This week LATTE chats with Helene Taylor, the brains behind A Force for Good Event, to gain a better understanding of the initiative, what it stands for, who is involved and how she hopes to take it to the next level.
Helene is highly regarded within the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors, and when she’s not busy organising the speakers and fine-tuning the run sheet for the annual A Force for Good Event with her daughter, Whitney, she will often be quietly going about head-hunting for large corporations in search of their next executive.
A Force for Good Event is held in Sydney on International Women’s Day, and tickets are still available for this year’s event on 8 March 2019. More details here: http://bit.ly/f0rceforgood.
Helene, for those unfamiliar, can you tell readers about your professional background? Where did you start in the travel industry?
My background is business coaching in recruitment and real estate. In 2001 I immigrated from New Zealand to Australia and was recruited as General Manager for TMS (Travel Management Services) Asia Pacific. I ran the company here for its then-owner three days a week, and coached real estate two days a week.
Later that same year, Ansett and New York’s Twin Towers collapsed, and with the downturn in travel recruitment at the time, I left the travel recruitment space to focus on real estate for a few years. I ended up running my own successful real estate business. A number of years later, and following some major life changes, I was approached to help sell TMS to a third-party, and I ended up becoming joint-owner in the company. Within 12 months, I’d turned the business around from haemorrhaging substantial dollars every month to a million-dollar profit in my first year.
In 2013 I departed TMS and started the JITO (Jobs in Travel Online) jobs platform. I noticed a big gap in the travel and tourism industry with linking companies with talent, because SEEK wasn’t working and LinkedIn was like searching the Indian Ocean for skilled executives. So JITO was my solution to connect people. I put three years into JITO, and it then morphed into the networking platform it is today: JITO Connected.
Also for the past number of years, and operating under the radar, I’ve been head-hunting executives for large travel businesses globally, assisting with the placement of CEOs and MDs across this industry. I’ve put a lot of senior people in their jobs.
Can you tell me about A Force for Good? How did that start?
A Force for Good stemmed from JITO Connected. I was driven into this initiative based on my experience placing senior women; there’s been a lot of female leaders that I’ve placed in very senior positions. My experience with dealing with female leaders is that many may feel they lack certain skills.
For instance, if a job description has 10 items on it, and I approach a male, he’ll see he can do five or seven of the items and say, “I’m definitely interested, put me forward as an applicant”. I’ll say the same thing to a woman and she’ll say, “No, no, no. I’ve only got five or seven things I can do.” So I’ll spend my time coaching them that it doesn’t matter that you can’t do all 10 things. You know you’ll learn it as you go; you’ve got to lean in, step up and believe in yourself.
My experience with working with women at this level was that without coaching and support we’ve got no hope of having more female leaders at the top, and we’ve got the problem of not enough female leaders. Then I realised that instead of coaching one or two, what if I could coach a small number, or better still, a group from across the whole industry at once?
I believe unless we take some serious action nothing will change. Conversations are just conversations, and nothing changes by conversation. Action is what is needed.
So three and a half years ago I sat down with John Veitch from The Travel Corporation and said, “This is what I want to do, will you support me?”. And he did. And The Travel Corporation became Principal Sponsor for the event from the outset to help drive that change. I’m really proud of what’s come out of it.
Why do you believe A Force for Good is so important?
Companies don’t sit back and think, “what can we do for diversity?” and focus on it; they are too busy doing business. But when you bring them into a room for a day, and you focus on diversity and you put it on the table, they start thinking about what they can do.
A Force for Good sees executives focus on the topic of diversity for one day, and then they go back and they actually make change – just by bringing competitors together, side by side, who put their swords down for the day and stopped competing for the greater good of the industry. It not only inspires women and helps them believe in themselves, but also passes on some fabulous tools.
I couldn’t do it on my own; all these leaders throw down the ladder and help others climb up by sharing their wisdom. There’s no other event in our industry that ever does this, where you bring all these leaders together and they share their knowledge. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female; it is the most empowering and inspiring and educational day that you’ll ever get in our industry.
What have been some of the achievements you are most proud of stemming from A Force for Good?
Intrepid Group is a really good example. They were involved from Day One because their CEO, James Thornton, is a very advanced thought leader. He’s brilliant. As a result of Intrepid’s partnership, they went from 25% female leadership in Australia to 50%. And then they did that globally. So worldwide, across their entire brand, they are now at 50% female leadership.
Then they took it one step further. They brainstormed in their business because of their involvement with the event from the outset. They went back and said, “Okay, what can we do help women outside of our industry?”. And they employed the first-ever female Tour Leaders in Morocco and in India, which goes against cultural norms. So the ripple effect is absolutely phenomenal that’s gone on as a result.
APT is another example. They employed one more exec on their executive team and made sure they helped a female lean in and step up. It doesn’t mean that they’re not choosing the right people for the job; they are just focused on how we can help other females step up.
Air New Zealand implemented pay parity across its entire organisation. On a video hook-up at last year’s event, Cam Wallace shared that news with the whole audience. Imagine the millions of dollars that went into making that change. They are so committed to diversity and have an absolute plan of what they are doing. By Air New Zealand standing on stage and talking about those things, it inspires other companies to make an effort to try to change.
I’m really excited by the initiatives that evolve from A Cause for Good and where it is heading. It’s got potential to make a significant impact globally.
Do you think A Cause for Good could be exported to other destinations outside of Australia?
Yes, that’s my desire. I attend an event in the US called Girlboss, which is 1,000 women from 30 different countries coming together to support each other and share knowledge and wisdom. I went there to understand what the challenges were in the USA and whether America would embrace this kind of event.
