Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Travel and Tourism, with Nicole Mahoney

Episode 200

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In Destination on the Left’s 200th episode, we kick off October’s theme of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Nicole Mahoney shares experience with these issues, and she talks about the different ways her team is working together to live out the ‘equitable’ core value within their company. Learn what we can do to explore, understand, and act on the topic of diversity in the travel and tourism industry.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Host Nicole Mahoney’s experience with the challenges of equity, diversity, and inclusion
  • What Nicole’s team is doing to live out the ‘equitable’ core value within their company
  • What we can do to explore, understand, and act on the topic of diversity in the travel and tourism industry
  • The lessons Nicole learned about diversity in applicant pools during the hiring process
  • How Nicole’s team took a proactive approach to diversity in their company and industry
  • How the team was living out their core values, and where they were falling short
  • Why addressing systemic racism in your organization will impact existing employees, future employees, and clients alike

Addressing the Topic of Diversity in our industry

In Destination on the Left’s 200th episode, we kick off October’s theme of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Nicole Mahoney shares experience with these issues, and she talks about the different ways her team is working together to live out the ‘equitable’ core value within their company. Learn what we can do to explore, understand, and act on the topic of diversity in the travel and tourism industry. In light of recent events in the United States that sparked severe racial unrest, the opportunity to have this conversation could not have come at a better time.

Looking into the Mirror

With racial injustice sweeping the country right now, it is hard to focus on more than race. In the travel and tourism industry alone, racial diversity is a major issue, and it goes all the way to the leadership level of top organizations. As Nicole started to think about this, she realized that even her own company is guilty of homogeneity. Nicole didn’t build a team of white women on purpose, and there was no discrimination in the hiring process—she just didn’t receive a diverse applicant pool. But that is how she and her team *used* to think. After the death of George Floyd, they decided to take a proactive approach to diversity instead of leaving it to circumstance.

A Deep Dive into the Unknown

At first, Nicole and her team weren’t quite sure how to address the issue of diversity in their company and industry. But after exhausting every resource and contact they could pull from their network, a plan started to materialize. They used their ‘equitable’ core value as a framework and starting point in their exploration of systemic racism and diversity in the United States. The team figured out where they were living that core value, and where they were falling short. And as a result, the discoveries they made will shape the policies and actions of the organization as a whole, impacting existing team members, future team members, and clients alike.

Additional Resources:

Hello listeners, this is Nicole Mahoney host of Destination on the Left and this week’s episode marks a huge accomplishment for our show. This is our 200th episode. Amazing! I am so grateful to all of the amazing guests that I have had on the show over the last 4 years and especially thankful for you, our listeners who tune in to each episode and make our work producing this content meaningful. 

My vision for this show when we first launched was to provide a place for tourism marketers to show off what they know. My belief at the time was that tourism marketers were often overlooked and it was time to shine a light on the amazing work that these professionals were accomplishing on behalf of their communities and organizations. Through this show we have been able to explore a lot of topics from viewpoints that represent every facet of the tourism ecosystem. 

As we move on to the next 200 episodes of this show, we will continue to explore topics that are important to the travel, tourism and hospitality industry. Showcasing the smart and innovative ways professionals from all over the world ae serving their community. For the month of October 2020, we will be dedicating all of our episodes to a conversation on equity, diversity and inclusion. I am kicking off that conversation this week with a solocast episode where I will share my story with equity, diversity and inclusion and the work that we are doing within my company Break the Ice Media to live our equitable core value – one of our seven company values. 

Before I dive into the conversation, I want to share this important message with you.

And we are back to my solocast on equity, diversity and inclusion. The idea for dedicating this month long series to this conversation came from an avid listener and guest of Destination on the Left, Cindy Rodriguez from Adirondack Diversity Solutions. Cindy will be back on the show later this month to share what she has been up to and to provide her insights on this topic. Cindy reached out to me over the summer to ask me what we might be able to do to help our industry explore, understand and act on the topic of diversity. Her ask was perfect timing because my team and I were wondering the same thing and this initial conversation sent me down a path that lead to the interviews and conversations that you will hear throughout October. Thank you Cindy. 

With the racial injustice that is happening all over our country right now and the Black Lives Matter movement garnering so much media attention, it is hard to focus on more than race. Racial diversity is certainly a big issue in our industry, especially at the leadership level of many organizations. As I started to think about this, it is hard not to notice that my company is very homogenous. We are all white women. That didn’t happen on purpose and as I was building my small team of 9, we didn’t discriminate, we just didn’t receive a very diverse applicant pool. Back then, I naively thought that was the best we can do, hire the best talent from those who apply. More about what I have learned about diversity in applicant pools in a little bit.

 As the unrest was starting to bubble up after the death of George Floyd, my team started to notice and feel uncomfortable about how homogenous our team is and they wanted to start a conversation about it. As a business owner, I was trying to understand what action we needed to take, was it internal conversation, should we be making a public statement about our stand on the subject, did we need to change policies, and what resources were available. I started to join webinars, leaned on my peer to peer networks to find out what other business owners were doing and I started a conversation with my team. 

We started by watching a short video that explained systemic racism. The whole team watched the video and at one of our weekly check-ins (we are still working virtually), we discussed the video, how it made us feel, what stood out to us, and our personal perspective on the topic. This was a great first-step and you will find a link to the video in the shownotes of this podcast. I encourage you to watch it and share it with your team. 

