Events

Women in Travel Awards winners’ circle: Siobhan Foley, Accenture

If you haven’t entered the Women in Travel Awards yet or nominated all the incredible women you work with, we’ve got good news for you!

Entries don’t close until Tuesday 17 April at 5pm (AEST), so you still have some time up your sleeve.

Submit your entry now HERE and/or nominate one of your peers HERE. And for more information on the awards, click HERE.

HOWEVER! We strongly advise you don’t leave your application(s) until the last minute, as spruiking yourself can be a daunting task which can only be made worse under pressure.

To give you some inspiration to get cracking, we sat down with Siobhan Foley, global strategic partnership lead for mobilty at Accenture Australia, and winner of the Corporate category at last year’s Women in Travel Awards.

Here’s what she had to say:

TW: How has winning at last year’s Women in Travel Awards positively impacted your career?

SF: This award has given me something special. It has given me the strength to share my story – my story of being a female executive at Accenture, who has ADHD and who is also is a mother of an incredible autistic daughter. This award allows me to share my message that the differences that we bring to the table make us special. It allows me to start a conversation that I hope others will join.

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

SF: I grew up in the Blue Mountains and when I was eight, my father took me back to Ireland via Tokyo. You can imagine Tokyo in the 1980s and how that must have looked to an eight-year-old from Springwood. I was so enamoured by the people and the culture that I did an Asian studies degree and studied Japanese and Mandarin. From that moment, I knew I would somehow be involved in travel.

The moments that we have when we travel can have a profound impact on your life. I remember the flight attendant from JAL taking me to the cockpit and I met the captain and he gave me a plane and a badge. I remember the kindness. I remember people touching my hair. I remember my beautiful father taking to me about Japan and the humility of the Japanese people. I remember him talking to me about Hiroshima and I remember feeling a sadness that I have never felt before. Travel gives you empathy, understand and acceptance.

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

SF: When I finished university, I did a hotel management traineeship. I remember back then there were no female general managers in the hotel group that I worked for, so there has certainly been a shift in the opportunities that are available to women, especially in leadership positions.

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

SF: There are women in the industry – in sales, for example – where there is an expectation to be available in the evenings for events and client entertaining. These women miss out on being home for their families and they feel they have to hide their family commitments in order to get ahead; where they feel they have to leave their personal commitments at the door.

Yet in 2018, Accenture did some great research called When She Rises, We All Rise. It found that if organisations we able to succeed in creating a workforce culture that fosters equality, when they “not just accelerate career advancement and pay for women, they will also improve career progress for men”. The research found that policies and practices targeted at women can actually be counterproductive. For example, if a company implemented a maternity leave policy alone, it was likely to hold women back from career progression. However, when companies encourage parental leave, the negative impact on women’s career advancement is eliminated completely. Underpinning these policies was a bold and diverse leadership team that sets, shares and measures equality targets openly, and one that has a culture of trust and respects the individual.

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

SF: I remember when I started working in hotels, there was one hotel where I wasn’t allowed in the chef’s office because I was a female. The male chefs could go in, but they didn’t allow me in out of “respect”, as there were pornographic posters behind the door. I believe that this wouldn’t happen today, but it wasn’t that long ago that this was the norm, even in five-star hotels in Sydney. It was the norm that chefs would scream at you and I remember being terrified.

But, I know the moment that I overcame this … when I knew the company I was working for adopted a zero-tolerance and no-retribution policy. I remember my manager aggressively yelling at me and I remember this sense of calm, and I said to him, “The way you are speaking to me is inappropriate and I am going to end this call now.” The company had boldly told me that I had the right to do this without retribution and it gave me the courage to not accept inappropriate behaviour.

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

SF: Two things. We need to have conversations; we need to tell our stories. I wrote a blog for Accenture about being a working mum and having a daughter with autism. I wrote this blog because my daughters are my world and they are both incredible, but there are days where I think that I am failing because I feel like I’m dropping balls all over the place. There are days when I have to leave to pick up my daughter from school as she’s not doing too well, and there are days when I work from home and I’m still in my PJs at 3pm in the afternoon because I’ve been on conference calls from 5am. Then there are days when I’m in New York and I’m pinching myself and thinking, “Look at me, just a girl from the Blue Mountains who was working in her PJs last week.”

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

SF: I think it’s not that simple. I know one organisation that had targets in place, but the gap in pay was still significant. What was happening was that when they hired experienced males versus females, the men were negotiating harder on salaries, or were coming in on higher salaries from their previous organisations. I think we need some bold males to take up flexible working conditions and talk about having to leave early to take their daughters to ballet.

I also think we need to make this topic part of every meeting. I was recently at some training at Accenture. Our country managing director, Bob Easton, stopped mid-sentence and looked around the room before saying, “Men, I want you to look around the room right now. The men in this room are doing all the talking. I need you to be champions of change. I need you to stop and be mindful of your female colleagues in the room and in meetings in the future and encourage their input.” And then he spoke to the females and he said, “Ladies, I need you to turn down the humility and turn up the bravery.” I’m not going to lie, I had to secretly wipe away a little tear.

TW: What advice do you have for those wanting to enter this year’s awards?

SF: Tell your story. Turn down the humility and turn up the bravery.

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