Comment: Diversity is the right way to go, morally and commercially

Intrepid’s Darrell Wade says firms that embrace inclusivity will reap the rewards

When we founded Intrepid in the late 1980s, the concept of inclusive leadership certainly wasn’t something that my co-founder Geoff Manchester or I were thinking about. But we were thinking deeply about travel – how it brings different cultures and diverse people together and the benefits of that. We take people to remote and fragile cultures and we’ve always been conscious that we had a responsibility to our hosts. As time went on, it was only natural that this philosophy extended to all stakeholders of our business.

Over the years we’ve taken steps to transform our board to include more gender diversity, published our gender pay gap in Australia, which shows we have a lot more work to do, and expanded our senior leadership to include more women. Our leadership team in EMEA, led by managing director Zina Bencheikh, now has a 50:50 gender balance. Although we’re still not where we need to be, we’re moving in the right direction.

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Today, our 3,000-plus team is made up of 45 nationalities and represents virtually every gender, race, religion, culture, sexual preference and skin colour possible.

I believe it’s impossible to lead effectively without considering and reflecting that diversity when making decisions. The more diverse our team, customers and suppliers have become, the more successfully our business has performed.

Reap the dividend

When you look at the research on diversity, equity and inclusion, this is no surprise. Data shows that diverse teams perform better, are more innovative and make better decisions. We’ve seen this ourselves – excluding the Covid years, our business has averaged 20% compound annual growth. Greater diversity in your structure and decision-making processes means you’ll actually achieve higher long-term profitable growth. This is a strong business case for an inclusive approach.

What’s more, women account for 85% of travel planning decisions. Solo female travellers are an important and fast-growing customer base – 72% of Intrepid’s bookings made by solo travellers are women. The decision-makers in our industry must reflect our customers. But the truth is, we still don’t have enough people who look like me who are championing DEI and creating pathways for others.

Take responsibility

The International Women in Travel and Tourism Forum (IWTTF), taking place in London on June 27, is an incredible space for advocating and sharing ideas around diversity, equity and inclusion, but it – and events like it – are too often regarded as a place for women to champion other women.

I’m very much looking forward to being at IWTTF this year for the first time, along with Zina, who has helped build a dynamic global community of diverse leaders. These are inspiring and committed people doing important work and creating change in their spheres of influence.

However, women talking to women is not enough. If we stand back and scrutinise senior leadership and gender balance across the industry, the majority of the most senior roles are still held by men and the gender pay gap remains very real. Women in travel and hospitality hold less than 35% of board positions across the FTSE 350, and just 12.5% of travel technology companies in the top 350 are led by a woman.

Simply accepting this is not good enough. We need to look at the data, listen to what our people are saying, take responsibility and map out concrete steps to address it. To do this, we need more business leaders like me (ie old white males!) using their influence to create change.

I say to all the men reading this – please take this chance to listen to the conversations, digest the facts and take it all back to your boardrooms. This is the only way that we’ll build more-diverse leadership in travel, which better reflects what our industry is all about.

I look forward to being at IWTTF in London and hope more men grab this opportunity too.

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