Note: Since founding Elevate Destinations in 2005, I have employed only women, who make up a majority of the workforce in travel. I don’t know if the following lessons I learned are specific to managing a woman-owned and operated company, but I am offering them up for your consideration.
1. Put people’s lives first.
I am a boss who is curious about the people who work for me. I like to know where they have come from, whatever they are comfortable sharing about their family lives, what they are going through at home, as well as their life aspirations. (Spoiler alert: not all of these are about work.) Being able to see work, roles, and jobs in the context of the things that are most real in people’s lives humanizes our work culture.
From leading an all-female team, I know that my staff will lose sleep and work hours when their kids are sick, their spouses are traveling, and their extended family is in crisis. For most families, women do the heavy lifting in terms of caretaking. They are deeply familiar with the commitment that this takes. Their knowledge and their experience of commitment carries over to how they do their job at work as well. As a boss, I try to honor the ecosystem each team member inhabits and the work-life challenges that are always present.
2. Intuition is at the core of our company.
As a high-end travel company that designs bespoke travel for each of our clients, we are rich in emotional intelligence. That is what it takes to do our job well. We listen. We respond. We translate our client’s sensibilities into travel experiences that match their dreams and desires.
This creates a work culture that is quite sensitive and gives us the capacity to be richly respectful of one another as well as the planetary issues that are wound into our work. Just as very little escapes our notice interactively in our workplace, as tourism professionals, we are increasingly mindful of our impact on every environment: social, cultural, and biological. A respect-rich work culture flows outwards, into ethical advocacy in the world. So at work, so in the world.
3. Trust your staff.
We think of management as oversight. As quality control. Maybe for some, just control. But the most liberating secret about management is if you truly trust your staff, there is a whole lot less on your own shoulders. You may not need a management-heavy company if you trust each person to do their job well. One secret to this is to encourage failure and allow everyone to make mistakes, share them, and learn from them.
Leading for longevity means not sweating the small stuff or thinking too short term. One of the reasons we have employees who have been with us since the company began is that I allow their life-flow into our company-flow. For instance, I know that if an employee has a baby, their time and attention will be elsewhere quite intensively for the first year or two. I figure they will find their stride and our company will be stronger for their personal growth. The workplace cannot be a thing apart from our biocycles as human beings. My teammates are multitasking superstars and thrive when they can create their own schedules.
4. Let go and let live.
I don’t yet have the guts to institute a four-day work week, even though I would like to. We are busy and it still feels too soon post-pandemic to go that radical. But I wish I could. I admire companies that permit unlimited vacation time, although this burdens workers with having to “prove” their commitment to their jobs and some end up never taking any time off!
Although we have yet to go this route, I have never questioned an employee’s timekeeping or how they track their hours. Need to walk your dog? Go for it! Yoga class in the middle of the day? Yes! Hitting the wall and need a mental day off? Do it. Commune with your life, your soul, your family, your body, your pets and come back to work. Time away from work, your computer, your meetings, can be the best thing for the company. Come back energized with something more to share and to give.
In our industry we are fortunate to have lots of opportunities to travel. But our remote team culture supports travel for passion, not just for work. Staying connected to your vitality is essential. Take a dive into something that draws you…study whale sharks for a week, or go on a walking safari with camels. Drink deeply of life. And then help our clients to do the same.