IWD: Ponant’s Belinda Hindmarsh talks the importance of female executive representation

IWD: Ponant’s Belinda Hindmarsh talks the importance of female executive representation

It’s International Women’s Day and to celebrate the incredible women that make up our industry, we’ve decided to have a chat with some to hear how their company tackles women’s issues, their outlook on ensuring equal representation in the industry, female-focused initiatives that they love and more.

So we spoke with Ponant’s group deputy CEO Global Business, Belinda Hindmarsh, to hear her thoughts on everything women in travel!

Travel Weekly: What’s your favourite way that Ponant empowers women in the workplace?

Belinda Hindmarsh: Ponant has developed a multifaceted approach to empower women within the company, especially through a hybrid work-from-home flexibility, enabling women to better balance their professional and personal responsibilities.

At the leadership level, Ponant ensures parity with a 50/50 gender executive split, providing encouraging opportunities for women to excel and lead. At a product level, the work of notable women is showcasing onboard our ships, such as featuring prominent female figures on themed cruises or collaborating with renowned photographers like Sue Flood to name a few.

TW: What’s something that Ponant is looking to promote this International Women’s Day?

BH: This International Women’s Day, one thing Ponant is looking to promote is the value of constructive feedback. Personally, I am leading efforts to coach our team on the benefits of giving and receiving constructive feedback. We’re encouraging more frequent and immediate feedback exchanges.

I firmly believe that feedback is a gift—it allows us to recognise what’s going well and where there may be room for improvement. Importantly, I stress the importance of how feedback is delivered; it’s not just about what’s said, but how it’s said, especially considering the unique challenges women often face in maintaining confidence in the workplace. By prioritising constructive feedback, we aim to empower women within our organisation and create a culture of support and growth.

TW: Where do you think, in the broader travel industry, there’s room for improvement in terms of women’s issues?

BH: In the broader travel industry, research has shown that women are frequently the decision-makers in travel purchases, yet they are underrepresented in executive leadership roles. I believe there is opportunity to increase the number of women in CEO roles leading to greater collaboration and partnership within the industry which intern will create innovation in our space.

I’m particularly proud of recent developments, such as Ariane Gorin taking the CEO position at Expedia Group. Ariane’s appointment serves as a prime example of a woman championing change and leading by example in the travel sector. By promoting more women into these roles and celebrating their successes, the travel industry can take meaningful strides toward a more inclusive and diverse landscape.

TW: How is Ponant tackling the gender pay gap?

BH: To attract, retain and motivate our talent, Ponant relies on a renumeration policy that rewards individual and collective performance as well as an action plan to correct the wage gap. A key element of this policy is gender parity and attractiveness which is the realisation of a comprehensive external benchmark exercise of both seafarer and shore-based staff positions to inform and target salary measures.

TW: What are some itineraries that Ponant finds quite popular with women? Which of these particularly sparks your interest?

BH: Our extensive free solo supplement program offers plenty options around the globe for our travellers. Market trends in Asia Pacific have seen a growing trend in solo women travellers forming groups and travelling together to regions including Japan and Europe, especially our Polar expedition itineraries are becoming increasingly popular especially among our female Chinese customers.

TW: Tell me about a women’s initiative in a travel company (other than Ponant) that you admire.

BH: I came across Salt & Wind in Italy (founded in the US), a small business focused on culinary travel founded by two women. Not only is this business owned by women, but the company also actively supports local women’s businesses in destinations with immersive “eat like a local” culinary experiences. It’s small in size but a great example of how travel can be powerful in supporting women and local communities.

Having spent time in corporate travel, I am also a fan of corporations who support their female employees “on the road” by creating travel policies that ensure women can chose the best hotels and transport means that allow them to feel safe whilst travelling for work. Often it’s the small things that are most appreciated, such as allowing exceptions for travel spend for overnight accommodation in the home city after late business engagements, to avoid a long commute home late at night.

TW: Where do you think Ponant has room for improvement regarding women’s issues?

BH: I believe Ponant has room for improvement in terms of fostering diversity within its onshore teams, particularly at our headquarters in Marseille. While we have a wonderfully diverse team onboard our ships, which contributes to our high customer satisfaction feedback, our onshore teams could benefit from a similar level of diversity.

By building a more diverse team at our headquarters, we can ensure that a variety of perspectives are represented and considered in our product conception and decision-making processes. Increasing the number of women in leadership positions is a crucial aspect of this effort, as it not only promotes gender equality but also enriches our leadership with diverse viewpoints and experiences.

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