My goal would be to take it to America and to the UK and to New Zealand, if I can obtain support. It costs a lot of money from my own back pocket to host these events, but if I can get the support from the various companies and the sponsorship to do it, then I will. A Force for Good has the potential to have a much greater global impact than just in Australia.
How soon could a Force for Good be launched in the United States?
Next year, because it will take a year of planning and getting all the sponsors on board. The big thing with America is they are already ‘conferenced out’; they have more conferences and events than any other country in the world, and [the challenge is] picking a suitable date that would work.
I’ve had some support from female leaders in the US suggesting the best month, and they tend to agree that March would be optimal. So for obvious reasons, it can’t be March 2019. That doesn’t mean that it won’t happen in 2019, but it is likely that it will be in 2020.
Would coordinating A Force for Good alongside an event such as Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas work?
I have looked at doing that and I am doing research, but feedback is divided. Some people say that Travel Week is already too full-on, and you can’t add any more. Half the feedback was “that is brilliant!” and the other half was “the event was too busy as it is”.
Still, in my mind, that is something that I’ve explored, but again it comes down to sponsorship and support. I’m one person running the event and we’re talking six figures to get off the ground, but it is something I really care about and am passionate about. But to take A Force for Good offshore, I would need some surety. I also need someone with bigger connections to get involved, because I don’t have the level of connections in America that I have here. I need to be able to make sure that I can reach everybody so that everybody can know about it.
Is this year’s event expanding into new areas?
The event has always focused on travel and tourism, but this year we are incorporating the hospitality sector for the first time. Leanne Harwood from IHG is hosting one of our panels. Leanne is one of the very few female Managing Directors within the hospitality industry, so I wanted to incorporate the hospitality segment and get them involved.
Hospitality has more of a need for diversity initiatives than just the travel sector because it’s such a boys’ club. There is a real focus on bringing hospitality into the fold and getting that segment involved, and seeing what we can do to help them drive change in that sector as well.
Who are some of the other keynote speakers this year?
Other guest speakers at the event include Wendy Wu, and she has an amazing story. She’s an incredible woman.
We have Alison Taylor from American Airlines who is coming from Dallas, Texas. She is the Senior Vice President Global – Sales and Distribution. She started as a travel consultant, so that gives women a taste of what you can do in this industry: you can move up. You don’t have to have a university degree, you can start at the very bottom and make it to the entire top.
And people like that are really inspiring and their stories are really good to share, because it gives you hope and passes on their knowledge of what they did to get them there. Bruce Poon Tip, Founder of G Adventures – his story blows my mind. And people like Phil Hoffman; it’s great to have someone like Phil, who is an entrepreneur. We cover entrepreneurs as well as people who are working within businesses, so no matter what somebody is looking to do within the industry, they are going to learn different things.
What are some of your other interests with A Force for Good?
We care about sustainability, we care about the environment, we care about sharing things that make a difference. And that is what the business has been focused on, alongside the industry networking events, which are aimed to grow each other.
Everything we do is about being a force for good. When we discover new product or businesses that are doing great things, we try and promote that.
An example is Who Gives a Crap and the work that they are doing. They’ve created recycled toilet paper that avoids cutting down trees, is home-delivered and costs the same as you’d pay for toilet paper in the supermarket. The statistics on how many children that are dying around the world because of dysentery or diarrhoea problems because of the lack of sanitary and the lack of toilets is mind-blowing and this company is doing something about it.
But 50% of their profits go back towards helping build toilets around the globe. And they’ve raised $1.8 million in donations to help build toilets; now that is a real force for good.
I believe in those sorts of companies and promoting them and trying to help grow their network – and giving them a voice as well.
What is the primary hurdle you’ve encountered running A Force for Good?
The biggest challenge for me is getting more males involved, because I host it on International Women’s Day, so it’s a little bit scary for a lot of men to come. They feel out of their comfort zone and it’s not about them, it’s about women. But the event works best when you get males involved. So that is my biggest challenge at the moment: how do I get that message out to more men to come and to get involved?
This year I’ve got 10 male speakers out of 33. It’s been a dramatic focus for me, to bring more male leaders as speakers. We have Steve MacKenzie, the Chief Executive from The Lido Group, this year. He is very involved with White Ribbon (domestic abuse against women in the home).
Steve is going to be on a #metoo-type panel, aimed at encouraging other companies to become White Ribbon-accredited. He will share the kind of work that he is doing as an organisation to help women.
If you think about it, 70% of the industry is made up of women, but only 10% get into executive positions. For real change to occur, those male leaders need to be present.
What or who motivates you?
I’m motivated by helping see the change occur, and when I hear stories like Intrepid and their ripple effect, that really motivates me. Through doing these things we really can collectively drive change, and I find that inspiring. And when I’m inspired, I get motivated.
We’re on this world, we’re on this planet and we have a choice on whether we make a difference while we are here and make a dent in the world. Some of us can make a little dent or a big dent, and my goal is to try and make some form of little dent. I think I can help a few more females make it to the top and help a few more female companies around the world.
Bruce Poon Tip, for example – what a human being he is! An amazing human being and the work he does is what inspires me. People like him, who have been doing Force For Good projects since the 1990s.
I started this initiative 3.5 years ago, and #metoo didn’t exist. It wasn’t fashionable. I started this because I gave a damn, and for me, I admire people like Bruce because they care. They are doing it not because they are making profit out of it, or because it makes good commercial sense; it is because they genuinely care. So I am inspired by those kinds of people, and that’s what drives me to do what I am doing. I genuinely care about leaving the planet a better place.
Final question, and LATTE’s signature question: what is your favourite coffee shop and drink of choice?
My favourite coffee shop is Armchair Collective in Mona Vale; I love my English Breakfast Tea, and they also have the best food.