Women in Hospitality Business continue to break barriers, emerge as successful leaders

Women in hospitality have succeeded in carving their own niche in the hospitality landscape. They have evolved as better leaders over the period of time, making the sector all the more inclusive than before with their persistent efforts and inherent qualities as women. It would not be wrong to say that the hospitality industry capitalises on the very fact that being kind, gentle and hospitable comes naturally for women. Their contribution has been immense in making the field more attractive and less vulnerable for the future generations. In a free-wheeling discussion with regards to evolution of hospitality sector on the occasion of international Women’s Day 2024, Tejaswini Paranjape delves into the inspiring journeys of four distinguished women within the hospitality sector.

Women believe that hospitality business demands a lot of creative potential and hardwork. There is a lot that happens behind the scenes in making the whole property look vibrantly lavish, full of life and exotic. Women leaders are happy with a creative satisfaction that they get after serving in this area for many years. Speaking about her journey, Indu Khatri, Cluster Director of Sales and Marketing, Fairmont Jaipur, said, “My journey in the hospitality sector has been a fascinating one, filled with continuous learning and growth over the span of 18 years. Even before I stepped into this dynamic industry, I was captivated by the allure of hospitality. I’ve always had a passion for sales and the prospect of meeting new people and navigating the intricacies of this field appealed to me deeply. Joining Fairmont Jaipur was a pivotal moment in my career, where I found a perfect alignment of values and a platform to showcase my skills and dedication. Kadambari Sabharwal Talwar, GM, Courtyard by Marriott, Hebbal, Bengaluru said that she found herself drawn to the intricate tapestry of the hospitality industry during her studies, recognizing the dedication and effort required to craft its allure and sophistication. It was during her course in Hospitality that she discovered her true calling. Her passion lies in collaborating with the people and particularly, the unsung heroes behind the scenes, those whose collective efforts elevate the guest experience and create unforgettable stays. Sita Lekshmi, General Manager, Aloft Bengaluru Outer Ring Road, said, “2024 is my 18th year in the hospitality industry and it has indeed been a beautiful journey looking back. Marriott International celebrates women and diversity and has stood to inspire change in gender equality for decades now. It is no surprise that more and more women are finding their success routes with Marriott each year. Meena Jain, Director, Pride Hotels Group said, “My journey in the hospitality sector, particularly with Pride Hotels Group, has been a profound exploration of Indian tradition and luxury. I have witnessed the evolution of our commitment to a multisensory guest experience. Inclusivity is not just a concept, it is ingrained in our ethos, influencing hiring, team development and leadership. Reflecting the Women’s Day theme, our initiatives focus on empowering women, offering growth opportunities and contributing to socioeconomic upliftment. By embracing diversity, we not only enrich our team but also enhance our ability to innovate and provide exceptional guest experiences.”

The next point of discussion was about women’s contribution in upholding the brand values within the hospitality sector. In this context, each leader brings a unique perspective and commitment to excellence. Khatri, emphasizes the importance of collaborative teamwork and alignment with the brand’s ethos, fostering a culture of inclusivity and innovation. Similarly, Talwar, highlights the alignment between personal and company values, emphasizing Marriott’s dedication to employee well-being and its impact on guest experience. Lekshmi said, “As a woman leader at Marriott, I stand for inclusive practices and strongly believe that gender is irrelevant when it comes to performance. Men, women, and every other member of society is capable of change and greatness if they wish to achieve it. Putting people first is my go-to core value at work.” Jain also believes in consistent delivery of excellence that defines Pride Hotels Group brand identity. She is on a constant effort to ensure that every acquisition aligns with their of ethos of ‘Truly Indian, Traditionally Luxurious.’

