Lelia Gowland, Principal, Gowland, LLC
If you’re a travel buyer, odds are good that you’re also woman. 71% of GBTA’s direct buyer members are female. Since many travel buyers report into Finance and Procurement departments, there’s also a good chance you’re reporting to a man – women hold only 12% of all CFO roles in the S&P500.
Unlike engineering or tech, there are plenty of women in the travel industry as a whole, just not in senior leadership. So what the heck do we do to level the playing field? Changing industry culture and promoting more women are great long term, but they don’t exactly increase your influence today.
Here are strategies you can use now to increase your influence with leadership and travelers alike.
Strategy 1: Figure out what types of networking work for you.
Building relationships and meeting new people are key to increasing your influence, but if the thought of small talk at yet another happy hour makes you cringe, fret not. There are many ways to approach networking, including group activities and professional associations.
One woman told me that her firm spends a lot of money entertaining clients with male-centric activities, so she takes people to Hamilton or the spa and playfully describes it as “golf”. Network on your terms and get a group of colleagues together for pastimes you enjoy. Shared activities are a great way to build connections, but be sure to talk about work while you’re at it.
Professional associations, like ACTE and GBTA can provide an opportunity to discuss industry trends, learn new skills, and strategize about career advancement. Since the majority of entry level employees in the travel industry are female, some industry veterans see professional associations as key to developing a path to leadership for women.
Whatever your networking strategy, don’t forget to socialize with men. Women’s personal and professional networks are more likely to be comprised of other women. While all-female spaces can provide phenomenal professional support, if you’re only networking with women, you’re missing out on many of the people with the greatest influence in travel.
Strategy 2: Become a connector.
As weeSpring CEO Allyson Downey suggests, “Be generous with your relationships.” She explains it this way, “When I meet someone new, one of the first things I think about is whether I know anyone who could be helpful to them.” When you connect people, it can make you look thoughtful and plugged in, build your rapport with both parties, and increase the likelihood that they’ll return the favor. Many of my closest friends and professional contacts have come from what I call blind friend dates – times when friends or colleagues have said, “You have to meet so-and-so.”
It’s worth noting that this doesn’t have to be among peers to be effective. A few years ago, I had coffee with a college student who suggested I meet her professor because of our shared interest in women’s experiences in negotiations. The professor and I hit it off, and we now have regular mastermind sessions.
Strategy 3: Find ways to invest in your existing relationships.
We hear about the coveted “mentor” and “sponsor” roles, but what if instead of searching for our personal unicorns, we recognize that we may already have them?
A mentor is just an experienced and trusted advisor. A sponsor is someone who seeks out opportunities for you, talks up your accomplishments, and uses his/her influence to advance your career. Neither role necessitates the significant age or success disparity we’ve come to expect. Here are a few ways my friends and I have taken on these roles for one another:
As mentors: Provide input and advice
- Offer feedback on presentations, reports, and other work products. Women ask for feedback as often as men but are less likely to receive it. Friend scheduled to give a big presentation? Suggest a dress rehearsal in which you can help her improve and workshop the content.
- Create a goal setting group designed to help one another develop and achieve ambitious professional goals. Imagine each member of this team as part connector, part cheerleader, part accountability buddy.
As sponsors: Promote and encourage
- Nominate one another for projects, jobs, and awards. “There just weren’t many qualified female applicants,” is a refrain we hear all too often. Encourage women to apply, and talk them up to the decision-makers.
- Use amplification. Whenever a woman makes a key point in a meeting, repeat it and attribute it to her. This helps give her idea credibility and prevent “idea theft”, in which a guy says the same thing two minutes later and everyone thinks it’s brilliant. It could sound like this, “Let’s go back to Mallory’s insights about traveler friction.”
- Celebrate one another’s successes privately, around VIPs, and on social media. Since women can face negative consequences for boasting, having friends sing your praises can help. (Commit to learning ways to effectively self promote too.)
Now it’s time to get out there! These strategies can help you build your network, increase your influence, and have some fun in the process.
(Are you involved in a professional association or industry group that has a focus on women? What strategies to increase your influence have worked for you? Tell us via twitter!)
Lelia Gowland makes work work for women. A sought-after speaker and writer, Lelia helps women negotiate and navigate their careers. Learn more at gowlandllc.com.