3 March 2021

Female Leaders@TUI – Katie McAlister

TUI has many successful female leaders in a wide range of areas. In our series "Female Leaders@TUI" we feature these colleagues and their inspiring thoughts on the subject of equality in interview form. This time we talked to Katie McAlister, Chief Marketing Officer, Northern Region.


Katie McAllister, what is your current role at TUI?

I'm responsible for sales and marketing activities in UK&I and the Nordic Countries. This includes the core marketing disciplines of brand, advertising, digtial and CRM, as well as all retail, e-commerce and customer service operations. In addition to the geographical responsibilities, I lead all brand, advertising and digital activities for the TUI Group.

Who is your role model as a female leader?

For me, leadership is not about status or hierarchy but really it’s all about inspiring people, bringing them together, forming coalitions and empowering people to achieve amazing things. The great news is that there are women all over the world, in all walks of life who role model that every day. In the public eye there are some that come to mind who we can look at in awe and who have enormous impact, the skills and power to change the world and change how we think and act – from the 6 (Yes there are only 6!) female CEO’s of FTSE businesses, to Kamala Harris, to the first female vice president in the US, to super influential female artists like Beyonce who bring us together to sing and dance and celebrate the joy of life. 
On a more practical level, mostly the role models who inspire and empower me every day are amongst my female friends and colleagues; women who show me that it’s possible to ace a career, a mission, or a cause, whatever you stand for whilst being an approachable, fun and decent human with some sort of work-life balance – those are goals for me.

Each year we ask ourselves the same, important question: Where does our society stand in terms of female leadership? And what about TUI?

Unfortunately, in society there is still a lot of work to do, that work has to start with overcoming limiting gender stereotypes which are formed really early in life. Still today when primary school children are asked to draw pictures of doctors and nurses they draw doctors as men and nurses as women, and if we are honest, even as adults many of do the same when we picture these roles in our heads. This unconscious and limiting bias is going to take a long, long time to undo and we all have a role in that. A massive part of that having more women in leadership positions or within traditionally male dominated roles like technology, data and engineering. 

Additionally, we need to change how genders are represented in media. As an example of reinforcing gender stereotypes, in the UK, the government created a campaign to encourage people to stay home through the pandemic and it showed a sexist, old fashioned scene of a woman homeschooling, cooking and cleaning for the family whilst the man of the house watched TV – the advert was subsequently banned but the fact that it made it to air shows that this bias is present and sadly it reflects reality for many people.  As a marketer I take responsibility for representing diversity in all its forms very seriously.

The reality is that today, whilst things are improving, women’s careers can be limited by bearing more of the burden of family and household responsibilities and it can feel too much to shoulder that and have a career. The pandemic has actually highlighted that the additional demands of things like homeschooling disproportionately affected women with children and they have been much more likely to revert to old stereotypes and reduce working hours to cope. Within TUI I think we have an inclusive culture that values diversity but we can’t be immune from this unconscious bias, it’s too deeply engrained in society. We also do not yet have equal representation of women in leadership positions. We are improving, but it’s a work in progress for us as much as the rest of society.

There is a lot of talk about the specifics and qualities of female leadership. How are you leading?

My main aim is to lead with authenticity, to be myself and encourage others to do the same. Leadership and building collaboration within teams is a lot about trust and I think if you can bring your true self to all scenarios it makes people more open and interested in each other, this in turn means that everyone forms stronger bonds and ultimately better teams.
As an example I don’t have a total separation between work and being a mum and I’m not a different person in those two roles, it’s just not possible and it would be very tiring to pretend. I don’t stop being a parent between 9-5 just like my work doesn’t always fit into 9-5. 

One positive of the pandemic is that it has humanized work relationships more and blurred the boundaries between work and home. We have visited our colleagues at home every day, met their families and kids and I think that is a good thing for women, its introduced more empathy for home life and a recognition that more flexibility is needed and that has to be a positive.

What is your advice for young female professionals regarding growth in their careers?

I would say that being part of a strong network of women who support each other is important, my own personal experience is that returning to work after having each of my children was the most difficult time of my life, totally exhausting and I couldn’t have survived without sharing experiences with other women who were going through the same.
Mentors are important but my experience is that you won’t find everything that you need in one person all of the time so you need to be specific about what you need support for as it will likely be that different people can help you with different things at different times. Another important point is that mentors don’t always need to be female, you need diversity of thought, empathy and challenge from a different perspective, so seek out male colleagues as coaches and mentors too.
Finally, I think you really need to find enjoyment in what you do, it’s okay not to have everything mapped out. Just find the things that give you energy, do more of those and that is where you will find purpose, you are much more likely to be successful if you love what you do.