It’s International Women’s Day, and to mark this positive celebration, Travel Weekly had an exclusive chat with the (female) CEO of TFE Hotels, Rachel Argaman, on everything from taking your baby to the boardroom and balancing jobs with mum duties.
TW: Do you think it’s harder for women to climb the career ladder in the travel industry?
RA: I think it often depends on the particular company and their culture. There are many inspiring women in our industry at the highest level but there is also much work to be done.
In our organisation gender representation is roughly 50-50 at all levels of management all the way to the top. That is really what all companies should be as it roughly mirrors the population. No other statistic has any integrity.
TW: What were some of your hardest lessons in getting to where you are today?
RA: I have been very fortunate in that I have never experienced the glass ceiling. But there are hard lessons for every parent juggling full time work and I was no exception.
From driving to work with a child in the back instead of dropping them at school, to scrambling for coverage when a nanny is ill and unable to come, to breast feeding my baby in the car whilst another child was at sport, in fact even once feeding a baby in the boardroom during a board meeting!
Or handling the call to come and fetch your child from school as they have measles and come out in a rash just as you have landed in Melbourne. Every working parent has these stories and they are real and require lots of helping hands!
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 people’s needs 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.
TW: Did you ever feel challenged in your career because you were a woman?
RA: Only once when I had a directorship taken off the table because I was pregnant. But in that case I was extremely fortunate as I was approached and offered a role at another company the same day and when I shared that I was pregnant they were not perturbed in the least and only asked how that might change my start date.
TW: What advice do you have for young women in the industry?
RA: Be direct and honest and volunteer for assignments and projects. You get 100 per cent of the responsibility you take on.
If sharing an issue whether around child care or pregnancy or any other issue, come with a proactive plan on how you intend to manage it. And make sure to take the advice “love it, change it, or leave it”.
TW: Do you think this workplace is a good place for young people to work in? Are millennials inspired to join the travel industry?
RA: I truly love the Travel Industry! It is full of people with a zest for life and a passion for travel; people kind of people who are good at interpersonal relationships. I believe that many millennials share these passions and that if they do it is a great industry for them to join.
Travel is the number one aspiration in most developing nations and a growth industry worldwide. I would not be half as well travelled had I not joined it and needed to travel at all the companies I have worked for.
TW: What do you hope to see change in the industry in the coming years?
RA: I do hope to see women represented in equal measure at ALL levels of management. There are too many CEOs who stand up and talk about how wonderful it is to see the female managers coming through and yet they are only speaking about their junior or middle ranks of management.
I believe the merit trap is just that. There are plenty of talented women and saying that you only appoint on merit and cannot find any women worthy of the role is a fallacy in almost all industries.
Construction may be an exception but everywhere I look I see and meet exceptional women in just the same quantity as exceptional men and I cannot understand any company where management teams at every level do not reflect the population at large – which means equal numbers of men and women.
If companies make the choice to change the representation they will find it is self-perpetuating. There are plenty of amazing and talented women just as there are plenty of amazing and talented men.
TW: What’s the biggest disruptor you’ve seen in the industry in the past year?
RA: All aspects of industries where underutilized space has been put into the digital world for extra utilization. (Instant) Recognition programmes replacing the old fashioned loyalty programmed based on points.
Facial recognition technology and mobile booking functionality are transforming marketing and communication with customers.
TW: What trend or part of the travel industry won’t be around in 5 years? Is there anything in travel that you see as unsustainable?
RA: Anything that doesn’t involve human interaction. Any app or software that aims to replace and not enhance our engagement with other people while we travel won’t have endurance.
Good technology will always make people enjoy their stay more and have a positive impact on their interactions with each other.
TW: Who do you most admire in the industry?
RA: Cinzia Burnes. She and her husband Andrew have been absolute pioneers in the Travel Industry in Australia and done huge amounts to professionalize it and to upgrade the technology used in it.
They founded Australian Outback Travel and are now the majority shareholders in HelloWorld, Australia’s second largest retail travel agency group