Growing Confidence Through Empowerment: What Women Need to Advance in Travel

Cady Wolf shares her top five ways for empowering women.

November 20, 2019

This article originally appeared on Phocuswire. Cady Wolf, Vice President of Commercial Strategy at Sojern, shares her top five ways for empowering women.

If you know me, you know I’m a big believer in meritocracy and the idea that the things we have in life should be earned based on skills and hard work. However, as a woman who is an executive in the travel industry, I know that men are 70% more likely to hold executive positions compared to women. But is it the system, the industry or something else? In reality, it may be a combination of a lot of things, but industries, people and office environments are all different - and it’s our job to step up and get the things we want.

Over the course of my career, I’ve been on the receiving end of some great advice by both men and women, and I’ve worked hard to return the favor to others. I’ve also helped develop and grow some incredible talent in the travel industry. During that time, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to work smarter, sell my personal brand and empower other women all at the same time. Here are my top five ways women can empower themselves - and each other - in the travel industry.

Have Someone’s Back

In the workplace, confidence is key, but it can often take years to get there. Studies show that women’s confidence increases more with age compared to men, putting greater importance on the early years of our careers. Think about it this way: If women aren’t as confident during those years, they’re potentially missing opportunities to be heard while male coworkers are unafraid to say what’s on their minds.

And studies show they are: When compared to men, women in entry-level positions are more likely to spend five or more years stuck in the same role. In meetings, I’m generally the person in the room who stands in the back to take it all in and gather my thoughts before I express ideas, while many of my more extroverted male colleagues tend to form their thoughts as they’re speaking.

When we step out of our comfort zones to deepen relationships and meet new people, we open up new doors in our careers.

I’ve found that women like to speak with well-formed ideas, afraid that saying the wrong thing or asking the wrong question might make them lose what power they have. For managers, it’s important to recognize this and find ways to support women as they build confidence. Often, when I meet with a woman outside of a group meeting, we have an open conversation that is crisp and articulate.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate into the bigger meeting. When this happens, I prompt them to discuss what we spoke about earlier and show public support along the way. By finding ways to nurture my team and help them grow their confidence, it helps them overcome the fear of speaking up about their ideas - and gain the recognition they deserve.

Return the Favor

People often feel alone at work, particularly women. A McKinsey study found that one in five women say they are often the one woman in the room at work or one of just a handful of others. That number doubles for senior-level women and women in tech. Mentoring is a great way to combat feeling like you’re “the only one in the room.”

During my career, I’ve been a mentor and a mentee to multiple people, all of whom have changed and shaped my career. When I was at Travelocity we had an informal mentoring program and it was an amazing experience. I believe so much in mentoring that I helped start a women’s group at Sojern last year to help foster support and global collaboration for women across the company. Mentoring helps women offer support to (and not compete with) each other, look for ways to add value to the organization, uncover strengths and share ideas in a safe environment.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being mentored, think about returning the favor and doing so with an open mind and open ears.

Socialize Ideas

Getting recognition at work or the next promotion often involves taking some risks. However, many women are hesitant to take risks, particularly the bigger ones. According to KPMG, 69% of women are willing to take small risks, yet only 43% will take bigger risks to further their careers. It could be because some women feel like their credibility is in jeopardy if they’re wrong, or it’s possible that feeling like “the only one” breeds hesitation. Fortunately, I work with an amazing team who is open and willing to hear ideas during meetings.

The fear of taking risks, especially in a group setting, is legitimate. But if the current meeting format or setting doesn’t work for you, change it. I like to socialize ideas ahead of time to create dialogue or seed questions, and I encourage my team to do the same. It helps them anticipate and prepare for landmines and helps mitigate the fear around taking risks.

Build Your Brand

It’s important to have internal advocates, but we can’t rely on other people to get the things we want. Only we have the power to build our brand, and that comes by building social and business credibility. Whether that’s through networking, facilitating informational meetings or stepping up and taking on additional projects, ultimately our success is up to ourselves.

A recent survey found that 85% of jobs are filled because of networking. From attending sponsored happy hours and serving on advisory boards to connecting with new and existing contacts via LinkedIn, email or in person, networking is anything we do to build professional relationships. While networking is uncomfortable for many, it’s a massive opportunity to build our brands both internally and externally. When we step out of our comfort zones to deepen relationships and meet new people, we open up new doors in our careers.

Lean on Soft Skills

In the workplace, it’s easy to underestimate the softer skills, such as emotional intelligence and intuition. But they’re critical for any team: A recent study found that women tested stronger than men in 11 of 12 emotional intelligence capacities, and those capacities all translate to effective leadership skills. Those types of soft skills are honed over years of experience and are not always as prevalent in male-dominated teams. However, I often find myself relying on them to make critical business decisions.

For example, I’ve interviewed numerous candidates who looked great on paper, but I went with someone else because my intuition told me so - and those people were some of the best hiring decisions I’ve made in my career. For women in the travel industry, it’s important to lean on those soft skills and be confident in the fact that you bring a new perspective to the table. The travel industry is ripe with opportunity for women to step into leadership roles. By building each other up while cultivating our own paths, we can empower female leaders to speak up, break new ground and—ultimately—find success.

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