5 things you can do today to empower women in travel technology

This op-ed appeared on Phocuswire on January 8, 2020. Read the full article here.

I am one of the lucky ones. At the age of 32, I happen to find myself at a mid-size travel tech company that is in many ways a unicorn. No, we’re not valued at more than $1 billion (yet!), but we are incredibly unique in another big, big way.

Nearly 40% of our technical roles are filled by women. It’s not unusual to hear two women discussing DevOps or SQL in the lunchroom, and we recently launched a “Women in Tech at iSeatz” profile series that will feature so many women it will be running through Q2 2020.

Considering women make up just 16% of engineers in the United States, the fact that iSeatz has somehow managed to beat the odds and is inching our way towards full equality is commendable. However, I’ve worked at my fair share of imbalanced companies, and I’ve heard war stories from the women who have come both before and after me.

From these countless conversations I’ve identified a few key things that you and your team can do today to help empower women, correct the historic imbalance and promote the diversity that studies show leads to higher business growth and long-term profitability.

1. Add women to your hiring committee - and not just the woman who works in HR

I recently attended a small industry roundtable. One of the women in the group had just been hired for a new management position in the engineering department of a large company. Their interview process had been long and rigorous, so she was thrilled to announce that she’d landed the job.

The group got to talking about interviewing. During her four rounds of interviews, not once had one of her interviewers ever been another woman. Going around the table it became clear that not a single person had been in a technical interview led or attended by a woman.

Not only can adding technical women to your hiring committee help new hires feel more comfortable, but a Simply Hired study has shown that women are more discerning of candidates’ decorum and soft skills when interviewing.

2. Recognize the value of women with non-traditional career paths

Many women come to technology or travel later in their careers. Statistics out of coding schools show 36% of graduates are women, compared to only 14% of computer science graduates at traditional universities. Since most coding graduates have a few years of professional experience under their belts, that may make it seem like women are “behind.”

 

One engineer I’ve worked with has bachelor’s degree in philosophy. All those courses in logic help make her great at debugging. Another one has a degree in art history. She may not be curating art exhibits, but her understanding of balance, proportion and the details that matter make her outstanding at interfacing with designers. Both of these women did not take a computer science course until their mid-late twenties.

Many companies, especially FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) companies, have reputations for only even considering candidates from Ivy League universities, with very specific degrees.

However, I think considering diverse backgrounds and resumes can help fast-track the pursuit of equality.

3. Give genuine, positive encouragement

Studies have shown that men and women fail roughly the same amount. However, women working in technology are much more likely to give up and choose another field after a significant setback, like a poor performance on a technical interview. Giving feedback and encouragement can help combat confidence-based attrition.

During the interview: Spend time in interviews balancing critical questions with positive statements to build confidence. Understand that interview jitters are normal. Interestingly, men are more likely to consider “nervousness” as a top detractor from a candidate (see the Simply Hired study linked above).

When candidates are not a fit: If your HR policies permit, send a quick email with some actionable feedback about what they can do to improve, not just the “we’ll keep your resume on file if we find another position” email.

Half of female managers say they have feelings of self-doubt about their job worthiness, compared to less than a third of men. Feedback, encouragement and positive words can go a long way towards bridging the “confidence gap” and keeping women in challenging, male-dominated environments.

4. Be thoughtful about company perks

At most tech companies, video games, foosball tables, and kegerators are de rigueur. Not that I don’t love a good game of Ms. Pac-Man (perhaps the most visible digital woman of all time), but none of these perks really speak to my unique, feminine interests. 

Have you surveyed female employees about their interest in hard and soft perks? Obviously benefits such as maternity leave and paid childcare speak to women who often serve as primary caregivers. However, why not look at your soft perks from a female angle as well?

Things like yoga, meditation, dry cleaning and potlucks all sound very appealing to me. A few women at my office started a weekly Francophone lunch session for French speakers and French learners. How powerful would it be for a company to sponsor a French tutor to join these sessions once a month?!

Simply crafting an office culture that expands beyond “brogrammer” culture can help provide women the best context to thrive. 

5. Encourage women to speak at conferences

It’s time for women to get visible. As I wrote this from The Phocuswright Conference, I was excited by the number of female CEOs and founders I saw take the stage in the Dragon’s Den, some of them leading extremely technical companies working in AI and big data. Hell yes!

But on-stage representation from big companies is still skewing overwhelmingly male. The current ratio of men to women at tech conferences is 1:4. Let’s put more examples of female leadership front and center.

If you run a panel, consider setting a target of 40% or even 60% female speakership. If you run a company that’s regularly asked to speak, consider asking your female executives if they would like to speak, or how marketing can help them build their personal brand. If you’re a frequent speaker, ask how many women will be on panels you’re attending. Everyone can help advocate for equality of voices at the table.

 

And don’t limit their involvement to just panels on diversity and women. Although I love speaking about women, empowering women, fostering communities of amazing women, I also love speaking about hospitality marketing, and the post-OTA future of booking and innovative loyalty programs. I will absolutely talk your ear off about using machine learning to drive personalization.

Why it matters

I love this quote from Rachel Tipograph, founder and CEO of MikMak.TV:

“When you enter tech, you realize that there are more men than women. You can’t deny that. But, I don’t think you can make that an obstacle. You need to ignore the naysayers (of course there will be naysayers) and surround yourself with [people] who believe in you.”

So much of the narrative is around women surrounding themselves with support. But also important is how we, as women and men, can help be that support.

Individuals and companies can take action to solve this imbalance, and there is such great incentive for them to do so. Companies with more female leaders perform better - higher margins, higher return on equity and superior sales growth.

In my opinion, we can’t afford not to do these things.

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