Local Lady Leaders: Q&A with SmarterTravel GM Sarah Hodkinson
As the former senior director of marketing at PayPal and the new general manager for TripAdvisor’s Boston-based media company SmarterTravel, Sarah Hodkinson is all about inclusion. From providing platforms for her employees to voice their opinions to advancing LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace, Hodkinson has made it her mission to diversify the tech world.
Below, she explains how she’s dealt with discrimination, who has inspired her career, and what International Women’s Day represents to her.
What adversity have you faced as a female leader in a male-dominated field? How did you overcome those obstacles?
I am fortunate enough to work in an industry and for a company that values diversity. But earlier in my career, I encountered multiple flavors of discrimination, harassment, and many, many micro-aggressions—before that was even a term!
Today, the biggest challenge I personally wrestle with is self-doubt or “imposter syndrome,” which seems to be a uniquely female experience. I don’t want to claim to speak for all women, but for me personally, I think this stems from underlying insecurities. Also, I think that as a woman, if you’re on a team that is predominantly male in composition, you’re probably going to feel less of a sense of belonging than perhaps your male colleagues do. This is a tough one, as it’s all in your own head. My strategy for overcoming it is to pump myself up and tap into my confident alter-ego by reminding myself of everything I have accomplished. So, with that in mind, here are a few tips I’ve found helpful in overcoming imposter syndrome:
1. Believe in yourself and your abilities. After all, if you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect other people to?!
2. Celebrate your successes. We all beat ourselves up over the little things we think we could’ve done better and we tend not to give ourselves enough credit when we accomplish something. Take a minute to give yourself a pat on the back!
3. Rather than focusing on what makes you different from your colleagues, identify and celebrate what you share in common. This will help cultivate that sense of belonging.
As an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, how do you seek inclusion and representation in the workplace? How do you believe LGBTQ+ rights have advanced in the span of your career and what improvements still need to be made?
Employee resource groups are one great example of how companies can catalyze inclusion efforts. I am excited to be the executive sponsor of TripPride, TripAdvisor’s employee resource group for LGBTQ+ community and our allies. Our group provides a safe and supportive space for LGBTQ+ employees, cultivates awareness of issues that our community faces across the globe, and encourages acceptance, understanding, and ally participation.
This might be stating the obvious but as a gay woman, this is personal! Furthermore, I believe that everyone is entitled to certain fundamental human and civil rights. While we’ve seen some good progress (for example, the right to marry at the federal level), there are still plenty of states that do not have laws prohibiting discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community when it comes to employment or housing. The fact that you could be refused a job or a home because you identify as LGBTQ+ is outrageous.
Beyond legislation, I’d like to see us as a society advance on a cultural level. It’s appalling to me that we continue to see people attacked and assaulted because of their sexual or gender orientation. I should be able to walk down the street hand in hand with my partner without fear for my personal safety.
What led you to pursue your career choice? Who has influenced or inspired you along the journey?
My path has not been a conventional one, and I honestly have never had a plan. I am a firm believer in serendipity and have been fortunate to have lots of exciting opportunities over the course of my career. Ultimately for me, it’s all about being challenged and working with smart people.
For inspiration, all I need to do is look around me. I am so inspired by my entire team here at SmarterTravel. This is the best and brightest group of folks that I’ve ever worked with. I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to be surrounded by a team that is not only incredibly talented, but also comprised of genuinely nice, really great people.
I’d also be remiss not to give a shout-out to someone I respect immensely: Janet Comenos, CEO of Spotted. I met Janet through RevBoston, a program for women in tech leadership sponsored by Accomplice, a local venture capital firm. Janet raised millions of investment dollars to start her company, which has a majority female workforce. As a founder CEO, she is super busy, but she is always so generous with her time and she gives excellent advice.
As the general manager for SmarterTravel, how have you contributed to the network’s growth?
We’ve been successful in growing traffic to our sites by publishing world-class expert travel content and executing smart and efficient marketing strategies. For example, with Jetsetter.com, we give advice on where to go, the best places to stay and eat, and what to pack for travelers that have a strong sense of style, but also love a good deal. We’ve built a substantial following on social media platforms like Instagram, and people love our emails, so we get a lot of “free” traffic.
As I am new to the GM role, I have been eliciting feedback from our employees around what they’d like to see from me. The number one ask is for regular, transparent communication. To that end, I have scheduled a monthly company all-hands meeting, which has been very well received by our employees. I am also ensuring we have clearly defined company goals and that everyone understands how their personal efforts ladder up to our overarching objectives.
What advice do you have for women in the workplace who feel marginalized by their sex, race, or other identifying factors?
There are many studies that have shown that a diverse workforce leads to better business outcomes. Sharing this research with leaders in your organization can help make the case for resourcing a deliberate and intentional effort to make your workplace more inclusive.
If you don’t feel comfortable going to leadership yourself, I’d suggest enlisting the help of an ally. There are plenty of men who really do want to help as allies. Bentley University’s Center for Women in Business published this very helpful and practical guide around how to engage men as allies.
What significance does International Women’s Day have for you?
I think International Women’s Month is a great reminder to celebrate our accomplishments and to advocate for future change. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a resurgence in activism with the women’s marches and #MeToo. While I wish we didn’t need these movements, as a woman I am proud that we are vocal in standing up for ourselves and our rights. And, as its International Women’s month, we should also take this time to think about women in countries with less privilege and rights than we have, and think about how we can help support one another from a global perspective.
Primark is celebrating International Women’s Day all month long with four female leaders who are changing Boston for the better. Check back next week for a new interview with another amazing local lady. You can inspire your own style with pieces from Sarah’s wardrobe at three nearby Primark locations: Downtown Crossing, South Shore Braintree, and Burlington.This is a paid partnership between Primark and Boston Magazine's City/Studio