I’ve always shied away from speaking at Women’s Networks because I don’t believe they truly promote equality. I have an 8-year-old daughter & a 5-year-old son, & I want them to have the same opportunity in the workplace.
And as much as I want my daughter to be able to be a leader without the current level of redundant criticism, I am also acutely aware that if my son were to join a group called ‘business blokes’, women would be up in arms.
However, I have finally relented, and after delivering a dozen or so talks at women’s-only events on how to improve confidence in the workplace and how to have more courageous conversations, I now understand what all the fuss is about.
There is a different feeling in the room. The conversation is natural and free-flowing, and women of all ages who would not be considered as ‘strong’ or ‘influential’ speak up. There is a distinct lack of hierarchy; I often can’t pick who the leaders are and who might be on a graduate program. Uncomfortable experiences and awkward stories are shared, and solutions are workshopped.
Contrary to what one might expect, the men that they work with rarely come up for discussion. Women talk about how they feel like they are ‘drowning’ trying to do their best work as well as keep a family happy and healthy. They talk about the emotional load of caring for aging parents. They discuss how helpful they find having a mentor. They discuss how their friends keep them sane. They talk about the type of future they envisage for the next generation.
Here are some interesting facts from recent studies that back up why this might be the case:
- Women are interrupted (by both genders) twice as often as men during both formal and informal discussions
- Men speak significantly more during meetings and dominate about 75% of the conversation
- Women are more inclined to ask questions; whereas men have a tendency to ‘make points’ or share their own experiences
- Speakers and trainers unanimously agree globally that if a female asks the first question in a conference or workshop, the people who ask subsequent questions are generally representative of the audience; if a male asks the first question, however, men were disproportionately more likely to speak up
I take my hat off to the women who have made it to the top – although the number of women in top jobs in the Australian travel industry certainly doesn’t represent the number of women in the industry itself. The boys club is a tight one, yet Julie Primmer, Mel Waters-Ryan, Penny Spencer are amongst those brave women who felt the fear and did it anyway. Thank God for them.
However, not all of us have the energy, strength or time to step up into a role that we know will make us feel vulnerable and have to manage competing priorities between work, family and me-time.
Flight Centre has taken the lead with their recent Womenwise initiative. I think it is also positive and powerful (and necessary) that forums like the Travel Industry Women Facebook group exists, and it is no wonder that the number of members exploded as soon as it was set up. It is a relief for women who want to be a part of an ongoing conversation focused on how to be their best self in an industry they love in a safe forum where they won’t be interrupted, will be heard, will be understood and will feel supported.
To quote Julie Spira – a cyber dating coach of all things – “Women supporting each other, instead of competing against each other, brings a unity and strength like no other.”
I am excited to see some shifts in the industry as women band together. In my opinion, it’s well overdue.
- READ: Julia Gillard talks at Flight Centre TG’s Womenwise
- READ: Women are still being overlooked for top jobs in travel
- READ: FBI’s tips for women on ‘avoiding sexual assault on planes’
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