As part of the global celebration for International Women’s Day 2020, ARC’s EVP, COO and CEO-elect, Lauri Reishus, shares about her experiences as a leader in the travel industry — examining how the industry has evolved, what travel organizations can do to support women, and where she sees opportunity for the next generation of female leaders.

How have you seen the air travel industry become more inclusive to women over the years?

The trend is very positive for women in leadership roles within the air travel industry. Like with other industries, it has happened slowly over time, but the progress is steady and has led to more inclusion across companies. What’s even more impressive is the change in areas that are historically male dominated. Three of the four major US airlines have women CIOs. We’re also seeing women head up sales, marketing, operations and finance across organizations in the industry These are all markers of progress, yet there is still room to broaden inclusivity of women at all levels of leadership – especially at the top.

What steps can travel industry companies take to further inclusion?

One of the best ways we’ve found at ARC is through empowering employees to develop their own initiatives. In 2019, we had a group of employees approach our executive leadership team about starting a group focused on elevating women in the workplace. This group, now known as WeARC, has done a great job hosting educational events, trainings, and developing a mentoring program that connects women in all our offices.

We’re also very fortunate to have leading airlines on our Board of Directors that have their own programs to promote inclusion and women in leadership roles. We’re able to look at what they do and incorporate these best practices into our own efforts. Again, it helps to have that type of guidance at the top of your company.

In an industry that employs many women, senior leadership still tends to be mostly male — especially in the technology-focused fields within travel. How can the travel industry foster more inclusion of women in senior-level leadership?

In my opinion, the key is to identify women with the aspiration, competency and commitment to excel, and to then provide them with a more diverse set of opportunities as part of well-designed leadership development program. In addition to functions such as marketing, HR and operations that tend to be well-represented by female leaders, these programs should encourage women to develop and broaden their skills in technology and other areas where less well represented. Part of that must be looking at the skills they currently possess and helping hone them to be prepared for a specific functions and next-level leadership.

Are there any barriers you see inhibiting women from rising in the air travel industry?

My view is we should all focus on what we can control. While I am sure barriers have and do exist in some places, whether conscious or unconscious, I’ve found that trusting your expertise, building great teams, embracing challenge and delivering results is the key to professional growth. If you’re doing all that and its not getting you the recognition and opportunities you’re seeking in your current organization, take your talents somewhere else! I promise you, they’re in demand.

How does ARC’s company culture support women?

A core value of our culture is fair treatment. We review salaries by role and gender to ensure fair pay parity. With regard to our hiring practices, we’re committed to making leadership positions open to competition and to doing all possible to ensure a diverse slate of candidates for those open leadership positions. People from different backgrounds and experiences bring different skills to the table so it’s worth the extra effort to pay attention to the diversity of the candidate pool.

A core value of our culture is fair treatment.
We review salaries by role and gender to ensure fair pay parity.

How important do you believe mentorship is in career development for women in the workplace?

In my opinion, there is no resource more valuable than a strong network of mentors. It is critical for career development for both women and men. It’s necessary to have that one-on-one exposure to get career advice and discuss problems from someone who has experienced them before.

And some of my greatest mentors were men. When I started in this industry, I was somewhat naïve in thinking that if I just worked hard and delivered good results that I would have no problem advancing in my career. A male mentor of mine taught me the value of what he called “internal marketing” – being able to promote your individual brand and share your successes with colleagues. This advice was invaluable to me at the time and is something I try to share with younger industry professionals today.

There are many ways for younger people to find mentors. Women in Technology is a great group for those women working in an industry where we’re historically underrepresented. They have great leadership development programs that provide executive training and one-on-one mentoring. I mentioned WeARC, which created a mentorship program within the company and connected more than 20 mentees with eight mentors across our company. These connections are so important for young people in any industry.

What advice do you have for young women breaking into this industry or any other?

Know your strengths. Play to those strengths. The more people understand their own strengths and lean into them, the more successful they will be. For women, we often exhibit a strong collaborative nature, being team-oriented and pragmatic. Working off your strengths can set the foundation for future success.

Know your strengths. Play to those strengths. The more people understand their own strengths and lean into them, the more successful they will be.

That doesn’t mean disregard your key development areas. We all have opportunity to improve and learn new skills. Recognizing what you easily succeed at while acknowledging areas where you can be better is a great way to show you’re willing to provide value while staying open to guidance from your colleagues and peers.