Fox World Travel, a male-owned company, was not on a mission to put more women in leadership positions. However, today women make up half of the company’s executive team and hold 74% of all leadership roles. Nearly two-thirds of women in leadership positions at Fox have been promoted from within.
That’s what happens when you invest in the growth and development of your employees, commit to removing barriers to women’s advancement, and embrace the benefits of business to bring diverse voices to the bargaining table, according to head of culture Audra Mead.
“It wasn’t really the result of strategic planning. Our leadership team really strengthens it organically,” Mead said.
In 2021, GBTA’s WINit recognized Fox’s positive track record in facilitating upward mobility for female employees by awarding the company an Achievement Award for “creating a corporate culture for women to advance and succeed.”
Fox World Travel is owned by CEO Chip Guedes and his father, David Guedes, son of the company’s founder. Headquartered in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the travel retailer was founded in 1960 and has 220 employees, 85% of whom are women. Its business mix consists of 80% corporate, 15% entertainment, and 5% meetings and incentives.
Travel Market Report I spoke with Mead to learn more about Fox’s approach to filling leadership roles. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
What is the importance of promoting women to leadership positions?
Med: Female leaders in positions of influence are great role models, which are crucial to women’s career advancement.
We believe that gender inclusion leads to greater organizational success. Having a variety of voices in a business discussion is invaluable. It generates a more diverse view of an organization in decision-making and strategic planning and provides a broader and clearer picture. I think it made us more creative.
Why is the advancement of women into leadership particularly important in the travel industry?
Med: The majority of associates or employees in the industry are women. But when you look at leadership positions, they don’t reflect that.
What are the obstacles?
Med: Culture is one of the societal barriers. They are also barriers within one [company] Culture and a lack of awareness of where the barriers are for women who want to advance their careers.
We’re talking about resilience, which should be table bets at this point after the pandemic. This was a major handicap for many women with a desire to move into leadership positions – flexibility was not there; It was not supported within the organization.
What did Fox World Travel do to push women to drive?
Med: We actively seek in-house talent for promotional opportunities, and encourage colleagues to step outside of their comfort zone to advance and enrich their careers.
A lot of that is succession planning – seeing what we have internally and how we can invest in these partners to advance their careers. We get a return on investment because we retain the talent and knowledge to move forward.
It starts with hiring the best person for the job. It really ensures that there are no barriers or obstacles for a woman to advance.
What is also important to your approach?
Med: Investing time to have conversations with individual employees: What do they want? What do they fear? “I don’t want to go for it because of X, Y, Z.”
Let’s understand it, and if we can eliminate it [obstacles] By providing in-house support through our learning and development team. And by encouraging networking within and outside our industry, and by creating mentors and coaching.
Let’s understand what are the things that can raise the bar for a woman who has that desire to advance in their career.
Say more about those conversations with individual employees.
Med: We expect all of our leaders to have one-on-one conversations with each of their direct reports at least monthly. The conversation should really happen all the time, because opportunities present themselves throughout the year.
It is important to know where the high performers are. Where do we need to invest? What opportunities are people looking for? Especially now, when retention is so critical, those conversations matter so much.
Through those conversations, “What do you want out of your career? Do you have any interest in a leadership position? Possible and possible not.”
So, what kind of opportunities can be provided for them to see if this is something they want to do? Is it a project leader, where they are responsible for a team of people? Do some research and create standard operating procedures and standard operating procedures? Training new colleagues? How can we enrich their current situation? What skill sets do we need to hone before they are ready?
Then, when the situation is ready, continue. Then we have them go through the entire interview process.
It doesn’t stop there. How do we continue to invest in it through our learning and development team, perhaps attending certain meetings, and being part of committees? It is that constant conversation that focuses on their needs and the needs of the organization and how to align them.
Do these conversations extend to frontline call center employees?
Med: yes. Single points of contact for engagement purposes are necessary for each position.
A good example of this is that we have two women growing from front-line support roles to positions on the Fox executive team over their 30 years at Fox. Since the first of this year, three working supervisors have been promoted to management positions – all three are women, and all three have been in support or agent/adviser type roles.
What is left to do at Fox?
Med: We can do better in career path, career development, in all positions. We are working on a plan for a more formal mentorship program and a stronger, deeper leadership development program.
What is your advice to owners of small travel agencies?
Med: Identify the barriers that need to be addressed. Have those conversations with individual colleagues. What do they want and what can we offer? What are the obstacles? It costs nothing – it’s time, but it’s good time.
You don’t have to have a lot of money to find free webinars. Is there a strong female leader in the organization who would be a great mentor or someone outside the organization?
And let this be part of the conversation. This is a big thing. Perhaps the organizations don’t talk about the advancement of women, about diversity and the promotion of inclusion, because they don’t know how, or it’s a taboo.
What can be learned from your example?
Med: The takeaway would be to ensure that we seize the opportunity to change the equation, to confront any persistent barriers to women’s advancement, both organizational and individual levels. It is recognizing the rules that are counterproductive within the organisation.
It encourages women to have mentors and coaches, provides the necessary educational and training resources for success, provides opportunities for excellence, and recognizes women’s leadership strengths.
And then to foster an environment that gives women who have a desire to advance opportunities to learn and grow, paving the way for them or helping them. It really is an investment in your people and realizing what each of them brings to the table.