The Role of Women in the Adventure Travel Industry

The Role of Women in the Adventure Travel Industry

Dawn Repoli, executive director and COO for WINiT, gives insight into ATTA’s latest study on women and leadership in adventure travel By: Emma Weissmann
<p>Dawn Repoli, the executive director and COO for WINiT // © 2017 WINiT</p><p>Feature image (above): Women make up 60-70 percent of employees in the...

Dawn Repoli, the executive director and COO for WINiT // © 2017 WINiT

Feature image (above): Women make up 60-70 percent of employees in the tourism industry, according to a new report from the Adventure Travel Trade Association. // © 2017 Creative Commons user missbossy

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The Details

The Adventure Travel Trade Association


Gone are the days of women abstaining from the workforce and staying at home (and if Beyonce’s hit single, “Run the World,” is any indication, we know what they’re doing instead). Pop culture references aside, however, there’s no question that women have made strides to cement their role in the professional world.

The proof is in the numbers: Females now account for 52 percent of those employed in management, professional and related occupations, up from less than one-third following World War II, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And now these working women are solidifying their place on the front lines of the adventure travel and tourism industry, according to “Out in Front: Tracking Women’s Leadership in Adventure Travel,” a new report from the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA).

The study, which surveyed 263 ATTA members — 78 percent of them women — provides a glimpse into representation of women in the adventure travel sector, as well as the challenges they face. The report also provides recommendations for working toward and establishing professional parity in the workplace.

Key findings from the report include:
- Women account for 60-70 percent of employees in the tourism industry, according to data from the International Labor Organization.

- Thirty-eight percent of the adventure travel companies surveyed have female board members, compared to 11 percent of mainstream tourism and Fortune 500 companies. Despite this, women are still underrepresented in leadership roles in the tourism industry, both at the government level and within the private sector.

- Many respondents believe they receive equal pay and opportunities from their company when compared with male colleagues. However, they do not see this as a true representation of the adventure travel or greater tourism industry as a whole.

- Seventeen percent of respondents (the majority of them are women) said they had noticed examples of bias against women at their own company. However, many more respondents — 42 percent — have witnessed gender discrimination within the wider adventure industry. 

- Respondents believe that women who choose to become mothers still face significant challenges in career growth when compared with women who decide to not have children.

We chatted with Dawn Repoli, executive director and COO for WINiT, a nonprofit focused on improving the careers and lives of women in the travel, meeting, event and exhibition industries, to get her take on the report’s findings.

What was your initial reaction to the results of ATTA’s report? Was anything particularly surprising to you?
The results really reaffirm the importance of our mission at WINit. While the study yielded some positive indicators of improvement, it also confirmed that we — the industry — must continue with our work and commitment to drive change for women.

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of women in board positions (38 percent) within the adventure travel companies surveyed for this study. Perhaps this has something to do with the number of female-owned businesses.

Do the findings seem to be in line with what you have experienced?
I have not personally worked as an executive within a travel or tourism organization; however, all of our 3,000 members work in the industry and share their experiences with my team and me every day. 

Based on what we have learned from our members, I think the experiences of the respondents in the study reflect the experiences of many women in the travel industry. From a lack of formalized career development, leadership and diversity programs to limited opportunities for flexible roles to accommodate the demands of motherhood, women continue to face a variety of unique challenges that impede advancement and mobility. 

What do you believe are the greatest challenges to women working in the travel industry? How can they best overcome these challenges?
In an industry that has such a high number of females, the lack of female representation at the senior executive level is particularly concerning. There has been a lot of discussion, research and debate about the impact motherhood has on women’s career trajectories, their ability to achieve senior leadership roles and closing the pay gap.  

Progress is a process, and sometimes it happens to one woman and one organization at a time. Within WINiT, we have seen the direct impact that mentoring, sponsorship, education and networking have on advancing women’s careers. The more that women and men can support and initiate these types of programs, the greater the impact.  

What can our industry do better to achieve equal opportunities for men and women?
It all begins with awareness. Start the conversation — with colleagues, with human resource departments and with the leadership. It is critical to outline the issues women are facing within their organizations and, most importantly, work to develop programs and initiatives to shift from conversation to action. 

Also, make sure men are equally involved in the conversation. Having the support of men who are engaged and passionate about helping women grow and advance their careers is powerful and can help expedite change within organizations.

On the other hand, what is the travel industry doing especially well?
Studies like this are a positive sign of growing awareness within the industry. I see signs every day — because of conversations with our members and the unwavering support of our donors and partners — that the industry is recognizing the need to address gender parity. We have a long way to go, but I am seeing the impact that the passion and actions of truly committed individuals and organizations can have on people and issues. 

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