How to Advance More Women Into Leadership: Lessons From Fox World Travelby Marilee Crocker /
Fox World Travel, a male-owned company, was never on a mission to put more women into leadership roles. Yet today women make up half of the firm’s executive team and fill 74% of all leadership roles. Nearly two-thirds of the women in Fox leadership positions were promoted from within.
That’s what happens when you invest in the growth and development of your employees, commit to removing barriers to women’s advancement, and embrace the business benefits of bringing diverse voices to the table, according to chief culture officer Audra Mead.
“It really was not a result of strategic planning. It’s truly organically fostered by our leadership team,” Mead said.
In 2021, WINit by GBTA acknowledged Fox’s positive track record facilitating upward mobility for women employees by presenting the firm with an achievement award for “creating a company culture for women to advance and succeed.”
Fox World Travel is co-owned by CEO Chip Juedes and his father, David Juedes, son of the company’s founder. Headquartered in Oshkosh, WI, the retail travel seller was established in 1960 and has 220 employees, 85% of whom are women. Its business mix is 80% corporate, 15% leisure, and 5% meetings and incentives.
Travel Market Report spoke with Mead to learn more about Fox’s approach to filling leadership roles. Following is an edited version of our conversation.
Why does advancing women into leadership roles matter?
Mead: Female leaders in positions of influence serve as great role models, which is critical to the career advancement of women.
We believe that gender inclusiveness results in more organizational success. Having a diversity of voices in the business discussion is invaluable. It generates a more diverse vision for an organization in decision-making and strategic planning and provides a broader, clearer picture. I believe it has made us more innovative.
Why does advancing women into leadership matter specifically within the travel industry?
Mead: The majority of associates or employees within the industry are women. But when you look at leadership positions, it’s not reflective of that.
What are the barriers?
Mead: Culture is one of – societal barriers. It’s also barriers within one’s own [company] culture and not recognizing where the barriers exist to women who want career advancement.
We talk about flexibility, which should be table stakes at this point after the epidemic. That was a big barrier for many women who had a desire to move into leadership positions – flexibility wasn’t there; it wasn’t supported within the organization.
What has Fox World Travel done to advance women into leadership?
Mead: We actively seek internal talent for promotional opportunities, encouraging associates to step outside their comfort zone to enhance and enrich their careers.
A lot of that is succession planning – seeing what we have internally and how we can invest in those associates to further their careers. We get a return on investment because we retain the talent and the knowledge moving forward.
It starts with we hire the best person for the job. It’s really ensuring we don’t have barriers or obstacles for women to advance.
What else is important to your approach?
Mead: Investing the time to have conversations with individual employees: What is it they want? What do they fear? ‘I don’t want to go for that because of X, Y, Z.’
Let’s understand that and, if we can, eliminate those [obstacles] by providing internal support through our learning and development team. And by encouraging networking in and outside of our industry, finding mentors, and coaching.
Let’s understand what are the things that can elevate women who have that desire to advance in their careers.
Say more about those conversations with individual employees.
Mead: We expect all our leaders to have one-on-one conversations with every one of their direct reports at least monthly. The conversation really needs to be happening all the time, because opportunities present themselves throughout the year.
It’s important to know where are the high performers. Where do we need to be investing? What opportunities are people seeking? Especially now, when retention is critical, those conversations are incredibly important.
It is through those conversations of, ‘What is it you want out of your career? Would you have any interest in a leadership position?’ Maybe, maybe not.
So, what kind of opportunities can be provided to them to see whether that’s something they want to do? Is it being a project leader, where they’re responsible for a team of people? Doing some research and creating SOPs, and standard operating procedures? Training new associates? How can we enrich their current position? What are the skill sets we need to hone before they are ready?
Then, when the position is ready, reach out. Then we have them go through the entire interview process.
It doesn’t stop there. How do we continue to invest in them through our learning and development team, maybe attending certain meetings, being part of committees? It’s that constant conversation, focusing on their needs and the organization’s needs and how to match those.
Do those conversations extend to your frontline call center staff?
Mead: Yes. Those one-on-one touchpoints for engagement purposes are critical for every position.
A great example is that we’ve had two women grow from frontline support roles to positions on the Fox executive team over their 30 years at Fox. Since the first of this year, we’ve had three working supervisors promoted to manager positions – all three are women, all three were in support or agent/advisor type roles.
What’s left to do at Fox?
Mead: We can do a better job at career pathing, and career development, across all positions. We’re working on a plan for a more formal mentorship program and a stronger, deeper leadership development program.
What’s your advice for owners of smaller travel agencies?
Mead: Recognize the barriers that need to be addressed. Have those conversations with individual associates. What do they want, and what can we provide? What are the barriers? That doesn’t cost anything – it’s time, but it is time so well spent.
You don’t have to have a lot of money to find free webinars. Is there a strong woman leader in the organization who would be a great mentor or someone outside the organization?
And allowing this to be part of the conversation. That’s a big thing. Maybe organizations aren’t talking about the advancement of women, about diversity and promoting inclusiveness, because they don’t know how, or it’s taboo.
What can be learned from your example?
Mead: The takeaways would be to ensure that we are taking the opportunity to change the equation, to confront any persistent barriers to women’s advancement, both at the organizational and the individual level. It’s recognizing what counterproductive norms there are within an organization.
It’s encouraging women to have mentors and coaches, providing educational and training resources that are necessary for success, giving opportunities to excel, and acknowledging the leadership strengths of women.
And then fostering the environment that gives women who have the desire to progress opportunities to learn and to grow, paving the way for them or helping them. It’s really investing in your own people and recognizing what each of them brings to the table.