Women who want to move ahead in their careers must take risks, thrive through failure and talk the talk, according to three female business leaders on Monday at GBTA Convention 2018.
The business travel executives—Jodi Allen, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Hertz; Melissa Maher, SVP Marketing and Innovation at Expedia; and Traci Mercer, SVP of Lodging, Ground, and Sea at Sabre—participated in a Q&A session led by Dorothy Dowling, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Best Western Hotels and Resorts.
Each shared their insights on the unique challenges they faced as women arriving in leadership positions within their companies. Although their personal leadership journeys differ, their advice for women in the business travel industry coalesces around a few core themes:
All three women agree that taking risks early in their careers proved critically important to their successes. “The biggest challenge that women face is [not] being put into crucible roles where they’re learning new skills and pushing past their limits,” said Jodi. For leaders and companies, she advises working with women to draw them out of their comfort zones. “We strongly believe that diversity is a business builder,” she said.
Rising leaders must take risks, part of which, explained Melissa, is seeking out new opportunities. “Ask for what you want,” she advised, echoing the same advice her mother bestowed upon her in high school. “Rarely will leaders say no when you’re wanting to take on more responsibility,” she argued.
Thriving Through Failure
An essential side effect of risk—failure—is key to advancing personally and professionally, the panel agreed. “When you are someone who rises within a company, your mistakes are on display for everyone,” said Dorothy, underscoring why women often avoid taking risks. “It’s not okay to fail—it’s imperative that you fail,” added Traci. “If you don’t fail and don’t fail early, you’re going to be so scared of failure as you go later in your career,” she continued. “It’s going to paralyze you from taking risks,” which “will limit your ability to go forward,” she explained. “I’m a big believer that you learn the most from failures.” “You need to be able to pick yourself up quickly and move forward,” echoed Jodi. Melissa suggested finding sponsors who support you if a risk leads to failure.
Talking the Talk
While it may sound cliché, these female leaders agreed that talking about diversity—and setting the example with women as leaders and board members—is key. For women looking to grow in their careers, they stress the importance of seeking out partners, mentors, and sponsors for support and guidance. Developing a different perspective and stepping out of comfort zones helps too, they said. “Every opportunity you get, meet more people, go more places, read more things,” said Jodi. “Using partners is a wonderful way to do that.”
For executives and companies, Traci advises using metrics to lead difficult discussions around diversity and inclusion. “Numbers can neutralize,” she said. “Measure it and talk about it.” She also encouraged companies to engage female employees, citing a women’s engagement group her company initiated. Discuss why diversity is important to your company and include men on that conversation, as difficult as that may be, advised Melissa.