By Diane Bouzebiba, managing director Amadeus, UK and Ireland
I was offered the position of managing director of UK and Ireland for Amadeus, the global travel technology company, at the beginning of this year.
I’m well aware that this puts me in an unusual position: recent research has shown that women still hold fewer than a third of the most senior positions in the UK.
Those readers who already know me personally, will know that the “glass ceiling for women” debate drives me to distraction, as I think we need to make clear that success needs to be based on merit, rather than anything else.
However, it is still the case that in 2012 women have to fight for an acceptable level of representation in boardrooms and industries across the business spectrum – including the travel industry, where only 18% of the female workforce is employed in senior or management positions.
I don’t think thought that the travel industry is unusual in having few women at senior levels; it’s something that’s common across British business.
But I believe that equal representation of the sexes at the top levels of business will greatly enhance decision-making, as well as diversity of opinions and ways of achieving our objectives. We all have a great deal to gain.
In writing this article I wished to share my own personal experience in the hope that it will spark debate – or at least some thinking about this question.
I do believe that my male colleagues can gain as much insight from this as my female counterparts.
At the very start of my career, if I were the only woman in a meeting, it would be assumed that I would take the minutes, purely because of my gender.
I’m pleased to say that we’ve come a long way since then. But it takes total confidence in your abilities and a concerted determination to get to where you want to be.
The most important piece of advice I have been given in my career is to be completely sure that whatever it is that you’re saying is absolutely right.
Whether you’re advising a client, discussing an internal project with a colleague or reporting to your seniors, your professional legitimacy depends on demonstrating your credibility and expertise.
Know where your skill set lies, and never, ever say you’ll do something if you can’t deliver it – it will have serious repercussions for your reputation.
Be sure to use your support networks – both the existing structure that’s made up of your family and friends, but also the professional networks that are available.
It’s easy to dismiss these practicalities, but they’re still so important.
I’m incredibly lucky I have the support of a very understanding husband with a flexible job, and that I joined Amadeus when our children were older. Naturally, both of those things have made it easier to focus on my career.
It’s also important to interact with people with whom you share similarities, such as the women’s networking group that I am part of.
We have lunch once a month, and use each other for support. It means that as like-minded, ambitious women, we can get together to share our successes, offer advice and learn from our experiences.
And it’s worth remembering that sometimes, being a woman can work in your favour. I don’t mean that you should be using feminine wiles to make people feel good – behaviour like that will ultimately undermine your professionalism.
But know how to work in partnership with your colleagues, and identify the stakeholders you’re trying to reach.
Being a woman at a senior level in the travel industry means that you stand out, and standing out means that you can command more than the average amount of attention you need from people when you’re after their help.
The senior levels of business can be an intimidating place, whatever industry you’re in. But it’s possible to be direct about your aims and ambitions without being hostile.
Be demanding – of yourself as well as other people: but make sure you’ve taken the time to get those demands right. And listen to other people around you: ask for advice from more experienced colleagues, and get feedback from everyone who’ll give it to you.
I have high expectations of the people and organisations around me, but I’m also constantly asking for feedback. I want to know where and how I can improve, too.
Women in positions such as mine have a responsibility to do all we can to nurture outstanding female talent in the travel industry. Hopefully in ten years’ time, the travel landscape will look very different – because we all stand to gain.
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