March is Women's History Month. To honor the occasion, Intrax's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Team sat down with Intrax President Marcie Schneider. As a well-respected executive and leader within the international education and cultural exchange community, we wanted to get Marcie's thoughts about what the past couple of years have meant for women, her experience as a female leader, and what comes next.
Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Intrax's Focus to Strengthen DE&I
Last year, an article was released by Diversity Abroad indicating women were 1.5x more likely to leave or consider leaving their senior-level role as a result of the added challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Data throughout the pandemic revealed women were disproportionately leaving the labor force compared to men, partially because women worked in industries most heavily impacted such as hospitality and healthcare. The Diversity Abroad study also found that women generally took on the brunt of childcare and education needs when schools and daycares closed. In addressing the general disproportionate strain on women through the COVID-19 pandemic, Marcie fears losing women in leadership roles may also impact the advocacy efforts for inclusive and employee-friendly policies and practices within organizations. When looking at who promotes broad diversity efforts in the workforce, “more than 50 percent of senior-level women say they consistently take a public stand for gender and racial equity at work, compared with about 40 percent of senior-level men” (Coury et al., 2020). Furthermore, women leaders are more likely to lift other women and other underrepresented groups into leadership roles through mentoring and sponsorship, as we see with the statistic that “38 percent of senior-level women currently mentor or sponsor one or more women of color, compared with only 23 percent of senior-level men” (Coury et al., 2020), evidenced by Marcie's personal commitment to mentoring.
"Mentoring is a really important responsibility for women coming into a field: career development and success, equal pay, understanding that they face different pressures along the way. It's really a responsibility I feel personally, to be available as a mentor, as an advisor, as a support to women, to young women who have a desire to progress as a female leader in this industry," said Marcie.
The international education and cultural exchange industry happens to be predominately occupied by women who are passionate about the mission of connecting people and cultures to foster mutual understanding around the world. However, there is still a disparity within the industry in terms of female representation in senior-level positions and on Boards of Directors. "It has improved over the last 30 years, but not dramatically still," said Marcie. Although female representation is strong in leadership roles at Intrax, the organization acknowledges that more can be done to increase representation from diverse demographics that are currently underrepresented at the top and throughout cultural exchange programs overall. Intrax is actively assessing internal policies and practices to further improve Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within the organization.
"Longer term, we're looking at Intrax hiring practices to think of innovative ways on how we attract people to join the organization from many different backgrounds. I'm thrilled that we're working through this as an organization. I see DE&I as a very long-term focus. We're invested in training our staff to be inclusive, assessing our policies to be more equitable and creating opportunities for cultural exchange to be accessible to diverse and underrepresented individuals," said Marcie.
Leading Through the COVID-19 Pandemic
Exchange programs were nearly halted over the last two years. In leading the organization through those two years, Marcie acknowledged it was a very difficult time for staff. The uncertainty and the severe limitations to administer programs was scary for staff, and for the industry as a whole. "We did a lot of things behind the scenes to make sure jobs were saved and to ensure our programs had a fighting chance to continue. I'm very grateful and proud of that," said Marcie. "A lot of that had to do with John and Take (Intrax founders) having been financially responsible through the organization's 40 years of operation. Because of their leadership, Intrax was in a strong position going into the pandemic, when a lot of other companies or partners weren't in that situation," she continued. Marcie attributes consistent and transparent communication as the key in reassuring staff and stakeholders that Intrax would get through the pandemic.
For 2022, Intrax is anticipating a year of recovery and growth with pre-pandemic levels of program participation. "Although the last two years have been challenging, crisis sometimes creates opportunity," said Marcie as she discussed Intrax's acquisition of Americamp which was announced in May 2021. At the same time that 2020 and 2021 were incredibly stressful, it was also a time of really exciting new developments for Intrax. On where Intrax is headed, Marcie stated:
"I see a really bright future for Intrax, with a lot of new things we will be doing. Primarily, it comes back to our core. I think if we divide ourselves too widely, where we're going away from our mission with the things we're adding, we become a different type of organization. That's not my goal. It's more to take what we have, enhance it, to grow it, to have an engaged staff that's really excited and sees growth opportunities."
Importance of Exchange Programs
Intrax is doubling down on the importance of exchange programs. Recent Intrax acquisitions will not only expand current programs, they'll also broaden Intrax program offerings with new designations for the company. Exchange programs are more important now than ever to help foster mutual understanding and make the world a safer and more peaceful place. The BridgeUSA program was founded post-WWII in an effort to prevent future wars and promote public diplomacy around the world. Intrax is deeply saddened by what's currently happening in Ukraine. Marcie shared hopes for a return to peace in Ukraine and in other conflict areas around the world.
"The programs are really important because they open up people's eyes, usually at a young and formative age, in a period of time when you can appreciate the things from your culture that you miss but you can learn from another culture the things that they're doing that you feel are better or more suitable. You can merge them back together when you come back to your country and share it with the people around you. To me, is the most important thing about what we do. We're changing the lives of people all the time, even though it happens sometimes so subtly," said Marcie.