IWD 2022 Guest Post: Time for gender equality pandemic reset in travel

IWD 2022 Guest Post: Time for gender equality pandemic reset in travel

Skyscanner’s Naomi Hahn reflects on how COVID was an opportunity to build back a stronger, more equitable travel sector

This International Women’s Day, Naomi Hahn, vice president strategy at Skyscanner, reflects on how the experience of the pandemic represented an opportunity to think deeply and build back a stronger, more equitable travel sector for employees of all genders

I joined Skyscanner just prior to the pandemic hitting, having had a reset of my own: a much-needed break between roles and an opportunity to spend time with my young family.

I came in full of energy and excitement, and thank goodness, because joining a travel marketplace at the onset of COVID meant that the next months were an absolute whirlwind.

While the pandemic has dealt the travel industry blows, it has also thrown up opportunities.

In times of calm seas (or more thematically, busy airspace), there’s sometimes less collective reason to challenge the status quo.

However, over these past two years have presented an opportunity to scrutinise business practice, reimagine best paths forward, dissect market positioning and challenge better ways of working for a diverse workforce.

Throughout this period, I kept asking myself the same question: ‘Just because we used to do something one way, does that mean it’s still the right way to do it?’

While operating in a pandemic has been challenging (professionally and personally) and taken huge levels of resilience, it’s safe to say I’ve learned a huge amount.

My biggest reflection is that we all have an opportunity as we go forward from this period to make our organisations better, smarter, and more equitable places to work.

Indeed, the experience we gained at Skyscanner as we refreshed our approach and the ways we work, built with input from 150-plus of our people, showed us that the more diverse a perspective an organisation has to pull on, the deeper and more thorough the outcomes will be.

Building a more equitable company undoubtedly has commercial benefits too: the Edelman Trust Index has shown consumers now prefer – and expect – brands to be purpose driven, act with integrity, and, where possible, look to make the world a better place.

Business must seek to understand what is most important for their consumers and embed these into strategy.

For Skyscanner, the past few years have seen us create roles across Culture, Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Accessibility and Sustainability – all areas our people, travellers and partners care deeply about.

And we’re starting to see the fruits of our labours, with publicly made commitments on increasing numbers of women in leadership and technology positions, which we’re pacing well to hit. Women now make up a third of our director-level and above population.

We’ve also augmented our engineering recruitment processes, seeking to target more career changers through social enterprises like Code First Girls and coding academy Code Clan.

We launched more employee networks throughout the pandemic, introduced new anti-racist training, joined disability inclusion community Valuable 500, signed the Glasgow Declaration on climate action and more widely, adapted our policies.

And, as we continue our work on being the most inclusive employer we possibly can be, we were elated to last month to have been awarded Gold Level Employer status by Stonewall for LGBTQ+ Inclusion (as well as being rated second in the Leisure, Travel and Tourism sector).

Listening carefully to our stakeholders and adapting our approach in response has always been at the core of how we act and will remain at the forefront as travel begins to bounce back.

The industry needs to differentiate itself – yes, it has been hit hard by the pandemic, but we continue to be an exciting sector for people’s careers to grow, for investment and for innovation. Becoming a more equitable sector is a key part of this long-term attraction piece.

The reset brought about by the pandemic is also an opportunity for businesses to take a hard look at which values helped them get through this period.

Those are the values we should be dialling up and integrating into ongoing strategy – they’re the ones that will set you apart and above your competitors.

Looking at how this played out for Skyscanner, our own regular employee feedback surveys across the pandemic showed the importance employees placed on our empathy and respect value; our highest scores centred on where employees felt their wellbeing was looked after, and, perhaps relatedly, that they were proud to work here and that they’d recommend us as employer to others.

With that in mind, we’re implementing several policies and learnings gained over the last two years to ensure we continue to be an attractive place to work, for a diverse range of people.

In practical terms, this can look like additional flexibility in working practices, implementing a hybrid return to office scheme as well as encouraging part time working (as a mum of three, I have personally really benefitted from this).

At a leadership level, we now strictly ensure key sessions, such as company-wide briefings and board meetings – don’t clash with things like childcare pick up times, school holidays and individual commitments outside of our professional working lives.

Every team across our business has undertaken a session to table out their weeks, cross-referencing commitments (inside and outside of work), to ensure that when teams return to offices part time, we’re doing it in the most equitable way we can, considering individual circumstances.

Not only does this support working parents/carers, it helps where teams are not co-located, where time-zones are a challenge, or when someone has additional personal considerations. In short, this approach is just one way of making our workplace more equitable.

Today, on International Women’s Day, I’d urge you to look at what silver linings from the pandemic you can seek to bring into your organisation’s ‘new normal’.

There is no doubt that the last two years were incredibly challenging in so many ways and taught us valuable lessons. What have you learned from remote working that can better support your employees, even when office working returns?

What values saw you through this fluctuating time and can be built upon to create a workplace that engages and inspires everyone, regardless of gender, location or any other identifier?

How can you best revisit your strategy and approach and bring greater diversity of insights into your organisation?

The pandemic has re-engaged us all in the importance of not being a bystander – we all have a role of allyship to play in making our world a more equal place.

I’d love to hear how others are finding success in these areas and look forward with real excitement to the travel sector building back, stronger and better than ever.