As the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day states: “Balance drives a better working world. Let’s all help create a #BalanceforBetter”. But international travel retail staffing and experiential specialists Blackjack Promotions is tipping the scales the other way with more than two thirds (66.67%) of its full time workforce made up of women. Furthermore, eight out of 11 (72.73%) members of the senior management team are female.

Travel Retail has always been a great industry for women; one in which women are treated equally and fairly. So in celebration of International Women’s Day 2019, we spoke to some key members of the female senior leadership team at Blackjack Promotions to find out how they feel women are represented in Travel Retail and how they juggle the work-life balance.

At a time when passenger numbers are growing and airports are developing, there has arguably never been a more exciting time to be part of the Travel Retail industry. Fiona Rayner, Head of Experiential and International Operations at Blackjack, says: “Whilst there are a number of challenges going on in the wider retail sphere, in Travel Retail things are only getting more exciting so it’s great to be in an industry that’s moving forwards all the time and to be part of something that’s got such great momentum.”

Starting on a level playing field

The fast-paced, fast-moving and ever-evolving nature of Travel Retail presents a great platform for anyone wanting to start out in this industry. According to Alicia Brown, Head of Operations at Blackjack, “I am encouraged by our ability to recruit such diversity – men, women and culturally I am passionate about equality in all its guises. Airports create a fairly level playing field and it’s about making the most of the opportunities, showing passion along with an ability to adapt and change in such a dynamic environment. The opportunity Airports give the people that work within them is second to none.”

This sentiment is echoed by Maria Honey, Head of Human Resources at Blackjack: “I think we are fortunate that Travel Retail is a very gender diverse industry, which means we are lucky to work alongside some really inspiring leaders of the industry.”

Meanwhile, Leanne Nutter, Head of Client Services at Blackjack, believes that “this is an industry bursting with opportunity, full of companies who have a variety of different values and cultures”. As the longest standing member of Blackjack, having been with the agency for 18 years, it is “being part of a company which is forward thinking and innovative and allows you to give ideas and run with them is rewarding.”

Travel Retail leading the charge for women

In comparison to other industries, Travel Retail has a strong representation of women across the board. Nikki Fisher, Head of Staffing at Blackjack, says: “Across other businesses in Travel Retail, women are well represented, at all levels. There are great opportunities to drive the development of women in business, with higher ratios of women in senior roles.”

But other members of the team argue that at a very senior level, there is still some way to go. During Rayner’s six years working in the Travel Retail industry, she has had a positive experience: “Some of my colleagues who have been in the industry a lot longer might have a different view having seen things change over the years, but during my time in the industry, my personal experience has been very positive. I still think in senior levels — looking at brands and airports and the industry as a wider whole — there’s probably still a way to go.”

But then Rayner points to the success of groups like Women in Travel Retail and inspirational people like Sarah Branquinho from Dufry and Amanda Felix from DFNI, who are very senior figures in Travel Retail, creating networking platforms for women: “They are people who have worked in the industry and would have seen a lot of change but for people like myself and my colleagues, they are the role models we aspire to.”

Achieving work-life balance

Managing your time between personal and work life, especially as a full-time working mum, does not come without its challenges but women are showing that they can make it work.

“As women I find we can often put pressure on ourselves to work as if we don’t have a family, and live home life as if we don’t have a job,” says Honey. “I think it’s important to make your life work for you, however that might look. Be flexible, remove unnecessary pressure and make the most of the times that you do switch off.”

“Since returning to work recently from having my second child I think I naturally manage myself better,” adds Nutter. “It is so important to take time out, re-charge and enjoy life. Having an employer who also believes in work life balance definitely helps, that along with supportive colleagues and family.”   

But for Brown, it has taken a bit more of a compromise to make it work. “Whilst there is a lot of opportunity and flexibility working in Travel Retail, my roles have always been fairly labour intensive in terms of working hours,” she says. “To support my career I have a role reversal situation in that my husband is the primary carer of our children. For me at work, this support function is invaluable, without it I would not have been able to be as successful. You have to try and find a balance that works for you. I compromise as a parent, my children are not compromised, that’s what you need to be able find the balance on and identify as the difference.”

Attaining your goals

“What was quite refreshing for me is that when you start working with brands or airports — yes, a lot of senior executives in airports tend to be male — but if anything that stretches you and makes you want to achieve more,” says Rayner. “I prefer this industry to where I was before. For me personally, there’s more for me to attain to, and I want to make more of an impact because the balance needs to be addressed rather than going back to traditional high street where it is more female dominated. For me this feels like more of a natural fit.”

“It’s a cliché that successful women are hard-nosed or cut throat in order to be successful, I think that’s quite sad and an outdated perception,” says Brown. “Firstly you need to treat yourself as an equal, I shouldn’t have to act differently to the person I am to be able to do that. We should enjoy working with people and developing people. Women make great coaches, we should be generous in our development of others. I like to surround myself with people who don’t do the same thing as me, that provide healthy challenge and add value. You can’t do everything so you have to surround yourself with good people, men or women. It may be naïve but I am hopeful that this in itself supports equality and balance.”

At a time when the opportunities for Travel Retail brought about by digital innovation and customer experiences are reaching new heights, there has never been a better time for women to step up, make their stamp and help drive the industry forward.

“You will never find an environment that’s as diverse both in its people and its opportunity for training and experience,” adds Brown. “I am a firm believer that the Airport environment gives you a great platform for personal growth. People who work in our industry learn skills that are so transferrable in their lives in the future. Every element of the airport provides a service to the passenger experience.”

This article was originally published in DFNI-Frontier | 8 March 2019