“We need structural change” Ann Sherry calls out “boys clubs” at WIT

Photography by andre&dominqiue

Last Thursday, we had the honour of having Ann Sherry AO speak at our Women in Travel Awards.

Sherry, who is currently the Chairman of Carnival Australia, the largest cruise ship operator in Australasia, delivered bucketloads of inspiration and life advice that had us all fangirling VERY hard.

Sorry if you were sitting near us, our squealing and cheering might have been a bit distracting…

Photography by andre&dominqiue

Photography by andre&dominqiue

Sherry was the winner of the Centenary Medal in 2001 and was also awarded an Order of Australia in 2004, in 2015, she was crowned the overall winner of the Australian Financial Review 100 Women of Influence Awards.

Not to mention, last year she topped our Women in Travel Power List!

Oh, and aside from being perhaps the most influential women in the Aussie cruise industry, Ann is also the Chair of UNICEF Australia and currently holds non-executive roles with National Australia Bank, Sydney Airport, Palladium Group, Rugby Australia, Cape York Partnerships, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Infrastructure Victoria and Philanthropy Australia. Career. Goals.

But it wasn’t all high-flying for Sherry, who began her working life as a radiographer before becoming a prison social worker, working in state and federal government and taking a job in banking for 12 years before joining Carnival.

Nothing if not direct, Sherry wasted no time getting straight to the point:

Let’s talk about travel. Women in travel. Because we’re one of those many sectors where the overwhelming majority of people working in the sector are women but not enough of the leadership are women,” she said. 

“Our challenge as a sector is to start to address the gender imbalance that is not enough women at the top and lots and lots of women at the bottom.”

Drawing on her own workplace as an example, Sherry admitted that when she first entered the cruise industry, there were very few visible women.

“But that’s changed at a global level. We’ve got women leading two of our big global brands, Christine Duffy at Carnival and Jan Swartz at Princess. And that’s changed the sense of what’s possible.”

It’s hard to be what you can’t see. If no women have done it before its really hard to imagine that you can get there. Some women can and do but many can’t.

“Never underestimate the power of having women in CEO roles.”

According to Sherry, the industry is still full of boys clubs and it shouldn’t be up to women to face them alone.

“We need to stand up to those things, and not just women but men too,” she said.

“We need to stand shoulder to shoulder on lots of these things and ultimately workplace culture is defined by the things that you let go.

“The little things make the biggest differences. The things you ignore. The little sexist comment that everyone ignores. Often it’s more powerful if men stand up to those things as well, not just women.”

Drawing on examples from the #MeToo movement, Sherry made the point that simply educating women isn’t going to cut it, we need structural change.

Photography by andre&dominqiue

Photography by andre&dominqiue

Achieving change from the bottom up hasn’t been fast enough. We’ve spent the last 20 years saying once women are educated through university the world will be a different place, they’ll just flow through into senior management CEO roles.”

“That hasn’t happened. And that’s because we’ve got to get structural change.”

“If you’re doing things because ‘that’s always the way we’ve done things here’ you’re not moving with the times, you’re not moving forward and you’re not keeping up to date with your customers” 

In a constantly evolving industry such as travel, changes like these pose a shining opportunity.

The industry is remaking itself virtually every day and I think that’s the opportunity, that’s the window, that’s the chink in the door, the little opening that allows women to go through and allows those of us who have already gone through to pull more in behind us,” she said. 

“And that’s really the huge opportunity for all of us. But we need men standing beside us it’s not just for women to help each other, we need to do that but it’s not enough.”

“We need men standing beside us saying this is the new world this is the world we want to be part of as well. We want to be part of a world that’s fair, that’s equal, that respects and reflects the society we live in.”

“None of us should ignore stuff that goes on around us that’s wrong. We need to call it out and stop it because that changes workplace culture.”

Sherry closed by telling the crowd of Australia’s best and brightest women in travel that she’s optimistic about change.

“I’m optimistic about travel and I’m optimistic about the role women are going to play in travel. To do all of those things we need to continue to have visible female leaders. It’s time we put our foot on the accelerator and speed up the change, go!”

For a list of all the winners of the Women in Travel Awards, go here. See if you can spot yourself in the photos from the event here. 

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