Mieke De Schepper, the APAC managing director of global travel technology company Amadeus, is one of those women who has made her way above the mean. Her take on equality is simple: "Ensuring gender parity across leadership and the workforce is critical for a thriving travel industry, as it represents the growing diversity of the world’s travellers today."
Seventeen years of managing business-to-commerce and business-to-business firms has given her plenty of experience and a position from which she can offer insights into how women can make progress in this industry.
She has also worked for the Expedia Group, where she was senior vice-president and and chief commercial officer of Egencia, the group's corporate travel brand. Before that she was with Phillips Electronics for a while.
iTWire: How does one go about moving up the corporate ladder in an organisation like Amadeus?
Mieke De Schepper: I’ve never seen the benefit of looking at your career as “climbing the ladder”. Rather, I believe your career should be viewed as climbing a mountain; the fastest way is not always straight up and often requires lateral moves. However, I do believe there are some essential steps to building a solid foundation to support women – and men – in their career development.
First, the company needs to have talent nurturing and leadership programs for men and women. Amadeus has a Leadership Competency Framework which maps development opportunities and forms an integral part of all recruitment, promotions and assessment processes. This helps to combat unconscious bias and gives all employees the chance to grow personally and professionally. Research has found that the biggest barrier for women rising to leadership positions in the travel industry is the absence of a leadership plan to cultivate talent, so its important businesses have formal processes in place.
Second, women looking to propel to the top leadership positions should seek support from mentors in the organisation and in the wider industry. In my opinion, mentors are essential to attract and retain high-potential talent, and accelerate leadership development and readiness. Amadeus has a number of structured mentorship programs, including personalised coaching programs for women, to help mentees build important connections and skills to enhance their career journey. I was fortunate to have been mentored by inspiring leaders, both men and women, who’ve encouraged me to push beyond what I thought was possible.
Yoriyuki Kashiwagi, executive officer, International Passenger Sales, Japan Airlines, with Mieke De Schepper. Supplied
Finally, embrace all opportunities. You never know where opportunities can lead you and what you’ll learn along the way. It’s the most daunting roles that you grow the most from, and they’re the ones that will open up the next opportunity for you. This might mean putting your hand up in the boardroom or participating in conferences and corporate activities. Showing others that you are game to learn a new skill or improve your capabilities speaks volumes about your work ethic and desire to be part of a team.
Do you find it easier to lead a team that is mostly women or one that is mostly men?
I don’t find it easier or harder to lead a team that’s made up of mostly men or women. Rather, I adjust my leadership style based on the individual and their personal and professional needs, so that all team members can excel and do their best work. This enables me to lead more inclusively, embracing individuals’ unique ideas and ideals to build a more inclusive culture. I am also a strong believer in enabling people to find the work-life balance that fits their lives and proving more flexible working opportunities for both male and female employees. This helps to create an even playing field where men and women can thrive, helping team members to better manage their work and family commitments, and lead to quality work and successful outcomes for the business.
How do you deal with sexual harassment in the workplace?
First and foremost, leaders must communicate a clear zero-tolerance message to employees on sexual harassment. This should be a top priority for all companies. This policy needs to be supported by comprehensive guidelines that clearly define what sexual harassment is, and that such conduct is unacceptable and has serious repercussions for the offender.
There should also be a clear mechanism for employees to raise complaints of sexual harassment and a mechanism for dealing with those complaints effectively. Leaders should take steps to bring transparency and accountability to policies and investigation processes. Providing employees and management with sexual harassment, unconscious bias, gender communication and team collaboration education is also an effective way to take immediate action.
Has there been a drop in this kind of behaviour after the #MeToo movement started in the US?
Over the last few years we have seen women speaking out, having the courage to come forward and tell their stories, and this has driven greater awareness of the sexual harassment and misconduct across all industries. As a result, we’ve seen diversity and inclusion in the workplace become core values and priorities for organisations.
Today, almost all companies are implementing tools and initiatives that help prevent biases and stereotypes in the workplace, to instead encourage inclusivity, respect, acceptance and recognition of all employees.
What would your advice be to someone starting out in a big organisation like Amadeus?
Taking an interest in your personal development is important. When you first start a job, you should be hungry to learn as much as possible. New employees should look for learning and development opportunities at Amadeus to build new skills and certifications, and then actively track this progress. This will help you thrive and grow in our business.
As I mentioned, earlier, finding a good mentor when you’re starting out in your career can also be beneficial. Mentors can help your career progression by helping to hone your strengths and work on your weakness, so you can perform in your role more efficiently. It can also help to build your own professional network, which gives you a competitive advantage in the long run!
Is it important to attract more women into this profession? If so, why?
Ensuring gender parity across leadership and the workforce is critical for a thriving travel industry, as it represents the growing diversity of the world’s travellers today. Women across the world have growing spending power in the travel industry, with 80% of all travel decisions made by women. Therefore, women need to be incorporated in the decision-making process of the industry. Having women in leadership can also aid in the development of women safety-focused travel products and services.
There is much talk that diversity is good for the workplace. Do you agree or disagree?
Absolutely agree. We believe that a diverse workforce and an inclusive environment is critical to the success of our company, our customers, our shareholders, and for all the communities in which we operate. Having a workforce with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences and different ways of thinking, can push your teams to new heights of creativity and innovation, in the way they approach problems differently and emphasise with the end users in new ways.
Research also makes a strong business case for increasing the number of women in leadership in the tech industry, finding that female CEOs and senior positions leads to improved financial performance, better team dynamics and higher productivity. Gender-diverse tech teams also bring a number of business benefits such as addressing technical skills shortages by helping to attract and retain IT staff.