July 26, 2015
A C-level panel and lots of accomplished, inspiring, and dedicated women were among the on-stage highlights at the 2nd Annual Women in Travel Summit, attended by some 400 women (and men!) at the Hyatt Regency Orlando July 25, all exemplifying the organization’s mission to “drive change, provide support, and educate the public about the benefits of career development, visibility, and promotion of women in the travel, meeting, event, and exhibition industries.”
A few things make this organization unique, not least of which is that membership (and attendance at the WINiT Summit) is free—to everyone.
Founder Mick Lee also calls WINiT “association agnostic,” meaning that while its summit takes place on the day preceding the Global Business Travel Association, and an event earlier this year, WINiT@ACTE, took place in conjunction with the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, WINiT seeks to complement rather than compete with its members’ involvement in other associations. In fact, the CEOs of GBTA, ACTE, and Meeting Professionals International appeared on stage with Lee at the opening of the summit to reinforce their collaboration and share why they are committed to WINiT’s mission. “Just before I took the helm of GBTA in 2013,” said Donna Kelliher, CTC, GLP, president & CEO of the 7,000-member GBTA and director, travel & corporate services, at Dominion, “I was at an event with Mick. She looked at me and said, ‘Notice anything missing on stage?’ I had. There were 21 speakers and only one woman—who was there to introduce a man.”
WINiT’s strategic goals include forming cooperative relationships with other meeting and travel organizations, specifically, IMEX Group, Professional Convention Management Association, International Association of Exhibitions and Events, Society of Independent Show Organizers, and SITE: Society for Incentive Travel Excellence.
WINiT marked some milestones in 2015: approval as a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational organization; a 77 percent increase in membership to more than 1,800 members; the creation of a pilot Mentor Program that officially launches this fall; and a new Central Career Board at the WINiT Web site.
Telling it Like it Is
For all of the inspiration of the day—and there was plenty—there were doses of reality from some straight-talking panelists and speakers. During the fascinating C-suite panel (three women, two men), Claudia Sender, CEO of TAM Airlines, cut right through a comment about a lack of female talent as a reason for the dearth of women at the top (4.2 percent of CEOs and 15.7 percent of board members at Fortune 500 companies are women).
This is something she hears often, she said, but what’s far more necessary than developing female talent is “overcoming the unconscious bias” against women. She’s been in conversations, she explained, where a woman is described as bossy and hard to work with while a man with the same style is credited as “a guy who really delivers.” A woman is described as “too soft” while a man is described as “a teambuilder.”
Then she shared a perfect snapshot of unconscious bias from her own life: She’d brought her husband along to an event and stopped at the registration desk. There was some trouble finding her name badge until finally someone looked up her husband’s name. “My badge was stacked inside his,” she said. “I was the plus-one.”
A Day of Advice
On the other hand, Sender was the C-suite panelist who pointed to a particular advantage for women in business today. “Female leadership style is extremely important and highly valued in modern corporations,” she said. “Women are more inclusive than men, and they listen more.” And because this is an era where companies only succeed by considering a diversity of perspectives, these qualities are critical.
The other panelists also offered insights for climbing corporate ladders:
• “You’re not born into any role,” said Norma Corio, CFO, American Express Global Business Travel. “You always have to learn.” So don’t limit yourself to what you think you can do now. Take on assignments that stretch you. “Say yes if you know enough to go forward,” she said. “You learn from the things you do, not from the things you don’t.”
• John Snyder, global president & CEO, BCD Travel, credited his rise to the corner office to hiring and surrounding himself with the best people he could find. “It can be scary to hire someone smarter than you,” he said. But it can also be a canny strategy.
• Jennifer Hill, former CFO at Merrill Lynch, advised women to stop trying to be nice. “You need to think independently, act decisively, and care more about gaining respect than whether people like you or not.”
• And Doug Anderson, president & CEO, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, advised being willing to take a risk with your career. “I look for people who believe they are ready for the next job.”