Wholesalers

“Find good soil”: Contiki boss Katrina Barry’s advice to young women in travel

Huntley Mitchell

Huntley Mitchell

After being named Australian travel industry’s most powerful woman and Mentor of the Year at last month’s Women in Travel Awards, Travel Weekly caught up with Contiki’s Katrina Barry to chat about the challenges and opportunities for females working in the sector.

What does topping this year’s Women in Travel Power List mean to you?

It’s an absolute honour to have topped the list and sit amongst so many other women in the industry that I respect and admire.

What drew you to work in the travel industry? What makes it worthwhile?

Quite simply, I love travelling. I spent some years working abroad in Ecuador, London, South Africa and travelled extensively. I have always been an avid traveller, and thankfully now I have even more opportunity to see the world – one of the main reasons we are all in this industry. Sure, it might only be for 16 hours on a stopover, but I love the adventure and exploring other cultures and destinations.

But the most important thing really is the positivity. I am an intensely positive person, so I love the people in the industry and felt immediately comfortable when I joined it. And secondly, I love selling and organising something that is inherently good for our guests. From someone who used to work in banking, trust me when I say that selling dreams and adventure is far easier on the soul than fear and financial advisory!

Have you noticed any changes in opportunities for women in the industry over the time that you’ve worked in it?

I think if anything there are more opportunities for women now more than ever. Young women that come to work with me are driven, hard-working and have grown up being told that they can do anything and be anything they want to be since they were young. The foundation has been laid by the women that came before them; the women that demanded the same opportunities as men and worked hard to show that they deserved it.

What are some of the challenges women face in today’s travel industry? How can they be overcome?

I think a lot of women, especially young women, suffer from some imposter syndrome and don’t value their own ideas enough or don’t feel like they can put their hand up when they have something to say, living in fear of being ‘found out’ as not good enough.

Creating an environment that encourages sharing and input from teams, where we all have an obligation to challenge and pose different views, is one way we can tackle this. Having female leaders who have had these same feelings and overcome them speak openly about it creates more dialogue and challenges these feelings.

Has your gender contributed to any challenges throughout your career? If so, how have you overcome them?

If I had $10 dollars for every inappropriate gender-based joke or stereotype or judgement in the workplace, that we all dismiss and accept as Australian laidback culture or casualness, I wouldn’t be so concerned about my superannuation balance! But this is not unique to me. I can tell you countless stories of friends and colleagues who have experienced the same.

For me, it is important to call it out, and I typically choose to do this in a way in which mostly such comments are intended: with no negative intention and with good humour.

Katrina Barry (Women in Travel Awards 2019) [2]
Katrina Barry after being named Australia’s most powerful industry female at the Women in Travel Awards in June

What changes would you like to see in the industry to make it more inclusive for women and other minority groups?

From what I’ve seen in other industries, travel and tourism needs to do more on progressive diversity policies in our workplaces. Specifically, on a gender perspective, most travel companies are well behind Australian norms in terms of paid maternity provisions.

At Contiki, the team is incredibly diverse and female-led, so for us, it’s more about creating specific programs of empowerment for all minorities and allowing them to share their truths so that we as a team can learn from them and hear their perspectives.

Do you think there needs to be more of an industry-wide push to get more females into senior roles?

Absolutely.  The mere fact that travel and tourism has roughly 70 per cent female staff, but not 70 per cent female CEOs and MDs means we need to do more together. At Contiki and TTC, we find that the senior table is quite female dominated; however, more can be done to get women into the leadership positions across the industry.

What policies and initiatives does Contiki have in place to promote diversity and attract and foster female talent?

As a proud Travel Corporation family brand, we have diversity policies that apply across our people processes to ensure opportunity and foster a dynamic workplace. At Contiki, our leadership team created an integrated ‘Awesome Team’ strategy, which is a key pillar of our annual ‘Strategy on a Page’.

Much of the initiatives under this are designed to develop our female talent, and there is a broad array designed for our majority female staff, from our annual top talent program whereby successful applicants receive extra training and development inhouse and a grant towards external courses, a mentor from the leadership team for a year, strategy training from myself and then a strategic project to work with the leadership on; to our ‘Tiki Talks’ program whereby staff can attend lunchtime sessions on and listen to senior leaders or externals on anything from interview skills, to mental health awareness, to nutrition or how to be a better public speaker.

Why do you think events like the Women in Travel Awards need to continue occurring?

To keep on celebrating the amazing women in the industry, to champion their role in the industry and recognise the important work they do. It provides all of us motivation, role models and enables us to be an inspiration for others.

What advice do you have for young females working their way up in the industry?

Believe in yourself, work hard and put your hand up for extra projects. As a daughter of a farmer, something I always tell my mentees is to “find good soil” – an environment that backs and invests in you, and is good for the mind and soul, because if the soil isn’t good, it doesn’t matter how good the seeds are or how much you water or work the land – it’s hard to grow anything.

Another piece of advice would be to seek out feedback from as many people you work with as possible, even if you need to have a wine after receiving it! Step outside of your comfort zone – challenge, learn, develop and upskill yourself. I’ve focused on this and used it improve and grow myself as a leader, and it has been critical to my professional development and success.

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