Q&A: Sustainable Tourism Expert Mariana Aldrigui Shares the Challenges and Opportunities for Women in Leadership Positions

2 March 2020

Inspired by 8 March International Women’s Day and ATTA’s Women in Leadership Initiative

Brazilian lecturer, researcher, educator, and expert Mariana Aldrigui wears multiple hats in the tourism sector. As the tourism researcher in the Leisure and Tourism department at the University of São Paulo, she collaborates with tourism representatives in the management of internship programs for about 600 undergraduate students. She is also the board chair for the Tourism Council at São Paulo State trade federation, conducting research about the economic and social relevance of tourism in Brazil. In addition, she is the country director for the Global Travel & Tourism Partnership, an educational program dedicated to inspiring students in pursuing a career in travel and tourism. ATTA team members recently met up with Mariana at the inaugural International Women in Travel & Tourism Forum (IWTTF), in Reykjavik, Iceland, 22-24 January 2020, and had a lively discussion that inspired this interview.

Looking back on your own path, what were your motivations and challenges in getting here, and was there a moment or person that gave you an opportunity or the faith to move forward?

It actually took me a while to understand and realize that being a woman was, in a way, holding me back in the male-dominated University environment. I remember a lot of episodes where some explicit messages were sent and recollecting it now, I can say that there was an “aha” type moment when I understood that my work was good, and was actually being overshadowed by this kind of environment. So I slowly changed my network and the way I approached new working peers, and ever since have used all the opportunities I can to communicate with the students how important the need is to make a change toward equality. In the beginning, it was very lonely, but then I found strong women who have been fighting for a long time, and it is easy to be inspired by them.

Has there been a difficult gender-related challenge that you’ve personally faced in advancing your career in tourism? Have you moved past it, and if so, how?

As I said, working in a male-dominated environment is challenging. My decision was to build a completely different approach to career success and pathways, trying not to compete in the same arena, but instead finding new spaces to occupy. Gradually, the traditional ones were also opened to me and other colleagues. I cannot say I have passed it, it is there and it will be there for a while to come, but stating on a daily basis that we [women] have our value is something that is making a change.

My decision was to build a completely different approach to career success and pathways, trying not to compete in the same arena, but instead finding new spaces to occupy.

What do you see as the factors creating challenges for gender equality in cultures where there seems to be less opportunity for women in leadership or entrepreneurial roles?

For me, the most important one is to find more women and bring them together to share their voices and impressions. I love to use Twitter to find those with a strong online presence, and use the local media to help us spread the word. And I am also aware that change is not going to happen fast. We need to work on the access to internship programs and entry-level opportunities where diversity and equity is granted at the very first steps on the career ladder at any given organization, and will grow and reach into the C suite with time.

Where do you see the opportunities for women in tourism leadership, and what actions can they take to get there?

Everywhere they want! Of course if we talk about creative job functions, it seems more obvious, as well as all those related to team management. My humble suggestion is to find inspiration in other women, every day. Get to know them, give them some voice. It’s disheartening to see women that don’t think this way, and actually prefer to report to men.

How do you teach the values of sustainability, gender equality, and equal opportunity in tourism in a way that allows your students to carry those values into an established industry or organization that may not have those same values at the forefront?

I am glad to say that most of my students are already very sensible to these questions, thanks to years of work well developed at their primary schools. Also, social media and the need to be a force of change has touched their hearts. What we try to do is to recognize how important this mindset is, and to discuss how we could improve from there. A practical example of my daily work is to, almost every business day, share a link where I see these values implemented through an inspiring idea being put into practice, regardless of the author’s gender or origin. For that, e-mail and social networks are very good.

How can we, as members of the global adventure tourism community, help support and encourage gender equality in leadership?

I would strongly recommend that businesses take a closer and more careful look at their recruitment process. Make sure it is diverse and equal at the beginning. Time will take care of the rest. Of course, other practical examples are to reinforce the need of gender equality in boards of directors, and representation in marketing and communication pieces. It seems no one is noticing, but they are.


For more on Women in Leadership, Meet Eight Fearless Women Championing Communities Through Tourism.