Let's be honest - International Women's Day is the annual day in which corporations get to tout how many women they have and their pro-female initiatives. And while important, such a moment in time should be drawn out into everyday behaviors that make working in travel, tech and travel tech a more accessible reality to women.
I'm not writing this because I've experienced blatant discrimination in the workplace. On the contrary, I luckily have not. At Faye Travel Insurance where I'm head of engineering, we are 52% women (had to slip that in). That said, do I think gender has come into play in various situations that have resulted in me being hyper-aware of the responsibility of being a female in my field and a female member of a management team at a growing travel brand?
Most certainly, yes.
Creating and fostering female-forward environments is an ongoing practice that goes beyond this week. But let's use March 8 to shed a light on the challenges and opportunities so we can all get there, together.
You can't be what you can't see.
It's that simple. If you don't see female leaders in fields you're interested in pursuing, how can you envision yourself as a woman there? How can we also steer other women in that direction if we never envision it or normalize it as a possibility?
Low visibility of female leaders is a key issue in research and development.
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By the numbers, 13.7% of all engineers are women. That's embarrassingly low. But I'm not surprised - I saw this firsthand in high school as the volume of women I studied computer science with decreased year over year. This was also clear in university - the more I progressed in my degree, the fewer women I saw. Conditioning we may receive in girlhood that pushes us toward other career paths, coupled with a pool of women studying such subjects diminishing over time, can make a career path feel lonely and potentially irrelevant.
Women in engineering are the minority - and that's also true of travel tech. According to a recent report, just 12.5% of the top 350 travel tech companies are led by women. As a result, women can find themselves in environments that are dominated by men, with few female role models or mentors to turn to.
When the challenge comes down to numbers - in both tech and travel tech - it's on all of us to make sure we create environments that welcome and support women. Here's how:
1. Take the stage
If others can't be what they can't see, make yourself visible. I'm highly aware that I may have been given a panel speaking opportunity in part because I'm a woman and need to break up a male-dominated stage, and frankly, that's OK by me. Why? Because I wasn't hired just because I'm a woman. I was hired because I'm a top professional in my field, and if I can be the female presence on stage speaking about that, then I welcome that.
I'll take it step further: No one hires employees just because of their gender; it's a business. Believe me when I say that every female engineer and manager you see around you has had to work hard to earn that position.
As a female who is a minority in her field, I firmly believe that to have a podium is a responsibility and opportunity to stand out, build women up and showcase that women can thrive in travel and tech.
2. Hiring process is key
Don't mess up interviewing female talent. I'll give you an example. Years ago I was interviewed by a 10-person startup that I was excited about. Their entire workforce at the time was men. I withdrew my application - to be in an all-male environment with no female representation would be uncomfortable for me.
How can small companies combat this? Introduce women candidates to female resources and figures that are close to the company - including partners, advisers or investors. Speak about your goals to diversify your employee pool. That effort will go a long way in not losing great talent.
3. Avoid creating a toxic environment
I firmly believe that toxic workplace environments impact women more than men because not only are women typically outnumbered by men, perhaps their career growth was delayed due to family planning. It feels in a way that for one reason or another, we're constantly playing catch-up.
If flexibility and empathy are not apparent, then you're likely looking at an unhealthy work environment in which women will be the first to go. A workplace that fosters women (and, frankly, humans in general) is constructive, diverse, empathetic and person-first. Diverse backgrounds, not just in gender but in career and life experience, spur diverse thinking and inclusive environments.
We're more than one day
Ultimately, this is all to say we appreciate the annual day of recognition, but if you forget about us and fail to foster environments that empower women, we'll be out the door first. Let's all commit to evolving the travel, tech and travel tech spaces so in the years ahead we bridge the gap of the significant gender imbalance.