Author: Iris Serbanescu Founder of wmnsWORK, a tourism focussed accelerator for women and non binary individuals
It’s a question I used to ask myself over and over during my five-year tenure working with small travel businesses at a tourism marketing agency, where the clients we worked with were predominantly male-owned small businesses.
Throughout my career in tourism, I came to learn that within the travel industry, men have traditionally and historically been the ones to start businesses and rise to the top.
I’m certainly not the only one to recognize this.
A June 2022 report from Travel Weekly tells us that across the aviation, travel agency, hotel and cruise industries, men hold the top spot — and this has been backed up time and time again in everything from academic papers to industry-wide conferences.
While it’s not exactly shocking to hear about a male-dominated industry, it’s curious when you look at the stats within travel: women hold more than 60% of hospitality positions; more than 70% of travel agents are women; and according to the UNWTO’s Global Report on Women in Tourism, the global tourism workforce is 54% women.
Why, then, are the companies we travel with not run by women, when report after report tells us that women make the majority of decisions when it comes to travel? Why aren’t more non-male individuals, who clearly have the experience and expertise in this industry, going down the path of entrepreneurship?
It turns out, despite the fact that the travel industry is — in many ways — a woman’s world, much of the barriers holding women back are the same across all industries. The ingrained binary gender biases in our society range from the abstract (such as the notion that women are responsible for their home life) to the concrete (stats show women-owned companies raise just 2.3% of total venture capital).
There’s also a clear absence of support systems , as 48% of women entrepreneurs say they lack formal mentors or guidance. Moreover, according to research by the Wharton School’s Ethan Mollick, much of the reason that women do not launch their own businesses is because they lack the confidence — or overconfidence — of men. This is especially true when it comes to underrepresented or marginalized groups (BIPOC/BAME, LGBTQIA2S++, disabled, neurodivergent) who identify as non-male, who are faced with levels of covert discrimination that can impact their confidence and belief in their abilities to be successful in an entrepreneurial pursuit.
So how do we gain more confidence? Build more networks of support? Find others just like us who are taking big, inspiring risks? Tear down societal binary gender biases? Yes – and – we start by working together as an entrepreneurial collective.
Earlier this year, I founded wmnsWORK, a business accelerator in the tourism space focused on early-stage, women and non-binary entrepreneurs. Through weekly expert-led workshops, our small group cohorts learn topics like financing tourism businesses and digital marketing 101; but it is the peer support and one-on-one mentoring with successful women entrepreneurs that the participants say is the true magic of the program.
Together, we are creating new systems that support and promote women’s entrepreneurship — systems that are built around remaining confident in our expertise, building networks of mentors and peers, and seeing others just like us forging their own paths – showing us that we, too, can do it.
I know the tourism industry — and all industries, for that matter — has a long way to go before women entrepreneurship becomes just as common as that of men. But I also know that we’re taking a step in the right direction. My hope is that someday soon, someone in my former position can say, “I love how many of our clients are women.”