During my time as a leader in the travel industry for the past two decades, the debate around gender issues in the workplace has grown from a low‐level rumble to a steady roar. The questions I tend to hear these days are less along the lines of, “Is this an issue?” and lean more toward, “How does a woman’s experience at work actually differ?”
The fact that the debate has evolved is a positive step, but there’s still a big educational piece that must be addressed: If employees at every step of the ladder are fully aware of gender biases at play, they can make a conscious effort to avoid them. If we do that, we can build more travel businesses where women can thrive in mid‐level, management and senior leadership roles.
Case in point: As a female leader, I’ve been coached many times not to “get emotional” at work. By contrast, I can’t think of a single time I’ve heard this said to a man. The term used for the same actions by male leadership would typically be “driven,” or at worst, “passionate.”
With that in mind, from the very beginning of your career, the path to leadership can be different depending on your gender.
However, in my experience, emotional connections are exactly what’s missing in leadership in the travel industry, and women are crucial to filling that gap. At Go City, we have six female leaders who have fueled the engine together for more than a decade, and many more who have driven the business forward in the past few years.
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In fact, women make up 50% of our management team from VP‐level and up. When I look back on all we’ve achieved in the business, I am in awe. My female colleagues juggle family and global time zones, cover for other colleagues when needed, learn agile principles at night, get their MBAs or volunteer in their local communities, all the while approaching challenges with a high degree of empathy for their fellow colleagues.
We have each other’s back, knowing some days can be harder than others. I believe most of our success comes from having open and honest relationships – we understand and accept how our personal lives weave into our roles, and we know our collective strengths and weaknesses. Where one falls short, another rises above, but doesn’t leave others in the dust. This is the mark of a high‐performing team.
I’ve worked with many incredible men as well, but my most treasured memories in the industry will always be the years in the trenches with a team of badass women, doing what we love ‐ developing multi‐attraction sightseeing passes to help travelers explore destinations and make lifelong memories while saving time and money.
Learning the hard way
It’s refreshing to finally talk about diversity, equality and inclusion in the workplace. Positive change will come when more diverse employees have a seat at the table. Not only is it imperative for the wellbeing of employees, especially in a global travel organization like Go City, but it is equally important to attract all types of customers. It’s basic common sense that we need to hire all types of people, and ensure they can see a clear path for progression, no matter their gender or background. This year, I filled the first female position on our board of directors, and I hope to be joined by other women or minorities in the near future.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with strong female role models from the very beginning of my career – it’s undoubtedly a contributing factor on my own journey to the position I hold today as chief operating officer of Go City. I landed my first job in the travel industry at a student travel firm working offsite in Mexico, during which time my female boss, Jennifer Erday True, gave me wise advice.
I have always believed that anyone can rise up in leadership with the right understanding of the goals and a full dedication to the job.
Carrie Tayloe Keplinger
At the time, I was negotiating with older men in leadership roles, and because of my age and gender, she warned me that there was a risk they wouldn’t take me seriously. I learned this the hard way. She coached me to be mindful of meeting locations and situations, stand tall, be polite but direct, dress professionally, never let your guard down and not to back down on a negotiation if you feel the deal is truly fair. She was a force to be reckoned with, breaking the mold. I paid close attention.
Similarly when I started at Smart Destinations, a U.S.‐based travel tech company, I worked under the leadership of founder Cecilia Dahl. She started the company against all odds, raising seed money and building the company from the ground up. Once again, she taught me to aim high, be assertive but fair and to lead by example. Cecilia had an entrepreneurial spirit that inspired us to push our limits. I worked with a team of female colleagues that became my allies and mentors. During this time, I had three children and Cecilia was incredibly flexible with working arrangements (“If you continually hit your goals, I don’t care where you are or when you work”).
This management style enabled me to prioritize my time, juggling parenthood and the job, leading to greater pride in my work. As a result, I was able to enjoy my job and envisage a long career for myself at this company. We built an amazing set of products, and from that foundation we teamed up with Leisure Pass Group to build the largest attraction pass company in the world, Go City. What a ride.
Today, Go City is 51% female and all of the leaders under my remit of destinations, experience and operations are women. I’m grateful we’ve added a people team to help us work on DEI, employee benefit programs, mental health programming, expanded flexibility for families and more. There are still miles to go, but we’re committed to the work and making progress day by day. Go City CEO Jon Owen has an open-door policy that has made it possible to make a lot of improvements in a short period of time.
I have always believed that anyone can rise up in leadership with the right understanding of the goals and a full dedication to the job. Ultimately, most businesses mainly care about sales and profits. In order to grow and advance, employees should align their work to the company strategy, and always be prepared to pivot quickly as things change.
If I could offer any advice to females in the workplace, it would be to dig deep to know what you really want, roll up your sleeves and put in the work, and finally - but perhaps most importantly - be assertive with your boss when (and if) you’re ready for the next step.