Carol Fergus is global travel and meetings director at Fidelity International. She was recently named on BTN Europe's 2022 Hotlist thanks to her work bringing conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion in business travel to the fore
Everyone knows there's a labour shortage in the travel industry. The pandemic exacerbated an already critical problem for travel agencies, which have long struggled to staff their ranks and even prior to the Covid-19 crisis were asking where they would find the next generation of travel advisors and account managers. The entire travel industry is asking the same questions now.
Diversity recruiting is the answer, and we'll see the managed travel industry finally embrace this concept in 2022. Partly due to the scarcity of talent but also because their corporate clients are demanding it.
Procurement departments, for some time, have included a question about supplier diversity, equity and inclusion policies in their requests for proposals. Much of this was approached as a tick-box exercise in the past.
In 2022, as travel buyers re-establish their supplier relationships and renew their post-Covid-19 programmes, they will go much further. They will ask what supplier policies mean, what actions suppliers are taking to diversify their workforces, what are suppliers' current DE&I statistics and what are their future goals. In 2022, my hope is that every corporate travel buyer will ask these questions and that they will continue to track supplier progress on DE&I initiatives in quarterly and annual meetings.
But driving diversity into corporate travel won't be all about suppliers in 2022. Corporates themselves can take an active part moving the diversity needle in our industry.
I personally established an apprenticeship model with my agency of record BCD Travel to support diversity hiring by requiring the agency to create a paid apprentice position as part of my preferred contract to support Fidelity International's account needs and travellers.
As part of our partnership, Fidelity pays the apprentice salary – which we would have to pay anyway for a resource, full stop. For its part, BCD opens the door to an individual whom the company will educate and sponsor on the next step in their career journey.
It's important to specify we aren't focusing on graduates. Our purpose is to find candidates who really want to be involved. Candidates who may have walked by that door of opportunity in the past because they didn't see anyone like themselves working for that company. Our goal is to build an industry where everyone can find opportunity if they really want it. We need to widen the funnel, let them in, support their development and give them a chance to prove themselves.
I truly believe what we'll find, in the end, is that diverse recruitment and hiring will make travel companies stronger, more resilient, more responsive to client needs and more competitive in the long run. Especially as diverse recruitment matures into diverse management.
A 2018 McKinsey report found diverse companies are 33 per cent more likely to have greater financial returns than less-diverse industry peers. A 2018 BCG report found companies with above-average diversity at the management level generate innovation revenues 19 percentage points higher than companies with below-average management-level diversity. More recent stats show that diverse companies attract and retain talent better than non-diverse peer companies. As an industry, we need that now and going forward.
Transformational achievements take time. But managed travel needs to start somewhere. I've been fortunate in the past year to have earned awards and recognition for my efforts that have resulted in giving me a platform to be heard. I want to use that new visibility to encourage my industry peers to take action.
Corporate clients have the power to effect change now – in 2022 – by partnering with their suppliers on diversity initiatives. I challenge every travel buyer reading this article to take a step toward DE&I for their travel programmes this year. My dream is to see 100 companies adopt the apprentice scheme I developed for Fidelity International – or something similar – to drive diversity recruitment. At the very least, it will be 100 new hires and 100 lives changed; at the most it will be the beginning of our industry's future.
• This guest column first appeared on businesstravelnews.com as part of the What to Watch 2022 series. It was prepared by BTN editorial director Elizabeth West based on conversations with Fergus, who approved this version.