Women & Leadership: Expedia's Melissa Maher

(Women in leadership roles)

Following our conversations with Two Roads Hospitality’s Niki Leondakis, Carlson’s Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Colleen Birch of Las Vegas’ The Cosmopolitan and AAHOA’s Jagruti Panwala, we continue our Women & Leadership series this month with Melissa Maher, SVP of Expedia's global partner group.

HOTEL MANAGEMENT sat down with the 15-year Expedia veteran earlier this month at the Expedia Partner Conference in Las Vegas where Expedia celebrated its 20th anniversary. Maher, who oversees the company’s relationships with branded hotel partners, discussed expanding roles in the industry for women and her own role in Expedia’s focus on gender diversity within its own ranks.

1. Could you talk about how you are an active leader in Expedia’s internal dialogue on women and leadership and how you drive this topic within the travel industry?

Maher: Over the last five years at Expedia, we’ve had a Women’s Leadership Council that I was on the founding board of and that I continue to be a part of. As a company, we really wanted to make sure that we’re looking at opportunities for attracting and retaining women and also to make sure that we have a strong percentage of women represented at all levels within our company. Women make up 47 percent of the general workforce, but 51 percent of employees at Expedia are women. So, I’ve been an active part of that and I’m pleased to say that following our most recent research findings on women working at Expedia, we offer equal pay for men and women in equivalent roles. In mentoring young women at the company, I make sure that they know I have an open door so they can come and talk to me about the challenges that they have. As a company, we’re very transparent and we make sure that we look at pay parity, retention and opportunities and that’s important at Expedia because we believe in gender diversity. We believe that the more diverse our teams are, the better we’ll be as a company, and from the standpoint of women, we know that the majority of buying and purchasing decisions in travel are made by women; 92 percent of all travel begins with or is purchased by a woman.

We’ve started recruiting from schools where we haven’t in the past in order to cast a wider net for female candidates. In terms of retention, we’ve seen that women drop off at the director and senior director levels so we’re looking at programs that we can put in place to retain them, particularly at those levels. Right now, we’re testing several new programs as we decide if we want to role them out on global basis. Our Women’s Council just held its 5th summit and, for the first time, we invited men because we also want to educate men; that was very beneficial for everyone. We also offer paid maternity and paternity leave, which is not new at the company and it’s also something that we encourage.

2. Broadly speaking, does travel tech need more women?

Yes, of course. At Expedia, women hold about 24 percent of tech roles and we think that’s about average in the industry. But we would like to see more women in tech, particularly in senior leadership roles, for the same reasons that we feel gender diversity matters.

AAHOA's Jagruti Panwala
Carlson's Marilyn Carlson Nelson
The Cosmopolitan's Colleen Birch
Two Roads Hospitality’s Niki Leondakis

3. Hospitality marketing and communications tend to attract more women than revenue management or operations. To what would you attribute this?

I think marketing tends to be a field where we have to reach people and discover their emotions—the reasons why they want to travel and really target those feelings. I think women tend to have more creativity when reaching out to audiences, but there’s also an analytics side to marketing that comes into play. But I also see more women really getting into the revenue management and operations side of the business, particularly at the property level. It’s a trend that we see more of in our day-to-day contact with partners and it’s great to see. Another area where I see women heading into more is sales and negotiating. When I started leading our strategic accounts team years ago, a lot of my counterparts in senior-level positions where men and, today, there are always more women—if not an equal number of women to men—across the table. I really see that becoming an area where women are taking more senior roles on the commercial side.

4. How have your professional experiences as a woman played a role in the partnership marketing work that you do today?

Women don’t usually raise their hand as much as men, and doing just that has been a critical component to getting me where I am today. Now, I mentor and work with women at Expedia who have a seat at the table and don’t wait for someone to tap them on the shoulder to remind them to put their own career first. They’re assertive on their own and getting noticed. I think women tend to naturally communicate more than men and sometimes that can be a good thing and sometimes that can be a bad thing.

Regardless of whether they’re men or women, my team knows that communication is extremely important to me. I make sure everyone on my team has proper communications training in order to be effective leaders. Providing access to a variety of different training has always been something that I’ve been focused on because, if you’ve been with a company for three months or 13 years, there’s always something new you can learn.