Last week, I had the privilege of attending the inaugural gathering of the global Travel Industry Executive Women's Network, an organization that came to life as a LinkedIn group started by Frances Kiradjian in 2009.
Kiradjian, who also founded the Boutique and Lifestyle Lodging Association, started the network to raise awareness about the lack of women speaking at major travel industry events and, eventually, to further initiatives and programs for women in the travel, tourism and hospitality industries.
Over the years, the LinkedIn group has grown to more than 8,000 members, myself among them, each of whom Kiradjian personally approved. (Another 10,000 people who sought membership were declined.)
Held at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, Calif., the two-day conference included entrepreneurs, creative directors, designers and executives from hotels, sales, marketing, technology, wellness, destination market organizations and public relations.
Finding myself stuck in traffic on my way to Pasadena, I started wondering if a "female-oriented" conference would be vastly different from others I had attended. I have to admit that this was my first women-only event. After all, to participate in such an event would actually be to admit that I am a woman and might have a perspective and even needs that are different from my male counterparts.
I was excited to attend as a speaker and get involved in this conversation but a bit pessimistic at the same time. I'm not typically an "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar" type, yet I'm acutely aware of the unique challenges we women face and the sometimes subtle differences between how women and men are treated.
One of these subtle differences came up in a conversation at a July 30 networking event: Have you ever noticed that men who leave work to go to a kid's soccer game/play/doctor's appointment are "great dads," but women who do the same are regarded differently?
And, as women, do we help each other out with regard to this issue, or do we tear each other down? I was suddenly intrigued.
July 31 included a full day of panels and speakers, with topics such as leadership, communication, finance, technology, education and wellness. Interesting and useful industry information, advice and insights were offered by women who had built businesses and long careers.
I couldn't help but notice, however, that several themes arose consistently throughout the day:
- Taking care of one's self is crucial.
- Giving back is a necessary role in your life and career.
- We need to support one another, not tear each other down.
- No one had followed a straight and narrow path to success. All kinds of obstacles were spoken about openly and honestly, which I found refreshing.
As a speaker at the event, I conducted an on-stage interview with Melissa Kitch, a partner and associate director from Ketchum Public Relations, whose recent study on communication and leadership styles suggested that, in her view, "The Future Is Feminine."
The Ketchum study found that most leaders today are not living up to expectations and that preferred leadership traits tend to be those most commonly practiced by women: transparency, willingness to admit mistakes, collaboration and the idea that a singular message is not effective.
Even with the knowledge that these traits are preferred, we found that many women have at one point or another taken on a decidedly male leadership style out of necessity -- a trend that Kitch thought we might see change in the future.
Our industry certainly has its share of strong female leaders and successful entrepreneurs, but an important take-away message from the conference was that we can still do more to help one another.
I was relieved to find that the event was free of complaining and big on advice, inspiration and great anecdotes. My favorite quote of the day was delivered succinctly by Edie Bornstein Rodriguez, president and COO of Crystal Cruises: "Failure is not in my lexicon."
That quote resonated with me. True, it could just as easily have been delivered by a man -- it just seemed more powerful coming from a strong, successful woman.
As publisher of Your Travel Insider and Luxury Cruise News, Angela Vogel heads the Consumer Travel Group of Northstar Travel Media, the parent company of Travel Weekly.