EyeforTravel San Francisco 2018

April 2018, San Francisco

Women on top: in conversation with the CEO of Booking.com

Hearing what Gillian Tans has to say about women in travel seems a fitting way to end a month where gender equality in the work place has dominated headlines

When it comes to gender diversity or, for that matter, diversity in a broader sense, Booking.com isn’t doing too badly. For one, it has a woman in the top job. Secondly, it’s global workforce is consists of 130 different nationalities, and 50% are women. The company is also proud, says Booking.com CEO Gillian Tans, that nearly 20% of its technology department are women.

“This figure is higher than in many large tech companies, though we are eager and committed to see this number go up further, alongside an overall increase in the number of women in the technology sector,” says Tans, who has been with the company for 16 years and stepped into the driving seat in April 2016. 

But Tans is pragmatic too. “At Booking.com, we have a high proportion of women working in both tech and non-tech roles, and are working to see the number of women in tech roles go up. But it’s worth recognising that the vast majority of jobs within technology companies are not technical jobs but encompass everything from management, sales, marketing, legal, HR, finance, operations and more.” 

And to be frank, “technology companies could not function without all of these skills and roles”, and she should know. Since joining the company in 2002, Tans has been involved in all aspects of the business including content, operations, marketing and sales. 

Gillian Tans, CEO, Booking.com has been with the company for 16 years 

Nevertheless, Booking.com is focused internally and externally on encouraging better gender diversity in tech roles.

Internal steps: The firm is tailoring talent acquisition, career development and promotion processes to women, and is enforcing HR policies that foster greater gender diversity. It also is actively developing female-focused hackathons and events designed to bring the female community together, as well as evolving a flexible working approach.

External moves: Looking beyond its own walls, the company has spearheaded a number of initiatives. It has launched an awards scheme for celebrating inspiring and successful women in technology, and a Scholarship Programme with two leading European universities, Oxford and Delft TU. It has developed a mentoring programme for women at leading tech conferences such as Web Summit and StartUp Grind, as well as joining the European Commission’s Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition with a pledge to encourage more women to learn tech skills.

A role for role models

One of the ways to further encourage more highly skilled women to join and excel in the sector is to support them through mentorship and serving as role models. While the mentoring programme for women at the 2017 Web Summit was a huge success and engaged hundreds of women stresses the need for more similar initiatives which bring together inspiring female entrepreneurs, tech business leaders and influential voices to lend their support.

Encouraging positive female role models and mentoring won’t be enough if businesses don’t take a strong stance in supporting gender equality

However, she has this warning too: “Encouraging positive female role models and mentoring won’t be enough if businesses don’t take a strong stance in supporting gender equality. Every business has a responsibility to continue the discussion openly, and make their own improvements.”

And as Krista Pappas, Vice President of Lola put it earlier this month: “There are still not enough women in leadership roles in travel or with board seats. We have work to do.” 

Gender boost

Businesses that focus on getting more women into leadership roles could reap the benefits in the future. According to a recent PWC study, women CEOs are more likely than their male counterparts to support technology innovation and to collaborate with entrepreneurs and start-ups in order to drive corporate growth and profitability. “Studies show time and time again that companies with more female leaders perform better,” says Tans.

Tans stresses that women must believe in themselves and not to be afraid of failure. “At Booking.com, we celebrate failures as opportunities to learn and grow. This one of the core values of our business – we try new things, we learn from these experiences and we continuously evolve,” she says. This fail fast approach may not always be easy, but, says Tans, “it is incredibly rewarding to be a female working at a technology company and in the fast moving travel industry”. 

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