All women leaders agree that the hospitality space has become all the more inclusive. They believe there are equal opportunities for all. It is no longer a male dominated space and women counterparts have progressed as much and more. They now find themselves more respected and empowered to run the business efficiently and effectively. Khatri said, The evolving role of women in the hospitality sector is a testament to the industry’s progress towards inclusivity and diversity. I firmly believe that gender should not be a barrier to one’s potential and it’s heartening to see more women taking on leadership roles across the sector. While there’s still work to be done, I am optimistic about the future. The strides we’ve made towards creating a more inclusive work culture bode well for future generations, offering them opportunities to thrive based on their abilities rather than gender. Talwar said, “Within our network, we have established informal associations and groups led by women ambassadors, dedicated to accommodating the unique requirements of women. We recognize that women often excel at the entry level, yet face challenges at the mid-level
when familial obligations become paramount. To support them, some require flexible work arrangements, while others benefit from ongoing counseling and support. We have implemented a system of checks and balances to ensure that these needs are met and that our workforce remains diverse and inclusive. Lekshmi believes the industry landscape will become completely inclusive for future generations to come and they are strengthening the foundation for that change. Jain also witness the  transformative shift in the role of women.

In the context of HR practices, women shared their profound views . Each one of them found this as very crucial aspect of the discussion. While Khatri advocates for HR practices that prioritize open communication, transparency and creating an environment where women feel comfortable expressing their needs and concerns, Jain believes in offering tailored work hours and remote options for women. Talwar said, “It’s imperative that we evolve our HR practices to embrace inclusivity, particularly in addressing the specific needs of women.” Jain added, “Policies supporting maternity leave, childcare, career breaks empower women to balance personal and professional life. Embracing diversity in leadership and encouraging open communication further enriches the workplace. Pride Hotels Group promotes such practices, acknowledging that catering to women’s needs is not just an ethical imperative but a strategic investment in a thriving and inclusive workforce.

While some believed that women bring unique qualities to the table, for others gender did not matter. The right aptitude according to them takes the employees ahead of the curve. Talwar said, “Women bring a valuable dimension of emotional intelligence to the table, which we actively seek to nurture through mentoring programs. We encourage our team to think creatively, embracing qualities such as empathy and patience as essential criteria for the role, rather than pitting one attribute against another. Empathy is paramount in our approach, as we strive to anticipate future needs and trends, staying ahead of the curve. We are committed to providing equal opportunities, acknowledging and addressing any biases that may exist.” Lekshmi rightly pointed out that Women bring the unique strength of resilience and open communication. Female leaders are more collaborative than their male counterparts, she thought. Jain emphasised that women have unique skillset and strengths that makes them a strong fit for the industry. They have unique qualities like multitasking, attention to detail and emotional intelligence—enhancing creativity. According to her, women tend to follow a democratic leadership style naturally taking into account every opinion around the table. She also emphasises on the fact that despite these strides, women still face challenges with stereotypes and biases. The proverbial glass ceiling remains a reality. She said, “I recently came across an article that spoke about women leaders having to frequently encounter the “double bind” dilemma, where they must balance assertiveness and likeability- a tightrope that their male counterparts rarely have to walk.”

To sum up, all these women have truly been the real heros and have instilled the sense of pride and integrity in their respective organisations. They not just succeeded in their areas but have all also inspired their peers. They have overwhelming messages to share with each of the women in the industry going through similar paths, Khatri urges you to embrace your journey with passion and confidence, knowing that you belong in this vibrant industry. Surround yourself with the right people and environments that uplift and inspire you. Remember, your potential knows no bounds, and by staying true to yourself and your aspirations, you will undoubtedly achieve greatness. Talwar says, Ask for help! Someone out there, from friends, peers, relatives will surely stand by you. Lekshmi speaks her mind when she said, “As we continue to pave the way and redefine leadership in 2024, the way forward has to be ability, competence, vision and gender to be never the discussion. That is true success and inclusion in my eyes. And Jain has the last message that resonates with all the women in the industry. She said, as we celebrate Women’s Day,” I want to convey my admiration to the all the women in the hospitality sector. Stand tall, support one another and seize every opportunity. Let’s continue breaking barriers, fostering inclusivity and defining the future of hospitality together.”

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