About 18 months ago, shortly after I joined Agoda, I had the privilege to sponsor the Women’s Initiative program at Agoda in Bangkok. The program already existed at the time, albeit it was sponsored by our senior male leaders. When the opportunity arose to review and redesign the program to “up the game,” I was more than ready to take ownership. First of all, I’ve always been passionate about gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Secondly, as the CFO at Agoda, ROI-positive investments are very attractive to me, for which this one clearly fits.
Hence began the journey to learn what worked vs. what didn’t and design a program revamp that would work even better for Agoda women!
Redesigning the program
After consulting with the eight women who participated in the previous program (from this point forward, I’ll refer to them as the “Great 8”), a prototype began to emerge: what we’re building is really a leadership development program. By no means does this mean a “self-help” group for women, but rather an integrated program that brings our women on a journey of self-discovery, understanding themselves better – their strengths and what might be holding them back in their careers – then giving them the tools to address these challenges and the time to practice in their day-to-day work until it becomes a muscle memory. Grand vision? Sure. Rocket science? Not exactly. But it will take some focus and discipline to make it work.
Once the prototype was clear, we needed to find the right partner who shared the same vision. Luckily, I didn’t have to do this alone. The Great 8 generously volunteered their time to work with me to source, screen and select a partner to deliver this program. After weeks of research, briefing calls, requests for proposals, and final vendor show-down sessions, we were able to select a winning partner (out of 16 that formally applied!) to help bring our vision to reality.
Agoda Women’s Initiative 2.0
In 2019, the Women’s Initiative 2.0 was reborn in the Agoda Bangkok offices. Class of 2019 was a group of 20 women handpicked by their department heads to invest in their leadership development. In one year, we are to bring about some transformation and lasting changes for these aspiring women.
The integrated program consists of eight key elements to reinforce the learning experience:
- Three in-person workshops to introduce and practice the leadership development tools. In the first workshop, participants also go through a self-discovery process to design their own individual development plans for which they are to implement and practice in their day-to-day job.
- Social activities following each workshop to encourage further networking among the group
- Two small group coaching sessions to reinforce the learnings and check-in on progress
- A mentorship program where each participant is paired up with one senior Agoda woman mentor to help ensure that she stays on track in implementing her development plan
- Support group of 4-5 women each to meet informally as they find beneficial
- Project work for the participants to design and implement the next giveback programs at Agoda
- Email reminders throughout the year to ensure each participant is progressing on track
- Speaker series where two senior women role models outside of Agoda, from tech and/or travel industry come and share their experiences
All eight elements are designed in an integrated fashion to reinforce the learning experience and ensure enough practice to achieve sustainable changes. When we penned the final program design, I couldn’t help but feel excited about the journey these 20 amazing women were about to embark on.
Knowledge sharing session by Mam, a Women’s Initiative participant
It all paid off
Truth be told, the amount of “magic time” I’ve invested in Agoda’s Women’s Initiative 2.0 was beyond my own expectation. After all, it was the first year this new vendor worked with Agoda and they had many questions to ask about our culture, what would work and what might not. And to their credit, the vendor really put in a lot of thought in tailoring this program to fit our needs. Plus, the Great 8 who were with me every step along the design journey, and who then volunteered to be the mentors for class of 2019. I’ve no doubt that they’ve spent a significant amount of time on this program. So, it truly took a village! That said, the effort we put in at the end of the day was all worth it, judging from all the positive feedback from participants.
I’m proud to be a member of the Agoda leadership team who not only sees the value of gender diversity and inclusion but also goes above and beyond to invest in it. The Women’s Initiative is but one example of many other investments we make at Agoda every day to embrace and celebrate diversity. I’m honored to have been a part of this investment. Moreover, I’m proud to be a part of Agoda where I am surrounded by amazing people every day, men and women, all sorts of backgrounds and experiences, to pursue our collective dreams to achieve More Travel, with Less Hassle.
Inspired by how Agoda supports development of our women? Join us, visit careersatagoda.com
Madeline Ling is Chief Finance Officer at Agoda. She leads and sponsors Agoda’s Women’s Initiative.