By BRUCE Piper
Last month the Australian travel industry — along with seemingly every other sector of the economy — held a series of celebrations of International Women’s Day. The cause has definitely struck a mainstream chord, with various groups falling over themselves in their enthusiasm to boost women in the workplace.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m completely against any sort of discrimination on the basis of gender — but it seemed that this year particularly, some of the rhetoric ran the risk of swinging the pendulum a little further than it needed to.
We were repeatedly urged to “drive for diversity,” and “redress the balance” to fight the scourge of gender bias, while celebrating the female industry leaders who successfully juggle high profile careers with fulfilling family lives.
I admit it — I am a man. But I have two highly accomplished daughters (not to mention a high achieving son), and my wife Jenny, although maintaining a fairly low profile, is in fact the key driver of the success of our business. I truly believe that men and women are absolutely equally capable of success both in their work and personal lives.
Last year a new closed Facebook group exclusively for Australian industry women was established, and took off like a rocket. Set up with the aim of providing a forum for encouragement and empowerment, the group quickly garnered almost 6,000 members who by all reports engage in lively discussions.
That’s terrific — but can you imagine the reaction if a similar group was established for men? I expect that it would prompt an instant backlash about elitism, sexism and “secret men’s business”.
In the travel industry, of all sectors, the word “balance” is perhaps inappropriate when it comes to gender in the workplace because it is such a female-dominated business. One of the major tour operators showcased the fact that 70% of its staff — including all of its senior executives across the globe — are women. Could that maybe signify that, at least in some areas, the battle for equality has been won?
What makes me a little uneasy, I suppose, is that the push for female empowerment might reinforce, rather than break, the stereotypes. Everyone — not just women — struggles for work-life balance. There are many men in travel who bend over backwards to parent children, take part in family life and are pulled in all directions trying to make it work.
Let’s encourage and empower success for all in this juggling act. Let’s harness the energy of this movement to lift up women in less fortunate industries, countries and cultures, where they really suffer from discrimination. And let’s acknowledge that sexism might sometimes be a two-way street. As the saying goes, “often, the best man for a job is a woman” — but sometimes it might be a man, too.