While the issue of diversity is what started us down this path of exploration, as a leadership team, we realized that this issue ties closely to equity and one of our core values is equitable. Our leadership team decided we needed to explore this more at our quarterly meeting and identify actions that we could be taking as a company. We wanted to check ourselves against our Equitable core value to make sure we were truly living up to it. 

We have seven core values at our company, these were developed by all of us as a team four years ago and we have worked very hard to engrain them into our everyday business life. Our values have been instrumental in getting us through the pandemic and we decided to turn to them again to help us work through the issue of diversity. 

Three years ago, our company adopted the entrepreneurial operating system frequently referred to as Traction. It is a system that was developed by Gino Wickman and described in his book Traction. The system suggests that successful companies have core values that everyone knows and lives everyday. Part of making those values core to the company is the core values speech that a leader gives to new team members. When we rolled out Traction to our company, I wrote and gave a core values speech that was meant to describe our 7 values and provide examples of how they look in action. 

This was where we started during our quarterly leadership team meeting. We started by reading the paragraph from the core values speech that was specifically about Equitable. That helped provide a framework for the way we were thinking about the value when we adopted it and gave us a place to start our deep dive.

In full transparency, I am going to read that paragraph so that you, our listeners have the context as I continue to walk you through our discovery process. Here goes..

We are equitable believing in all aspects of equality.  We value ideas, input and talents from all of our team members from the intern to the CEO from the employee who has been here the longest to the one that was just hired. Everyone is valued and part of what makes our company succeed. Likewise, we value all of our clients equally from ones with the smallest budgets to the one bringing us the most work. All of our clients are treated equally with the same dedication to helping them meet their business goals and find success.

That was our thinking when we adopted the equitable core value. Back at our quarterly leadership meeting, we decided we wanted to create two lists related to our core value. One list was titled, how we live our core value equitable and the other was titled shortfalls. Again, I think it is helpful for you to see the whole process, so in full transparency, I am going to share the lists with you, you will also find pictures of these lists on our show notes page. 

The list that we came up with for living our core value equitable included:

  • Ideas, inputs & talents of all team members are valued – from the CEO to intern
  • Value all clients equally (small to large)
  • Share financials – equal access to resources
  • Unlimited PTO
  • Non-judgemental
  • Maternity leave policy – we offer three months paid
  • Equitable salaries
  • Support women’s issues/organizations – volunteer time, financially, donations
  • Donate/support causes that support those less fortunate than us
  • Communication agreements support equitable communication and conflict resolution
  • Learning and personal growth – focus on individual growth
  • Open-minded, inquisitive, seek understanding
  • Team has religious and age diversity
  • EI – we stay cool under pressure
  • Leadership asks and considers input of entire team
  • Exposed to different cultures through international clients and representation of clients to international markets
  • Awareness of need for more racial and gender diversity – proactively taking steps to accomplish this


  • Homogeneous candidate pipeline
  • No entry level employees
  • Lack of diversity (racial, gender, identity, ability) in our team, vendor/partners & clients
  • No paternity leave policy
  • Lack of defined policies related to bias & racial equity
  • New diverse employees may feel isolated in our homogeneous environment
  • Lack POV from different populations (racial, gender etc) for our policies and our clients
  • No active plan – waiting for diversity to come to us
  • Narrow perspective of diversity
  • Missing strong contacts to network with
  • Expectation to learn fast and on the job can be a barrier 

In addition to the focus on our equitable core value, we completed a report card on racial diversity that our agency network provided us as a tool for measuring and creating action that leads to improvement. The tool had us rate ourselves on several statements such as:

We provide racial equity and unconscious bias training to all of our employees.

We have created an inclusive workplace and culture.

We actively recruit from colleges that represent racial diversity.

There are a total of twelve statements to grade yourself on and the plan is to grade yourself every quarter to measure how well you are doing and where you are improving as a company. I will include a link to the report card in the shownotes.

With all of this information in front of us, our leadership team identified actions that we intend to take to strengthen our equitable core value. The list of actions included:

  • Pick a book on racial equity for our next book club.
  • Implement unconscious bias training for the team.
  • Create a zero tolerance policy for racism – modeled after our sexual harassment policy.
  • Seek out and vet more diverse vendor partners.
  • Find best practices for greater diversity representation in marketing for our clients. 
  • Produce podcast series on the topic of equity, diversity and inclusion
  • Target colleges for more diverse intern candidates.

And now our team has an action plan, we are focused and we know where we aspire to be to truly live our equitable goal. 

I am recording this episode on September 23, less than a week since Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away. I was listening to a podcast about her life and career path. It was interesting to learn how RBG’s views and actions evolved over her career. As someone who did so much for equal rights, early in her life she was following the traditional path that women followed then and she was not questioning or pushing for her rights when she was denied work for being pregnant for example. Then a stint abroad in Sweden is what opened her mind to the possibilities of equality. It was there that she learned that men and women have the same role, that of being people. And this lead her down a whole new path of questioning, exploration and action. 

Thank you for listening, thank your for going on this journey of exploration with me and we will be back next week with more amazing guests to continue our conversation on equity, diversity and inclusion. 

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