Diversity in leadership session helps start The Phocuswright Conference

Diversity in leadership session helps start The Phocuswright Conference

The Phocuswright Conference is all about igniting solutions and collaboration among global travel leaders and innovators.

So it’s natural that when the event kicks off Monday at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida, one of the first sessions would focus on a topic that’s a concern for every business: diversity in leadership.

Research by the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company has consistently shown that the relationship between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance has strengthened over time. And while travel companies have been making great strides in that direction, it’s clear no one has all the answers.

The afternoon session will bring together diversity advocates to share DEI — diversity, equity and inclusion — initiatives they have implemented in their organizations.

Hosting the session is Kimberly Newbury, vice president of sales at Phocuswright.

“We know this is an important issue for all companies, and we know that an inclusive culture is increasingly a competitive advantage,” she said. “We do this work because we are in a unique position to be able to bring senior executives and industry leaders together to share initiatives they have implemented in their organizations — and across the industry — to address issues related to diversity and inclusion. Our purpose for this of initiative is to showcase DEI initiatives that work and to foster communication and implementation of projects that will benefit all of us.”

The session includes a panel discussion with Newbury; Melissa Maher, CEO and founder of Pinnacle Enterprises Group; Jessica Patel, senior vice president at TripArc and Stuart Greif, the executive vice president of strategy and innovation at Forbes Travel.

To get more insight into the topic, PhocusWire queried some of the diversity advocates taking part in the program. Here are some highlights from their responses.

How diversity of thinking can lead to action

Melissa Jurkoic is the chief experience office at Thynk, a hospitality technology provider. She said true innovation — or real change — doesn’t happen where diversity doesn’t exist.

“I have been in rooms with people who don’t challenge each other and in rooms where there is conflict and passion. I promise you the best ideas came from the rooms where people did not all agree. It’s not just as simple as throwing different people in a room and innovation is born. It’s also not just about the dimensions of diversity — race, gender, age, etc. — as an ingredient. It’s the diversity of thought that matters. You need a group that won’t accept ‘we’ve always done it this way,’ and embrace out-of-the-box thinking. These two things sprinkled with a healthy dose of conflict create the environment to do things differently and breeds innovation.”

Fostering conversations that lead to progress means bringing together people who won’t necessarily agree, at least at first.

“We need to ensure the conversations are not just isolated safe spaces because, just like innovation requires diverse perspectives, so does real change. If we could do this in segregated groups of like people sharing the same dimension of diversity, then there would not be a problem to solve. What we can truly do better is raise the level of action to meet the level of conversation we have been having for decades on this topic. Let’s take action.”

The importance of taking measure of DEIB goals

Demi Horvat is the CEO at AirDNA, a data and analytics company that tracks short-term vacation rental data. Her company refers to their policies as DEIB – for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

The company made the decision early on that DEIB was a strategic priority, so it developed five-year and one-year goals while making commitments to initiatives to help attain those goals.

A sampling of those initiatives:

  • Unconscious bias training
  • Equitable interview training
  • Audit of job descriptions for inclusive language
  • A process to diversify the talent pipeline to ensure all roles have diverse candidates
  • Creation of a DEIB committee
  • Creation of an apprentice program to create a path into the engineering and product teams for individuals with non-traditional backgrounds

It wasn’t enough just to put in place policies that sounded good on paper, Horvat said. “We wanted to ensure that the efforts we took produced results we could celebrate versus checking a box without actually driving positive change.”

No surprise then that the company developed key performance indicators to gauge its progress.

“As a data business, we’re strong believers in ‘You can’t improve what you don’t measure,’ so it was important to us for those initiatives and long-term goals to be measured so that we could hold ourselves accountable,” she said.

Among the KPIs:

  • AirDNA conducts an employee satisfaction survey twice a year that includes a set of questions around DEIB. After measuring a baseline, the company set public goals for improvements to those scores each year.
  • The company also set a baseline for the team’s composition and committed to improving things like gender balance in leadership roles and on technical teams as well as representation of individuals who identify as BIPOC.

“At AirDNA, measuring our impact and holding ourselves accountable has been the key to ensuring we’re driving real impact versus ‘feel good’ initiatives,” she said.

Parallels between the empowerment of travel and DEI initiatives

After being stranded in Morocco in the early days of the pandemic, Vanessa Karel found herself wishing for a service that could help women navigate their global adventures with greater peace of mind.

“I experienced a lot of scary and unfortunate situations,” she recalled. “These instances lead to a lot of women not wanting to travel solo or unaccompanied.”

From that experience, in 2021 Karel founded Greether, a travel marketplace that connects solo women travelers with female “Greeters,” who help them book and navigate their journeys. She’s already seen the impact the service can have on clients.

“It makes them feel capable of experiencing joy on their own, feeling independent, giving them confidence and literally empowering them,” said Karel, who is also Greether’s CEO. “We have so many stories to share, from senior women who really wanted to see Paris but didn’t have someone to go with them, to one of our first angel investors who decided to invest after her very first trip and realizing that our services mean open doors to countries that she didn’t feel confident to go to before.”

What does any of that have to do with DEI? Just as travelers can feel empowered by their far-flung adventures, employees can feel free to speak up and share ideas when they’re in an environment that values diversity, equity and inclusion. Only then, Karel believes, can the most creative thinking occur — just as it did for her in Morocco.

“Think about how when something goes wrong in life, you think of ways to never have that occur to you again,” she said. “It might be a weird analogy, but the same thing happens with diversity and inclusion — different people and backgrounds in your team opens you up to opportunities to tackle challenges differently, to acknowledge the privileges or disadvantages that you constantly face. It allows you as a leader to see the world with a fresh pair of eyes and connect on a human level.”

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