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Finding the balance - how women are winning on merit

In honour of International Women's Day, we took some time to chat to one of the industry's most formidable women - Rachel Argaman, the chief executive of TFE Hotels.

In honour of International Women’s Day, we took some time to chat to one of the industry’s most formidable women – Rachel Argaman, the chief executive of TFE Hotels.

Not only has she taken pride in her own impressive career, but Argaman considers the career progression of those she has worked with as her greatest achievement.

“Over 70% of the roles we fill are filled with internal candidates and there are countless stories within our organisation of people who started on the front line, in reception or housekeeping, and then progressed through our various future leaders training courses, to become Duty Managers, Assistant Managers, Hotel Managers, or as with several people, to now hold executive roles at our head office,” she tells KarryOn.

Then there was the launch of the refreshed Vibe Hotels, the European expansion of Adina Apartment Hotels and the growth of its portfolio from seven to nearly 100 hotels.


The Adina Apartment Hotel in Berlin

“These are significant achievements which the whole team can be proud of, but truly it is the growth of people which is always the most inspiring,” she adds.

And what about the women within the company’s ranks?

We are one of the few companies with a completely balanced gender mix,” Argaman declares proudly. ”

“At any one stage our management team has either 51% women and 49% men or 51% men and 49% women.”

But she stresses that the company didn’t “consciously” plan it that way.

“What we did do consciously was to appoint on merit and genuinely not ever consider gender in the equation,” she says.

“And to ensure that if people were pregnant or had parenting challenges we accommodated a diverse range of solutions (generally those suggested by our team members) so that we could facilitate the continued participation of great people in our workplace.”

The natural consequence of these actions was that the team reflects the gender mix of the population at every level.

“We don’t have “yes people”; we have a strong and diverse team of people with opinions and talents which makes for an exciting and dynamic work place.”

Read on for more of Rachel’s thoughts on women in the travel industry:


What do you see as the greatest challenge women in the travel industry face?


For many women it will be the constant juggling of home life and work life.

I hope that companies who value presentee-ism over outcomes will soon be a thing of the past (accepting that is not an option for shift workers). And that all companies will increasingly accommodate peoples’ need to look after partners/family/people they care for using technology and common sense to accommodate times where they need to care for or pick up these children or parents or people. 


What is the greatest opportunity?

The greatest opportunity in my opinion is for leaders to model the way.

It is misframing to see gender equality as a “women’s issue”.  It is an economic, social and political opportunity and an important business issue.

Harvard Business Review and other research shows that gender balance only happens in companies if it is “personally and forcefully led by the CEO.”  So successful gender balancing needs the right role modelling and driving from the leaders of all organisations.

There are plenty of talented men and women out there.  Recruiting qualified people for positions in a way that reflects the gender mix of the population is imperative and once in place, becomes, in my experience, self-perpetuating.


Are things changing in your view?


Things are definitely changing but we have a long way to go.

I am the NSW Chapter Chair of Chief Executive Women and sit on its board and one of our key goals is to correct the imbalance of women to men on boards and in senior executive roles. I also have a strong network of female CEOs who meet once a quarter for breakfast and help each other and new members to the network to find roles on boards, new positions if looking for one and generally support each other.

I have seen changes with regard to paid parental leave and more flexibility in terms of considering a variety of solutions and hours for people to work or return to work.  I support parental leave.

I always insist on interviewing candidates of both genders for roles.  At the end of the day, by hiring on merit and not excluding anyone from the recruitment process on the basis of gender we have ended up with equality in the workplace in our company and we’re really proud of that.


Which of your female peers are really inspiring you right now?

I admire people who have high positive energy, a sense of humour, and want to make a difference.  And people who do business well, but who do it with grace.  Even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat!  Make sure you can be proud of what you and the team around you are achieving.

I also have a wonderful network of friends amongst the senior women in Australia, including Cinzia Burnes from Australia Outback Travel, Catriona Noble from ANZ,  Julie Coates from Goodman Fielder, and many more.  All are inspirational leaders who lead from the front, but have their feet on the ground.  All have a great sense of humour and are generous with their time, advice and friendship.


If you could give one piece of advice to any aspiring female leaders out there, what would it be?

I always say that in life and at work one gets the responsibility one takes on.  So if there is a job to be done or a task that needs doing, volunteer to do it, learn how to do it and before you know it you are growing your skills and leadership talents.

People can “see” leadership.  It is a positive attitude, an inner confidence, a willingness to take responsibility and “own” something and not pass the buck.  It does not mean being a “know it all” it just means being prepared to consult with people and work it out.

Action inspires hope and people are naturally goal oriented and want to be proud of what they do and what they achieve together.  Facilitating the articulation of those goals, an action plan taking account of all input, and working with a team to deliver it is one of life’s great joys.

Profit and pleasure tend to go hand in hand.  And always assume good intent and have fun.

What do you think? Are things changing for the greater good for women in travel industry? Share your thoughts below.