In light of March 8th, deemed International Women’s Day, we sat down with TourismTiger’s Head of Projects, Jess Perry, to discuss the highs and lows of being a woman in a position of leadership. Here’s what she had to say.
Emma: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Jess: After finishing my studies (French and International Relations) in my native UK and Canada, I worked in a great London-based e-commerce business. While I loved the excitement of London life, my travelling itch needed to be scratched and that’s when I moved over to Santiago de Chile. In 2016, I started as a Content Coordinator at TourismTiger, and have spent the past few years moving up the ranks to Head of Projects.
Emma: What was your dream job when you were a child?
Jess: I wish I had a traditional answer to this one, such as a teacher, lawyer or astronaut but I’d definitely be lying. In all honesty, my dad used to work for an advertising firm and whenever I visited, every Christmas Eve, it was my favourite day of the year. The idea that you could be hands-on and involved in so many different projects at one time fascinated me – that way your day to day can never get stagnant, right? So I guess deep down I always knew I wanted to work in a fast-paced agency in an office environment.
Emma: What attracted you to the tourism industry?
Jess: Travelling, for sure. After uni, I travelled through southeast Asia and then on to Chile. Understanding the importance of tour operators in shaping travel experiences gave me insight into the industry and really sparked my interest. What’s kept me here, though, is the constant opportunity for growth. Tourism is a continually evolving industry, and with new trends and practices emerging, there is always something to be learned. At the moment, I’m researching accessible websites and the necessity for sites to be accessible for all, and last month I was looking into the impact of having an online chat feature on your tourism site on revenue – I feel lucky that researching these topics is part of my job and that I can take it wherever I see fit!
Emma: What do you enjoy about being in a leadership position?
Jess: I initially started as a Content Coordinator and learned the ropes under the guidance of Mat Newton, TourismTiger’s founder. Working directly under Mat meant I got to know the product really well and his enthusiasm for the company quickly rubbed off on me. It is fantastic to witness our progress and to see new ideas and processes take shape. Being at the forefront of our growth has meant we can choose the direction we take the company in and it is incredibly satisfying to see an idea you introduced take shape and propel the company forwards. I’ve also really enjoyed training staff and helping them achieve their goals, as you can learn a lot from your staff members.
Emma: What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
Jess: The thing with most female leadership roles is you’re often paving a path that hasn’t been paved before. There tends to be an underlying assumption that a man is in charge of a company, a team, even a project. Both in my personal and professional life I have encountered the belief that the final word should come from a male (and a woman’s word is sometimes surrounded by suspicion). That said, I have been lucky in my current role in that we have some truly professional clients, but there is still a bit to go for gender equality.
Emma: Does gender play a role in your day-to-day working life?
Jess: The web design industry is a modern one, and there tends to be more of an awareness of gender equality. We are very fortunate here at TourismTiger that the workforce is gender balanced, and in my daily working life most of our partner calls tend to reflect that balance, which is huge progress. Equality is always on the forefront of our minds, of course, and there are everyday nuances that can slip by if not checked. As the Project Team is now overwhelmingly female, we have proactively addressed references to the team, such as ‘the girls’, which hold negative or less capable connotations. We enjoy active discussions about the topic and try to ensure that there is a good balance in the workplace.
Emma: What do you think organisations can do to level the playing field for both men and women?
Jess: Something I have noticed is that too often women won’t apply for positions when they don’t feel they have all the credentials. You’ve probably heard of the confidence gap, and the figures don’t lie — men will apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, whereas women apply only if they meet 100%. As means of counteracting this roadblock, opening positions within the company, rather than externalising them, gives women the opportunity to move up the ranks based on performance and provides more opportunity for growth. This may be controversial, but from my experience, ratio/quota systems aren’t the best way forwards. By focusing on merit and rejecting prejudiced views of the role, I’ve found the hiring process to be a fair one – again though, that’s seemingly easier said than done in some industries.
Emma: What role have female mentors or role models played in your career development to date?
Jess: I could say Michelle Obama has inspired me, but my honest answer is my inspiration has largely come from a previous colleague who worked at TourismTiger. Having worked in mining in Australia, a very male-dominated industry, it was inspiring to see an empowered woman stand up for herself and not be afraid to address a man in a position of power. She challenged Mat (our founder) when she didn’t agree with processes that were supposed to be accepted as business practice and the results from her determination and questioning thought were outstanding. She wasn’t concerned about being liked, her focus was on improving the company and doing her job well – something that I’m definitely still working on.
Emma: What is your definition of success?
Jess: Happiness and a work-life balance. For me, a solid work-life balance was achieved once I felt I was doing a good job managing my team. A well-functioning team means less micromanaging and ensures everyone is much happier in the workplace. Everyone understands their role and projects run more smoothly. As a manager this is fantastic as you have time to focus on processes and ensuring your team is constantly striving to improve. I can leave work happy and satisfied knowing I’ve done a good job and that I have a solid team behind me.
Emma: What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
Jess: The confidence gap. Male-dominated industries can be difficult to get into, and this won’t change unless women start believing in themselves and applying for high positions. It is not all doom and gloom, though. Overall, a lot of the hard work has been done in the industry and although we are not fully there yet we have certainly begun to pave the way.
Emma: What advice would you give young women who want to get into a leadership position?
Jess: Apply for the role! Don’t fear the application or doubt yourself during the process. There are plenty of opportunities for women, but the first step is putting yourself out there. As my mum used to constantly tell me growing up; “you’ve got to be in it to win it”, and the logic there is indisputable.
Once in a position of management, steer clear of pressure to be likeable. As a general rule, women tend to be more concerned about pleasing everyone — both an important and dangerous trait. In a leadership position you have to separate your personal life from your professional life, and let go of the idea that everyone is going to like you. Don’t be afraid to come across “bossy” (note how that word is so rarely used to describe a male – I’m sure he would be called something like “determined” or “driven”) when you’re doing your job. Rather than a negative aspect of the job, giving both positive and negative feedback can be a powerful tool to encourage employees to develop their craft and become more confident in their work. This sentiment is mirrored in my favourite quote: “the harder you work the luckier you get” (Gary Player).
You’re here for a reason. Your ideas matter just as much as the next person, and you might just be the voice your company is missing.
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