Girl Power – a phrase from the 1990s and early 2000s and, as I’m always slightly off-trend, one I continue to use. I use it in relation to my trip assistants – all of whom are Mongolian women.
Do I provide opportunities to Mongolian women to tick boxes the equal opportunities box? No. It goes deeper than that. I am lucky enough to be in a position to run my own business and, as a woman, it is important to me to use my skills and influence to improve the prospects for other women.
Does it all go according to plan? Hell, no. Mongolian women are strong-willed and know their own minds. Often I am the one left learning from them.
But, at the risk of sounding like a 60s love-in, by employing women-only trip assistants I believe there’s been an increase in empathy and appreciation in our EL family. I have seen improvements in productivity and innovation. There has been a strengthening of team dynamics.
As part of the same philosophy, I don’t source the best female guides that work the tourism circuit and that already have guaranteed work with other companies. I provide training and development opportunities to Mongolian women that want to work in tourism but other companies won’t take as they don’t fit the stereotype or don’t have the professional qualifications. In addition, we know the personal reasons as to why each member wants to work in tourism but whether they want a future in tourism doesn’t matter … what’s important are the personal reasons as to why and what they can bring to EL.
Remember when you were starting out on your career path? You went to interviews and got the ‘we’re interested but you need more experience’ line. Remember the frustration? How do you get more experience if no-one takes a chance in you? So I take that risk. That chance. I provide that chance. Just like people trusted in me when I was starting out, so I invest in them.
My ‘girls’ are dynamic young Mongolian women who are searching for an opportunity to train and develop – they’re the future of Mongolia. Or, as some of them are teachers and lecturers, they’re inspiring the future of Mongolia and leading by example.
I try to give them as much flexibility as possible to accommodate their family responsibilities. Tourism in Mongolia is very seasonal but that’s one reason we offer our 15% discount to encourage low season travel to help provide a more sustainable income for them. In the low season, we offer our free weekly social and training evening – we try to hold it at a time when they are free, adjusted to their work hours so they can be involved.
Aside from the challenges, I have seen an increase in confidence and self-esteem within my female team as well as an increase in their personal freedom and an element of economic empowerment.
And I personally believe that seeing women in independent positions is surely one of the best ways to inspire younger girls within the rural communities of Mongolia and to let them understand that they can do the same.
On a more practical level, our female travellers often feel more comfortable with a female trip assistant. At the risk of sounding sexist, especially as women have different needs, which may not be obvious to a male from a different culture.
And the future? Continue to invest in the hope that my trip assistants see EL as an opportunity to develop their personal ambitions. And I’m looking at setting up a women’s only trip … you get the idea … providing an opportunity for women to experience adventure and for them to realise their full potential, benefiting not only the women themselves but also the wider community.
Amongst the squabbles and the personality clashes, girl power is alive and kicking. I’ve decided to invest in it – it is good for business.