Tourism

“There’s not enough women in leadership positions”: Intrepid’s James Thornton

Lauren Croft

Start getting excited, folks, because the Women in Travel Awards are this week! We’ve been getting everything spic and span at Dolton House Jones Bay Wharf, and are ready to see all your lovely faces come Thursday.

And since this awards night is about celebrating women’s achievements, and recognising their inspirational work in our industry, we thought we’d talk to Intrepid CEO James Thornton about what exactly he thinks needs to change.

Intrepid has been the headline sponsor for this event since it began, and the company itself has some pretty killer initiatives for women – both internal and external.

But Thornton said that when it came to pay parity, diversity and gender equality in the travel industry, more needed to be done, “not just because it’s the right thing to do – but for the long-term success of our industry.”

“We’re doing some work on this ourselves, but as an industry, we also need to collectively address the barriers to attracting, retaining, and developing the best people,” he said.

“The travel industry in Australia is female-dominated, but the most senior players are men. Something is happening with the transition in to middle and high executive roles.

“Not only are there not enough women in leadership positions, there’s also a gender pay gap across all levels in the industry. That needs to change.”

Thornton said the industry can draw inspiration from The Women’s March and the MeToo movement, which show the impact individuals can have when they come together.

“That’s where events like the Women In Travel Awards play a part – not only recognising women in our industry but providing a platform to tell their stories and a space for networking,” he said.

The tourism industry is one of the fastest growing in the world – and is now employing one in 11 people, according to Thornton. And being one of the fast-growing industries gives it a rare chance to make a real difference.

“I’d like to see greater pay parity and diversity at every level in our industry. We want everyone to have equal opportunities, regardless of gender, age, race, religion, or sexual orientation,” Thornton said.

“We need to show women that their development and career progression will not be disadvantaged by the life-stage choices they make.”

This year, Intrepid held their first Women’s Leadership Forum in Cambodia, where twelve future female leaders from across the world attended a four-day conference led by the four most senior women at Intrepid Group.

This, in turn, inspired the company to establish a remote global mentoring programme that will provide support and guidance to women all over the world.

“Intrepid’s always been about giving back to the places and people we visit. From a gender equality point of view we’ve supported a number of projects around the world through The Intrepid Foundation,” Thornton said.

“But we realised that while we had been busy focusing on the communities that we visit, we had some work to do to improve gender equality for all our staff globally. Diversity and inclusion has become a key focus for our business.”

And Thornton isn’t joking – in 2017, Intrepid became a signatory of the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles.

“That means we’ve now publicly dedicated ourselves to seven key gender equity principles, holding ourselves to account by reporting publicly on our progress,” he explained.

In fact, this year Intrepid achieved a 50/50 representation on their global leadership team, and last year introduced unconscious bias training for all staff.

“This training recognises and addresses the underlying reasons behind why inequality exists in the first place; in the aim of stopping it in its tracks. This year we expanded on this by launching Diversity and Inclusion training online, including modules on Gender and Unconscious Bias,” Thornton said.

“We’ve also formalised our flexible work arrangements, to be more outcomes-focussed than strictly desk-oriented. For mothers (or fathers for that matter), this can alleviate them of any unnecessary stress or guilt associated with being away from their families.”

“We [also] launched our first global Parental Support Plan, which recognises that to have true gender equality, women and men need choices.

“It also recognises that there are many types of families and many ways to start a family. The plan is localised to support staff in countries that don’t receive much government support,” Thornton added.

But as a global travel company, supporting women and diversity goes far beyond their office-based staff – and one year ago, they set a goal to double their female tour leaders by 2020. No easy feat, particularly in countries like Morocco or India.

In the latter, women make up less than 30 per cent of the workforce.

But by proactive recruiting women and mentoring them, Intrepid went from having two female tour leaders in 2016 to having 22 by the end of 2017. Pretty impressive.

“Overall, our increased focus on diversity and inclusion has resulted in a two per cent shift in the gender diversity of our employees and tour leaders in the last year, with 42 per cent now being female,” Thornton said.

“Organisations and individuals both have a part to play in this. You don’t need to be a manager to make a difference at your workplace or amongst your personal network.”

“We can all take responsibility for our own learning and development, for finding mentors and sponsors, and for supporting and taking others with us on the journey.”

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