Discova Women in Leadership: Michaela Connor

May 14, 2024

With nearly 25 years of work experience under her belt, Discova’s Global People and Culture Leader Michaela Connor considers the toughest moments of her career as the most defining ones. And her journey from being a teenager in Sweden who wanted to see the world to heading the Human Resources team of a global DMC operating in 14 destinations, has been both exciting and inspiring. 

“Throughout my teenage years I kept telling my mum I would leave Sweden after graduating. Her hope was I would move somewhere close, or travel and return. I left the day after graduation and never came back, that was in the year 2000.’”

After arriving in New Zealand on a holiday working visa in 2005, Michaela got acquainted with locals working for the Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG), which motivated her to apply for her first job as a travel consultant, even though she had no sales experience. Since then, she has worn many hats and had many roles within the FCTG group (including her most recent position at Discova) that have always brought about new challenges and growth.  

She adds, “I first became a leader in the industry in 2007 and can honestly say every role, team, title, position have brought ups and downs, but I can sit back and reflect on every moment, no matter how tough it was, as a defining time of my career.” 

As a leader, she too had her moments of self-doubt while trying to balance the needs of others in the face of what she required to perform her role efficiently. And the word ‘No’ has been a challenging but powerful tool in helping her realise that unless she shows up for herself, she can’t do it for others. According to her, it is important to have the tough conversations, no matter the outcome because avoidance can do no good.  

Michaela with the IDE Sales Team at Discova’s Indonesia office.

With Discova having a higher percentage of women in leadership roles (from new leaders to seniors) Michaela understands the paramount importance of human resources in helping women break the glass ceiling and overcome other odds to succeed in their careers. 

She asserts, “We need to ensure we are the gatekeepers of the culture we set and together with the leaders of the organisation lead with authenticity, promote based on meritocracy (not age, gender, race, religion etc), lead without discrimination or gender bias, treat everyone as a human being rather than seeing gender and box people in it.”  

“We need to set a standard of behaviours we expect and hold people to account when those standards are not met. We need to foster a strong culture of curiosity, teamwork, ownership, inclusion, and welcoming diversity.” 

Michaela with Discova’s Peopleworks team

Her favourite mentors have been individuals who are exact opposites of her as they have helped expand her thinking and challenged her natural approach to situations.  

 “They have never judged my thoughts, feelings or ideas, no matter how crazy, there has always been encouragement to speak out and then have a robust conversation. The mentors that have provided this safe space to show up as my authentic self, have been the ones who have helped me grow the most,” says Michaela, who is also the Chairperson of Travel Daily’s Inspiring Women in Travel Asia (TD IWTA), a platform that champions the stories of remarkable women in the industry.    

In a sector that is energetic and forever changing, with so many different pillars and avenues, Michaela feels that the opportunities are endless for young individuals who want to grow and learn in a fast-paced environment. Immensely proud to see Discova leading the way in our destinations with female leaders at all levels, her advice to women keen on joining the travel industry is to believe in themselves and embrace opportunities. 

Even when it feels scary, throw yourself out of your comfort zone because it is only then you will start growing. Be curious and ask questions, but most of all be your authentic self and learn what your strengths are and how you can keep enhancing them to thrive in your career,” she concludes. 

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