and Tourism broadly reflects this. Our workforce is largely female (55% or more) predominantly at junior level, decreasing rapidly up the ladder. While I am encouraged by recent progress, such as the appointment of Ariane Gorin as chief executive of Expedia Group, effective from May 2024, the highest-paid senior positions in travel globally are still held by men, and therefore the gender pay gap is still high, as much as 60% in aviation.

For an industry that is inherently diverse in its products, that prides itself in providing diverse experiences and that deeply values intercultural differences, we should be doing a lot more to enable gender empowerment and broader inclusion.

So what can companies and organisations in our sector do about it?

Women in Travel CIC has recently become a signatory of the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) established by UN Women and UN Global Compact. Progressive businesses like Intrepid Travel, Avis and Hilton Worldwide have already signed up, but a database research by sector (Travel and Lodging) in the UK reveals a massive lack of take up, even from companies that openly declare themselves as gender-empowering!

WEPs are informed by international labour and human rights standards and grounded in the recognition that businesses have a stake in, and a responsibility for, gender equality and women’s empowerment. So today not only am I calling for more businesses to follow in our footsteps, but I am also going to take inspiration from three of the seven principles to demonstrate what travel and tourism businesses can do to make an impact and ‘inspire inclusion’ in practice.

Educate and Train for Career Development

Workshops and training sessions focused on gender empowerment and broader diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are readily available if you look for them. These programmes cover topics such as unconscious bias, cultural competency, and creating an inclusive work environment. They can also provide mentoring, allyship and sponsorship for women in your organisation. Like other providers in the UK, Women in Travel CIC runs programmes like this, from leadership level to the highly accessible Lunch N Learn online sessions, so there are no excuses for putting it off.

Enterprise development, supply chain, and marketing practices

We should prioritise women-owned businesses and promote gender diversity within the supply chain. In doing so we are driving economic growth and creating sustainable pathways for women entrepreneurs. Larger businesses can also encourage their business partners, contractors and suppliers to follow their example and adopt the WEPs.

Furthermore, we can look at our marketing and ensure that harmful gender-based stereotypes are removed and that individuals shown in brochures, social channels and presentations showcase a varied, intersectional approach to gender.

Measurement and Reporting

As it is often said: “What gets measured, gets done!”

Measuring and reporting on performance and progress around gender is key to upholding commitment. You can start by disaggregating data, collecting and analysing results and creating accountability at senior leadership level. WEP has a useful gap analysis tool you can use to help understand where your business is at.

Sharing and learning good practices within industry – for example at the forthcoming IWTTF and Awards or other conferences in the sector – can also be a way to appreciate how far your company has come and where one is still lacking.

In summary, gender empowerment is a journey we are all accountable for. Taking a few practical steps towards it should not feel overwhelming or futile. The future of our industry increasingly depends on maximising everyone’s contribution to the workplace, the marketplace and the community.

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