The highest paid woman in the travel industry is all about helping women in their careers. Her name is Gillian Tans and she is the CEO of Booking.com. This week her company, one of the world's largest travel e-commerce companies, launched Women in Technology Scholarships, a two-year initiative in partnership with the University of Oxford and the Delft University of Technology, designed to help women who want to work in the technology industry through educational grants. It's just one of many ways Tans is helping women get ahead.
Though the scholarship may be new, the desire to help women reach the highest levels in their chosen field is one Tans has been passionate about since the beginning of her career. "We need to make sure more women are taking these types of [leadership] jobs because overall companies perform better when women are taking these types of jobs," Tans tells Levo. According to a report by the European Commission, having more women in the technology sector could increase the EU’s GDP by €9 billion a year.
Knowing that she is a guiding path for female employees at her company, which now boasts 15,000 employees in 214 offices all over the world, she wants this to be true at other companies tech companies. She says much of Booking.com's success as an industry disruptor is because the staff is 60% female. "That is so crucial to who we are. Why we are so successful is the amount of women," she said.
This is especially hopeful to hear considering the past few months revealing accounts of what working in tech, Silicon Valley, in particular, is really like for women. Women held 21 percent of technical jobs, including hardware, software, information services and consulting, at 60 of the largest U.S. companies, according to a 2016 survey. Only 20% of executive roles at computer-system and software companies are held by women and another survey from 2016 found that one in four Silicon Valley companies had zero women on their boards. With women earning fewer degrees in STEM in the U.S. than they were a decade ago, the pipeline outlook is not promising.
In Europe, where Booking.com is headquartered, the numbers aren't much better. Women currently make up only 30% of the 7 million people working in Europe’s digital sector. European tech start-ups led by women only count for 14.7% while in the U.S. it is 17%.
This is why Tans is behind this education initiative. "Recognizing that female participation in technology is lower than it should be, we are committed to bolstering female tech talent, eliminating obstacles and challenges they face, and fostering diversity," she said in a company statement about the scholarship. A total of 15 scholarships will be available starting in the 2018-19 academic year and 10 of these will be for one-year Master of Science (MSc) courses across three departments at The University of Oxford's Department of Statistics, Mathematical Institute, and Department of Computer Science — available to female students from across the European Union.
In addition to the scholarship partnership, Booking will be launching the Technology Playmaker Awards in March of 2018 to recognize and reward the achievements of women in tech. For the first year, the awards will focus on European women but this could expand to other continents in the future.
If the pipeline is stronger from the beginning more women will be able to climb the tech ladder but if women can also see female leaders in this industry, they have will a goal.
"If you don't have any women on the top of your company then how can they think that is possible for them? You do need to think about that as a company," Tans says.
Tans—who made $17.1 million last year, out-earning her boss at the time, Priceline Group Interim CEO Jeffery Boyd—does not have an executive-style office. Instead, she's a proponent of open office settings, which includes having meetings where the entire staff sits on the floor. "I wouldn't have it any other way," she says.
During her frequent roundtables with women at the Booking offices, she encourages taking risks.
"Do not be afraid to fail," says Tans. "It's a difficult step, but I hope women will start doing that more because the world will benefit."