Indian Women in Hospitality(IWH) turned one on 7th February 2019, to mark the occasion; a well-reputed hospitality journal, the Hospitality Biz carried out the interview of the founder Ms. Laxmi Todiwan. Featuring here the same write up that originally appeared in the journal, with due credits to them.
HB: What made you form a Forum for Women in Hospitality, IWH?
LT: Hospitality comes naturally to women, so making a career in the industry can be utilising their strengths to the core. They also make great managers just like men. In my own experience, having spent 21 years in the industry; I have felt the privilege of being a woman at my workplace. All careers come with their own set of challenges; I too have faced the ups and downs in my personal as well as professional life. But have been able to meet all those adversities head-on, due to immense support from my family as well as the mentoring I got from my seniors. I also have realised that not everyone might be as lucky as I, so Indian Women in Hospitality (IWH) was created as a platform for knowledge sharing, networking, ideating, mentoring and empowering. Another aspect being creating awareness about the industry still not understood well; especially with respect to careers for women.
As an educationist, trainer and a counselor; I have addressed many career guidance seminars and have been writing for hospitality journals, magazines, newspapers and online portals. I also counsel students who want to pursue a career in hospitality. During these sessions, I meet many parents who are concerned about the safety of their children joining the hospitality industry; especially guardians of girls. I find it surprising as we are in 2019; where the whole world is talking about rocket science, people are discussing virtual reality, artificial intelligence on one hand; on the other, this exists in our society.
I graduated in Hotel Management in 1997 from IHM Mumbai, that time such questions were common. But in this era, it’s difficult for me to come to terms with such concerns. That’s when I took a firm determination that being a part of the industry and a responsible citizen of the nation – I’ll do whatever I can for the fraternity!
Charged with the idea, I created a Facebook page called the Indian Women in Hospitality (IWH) with the hope of getting good topics to write on. I was surprised with the response I got on the page. Within the first 4 hours, there were more than 400 lady professionals- from General Managers to CEOs to HR and Sales heads of the various hospitality organizations. I realised that I had to do something bigger; for the kind of profiles that were there. Then the idea of a website came to my mind and this is how IWH was born. I had to take approval from my organization, I am thankful to my management for their support. It was one of the most empowering moments for me; it was my chance to give back to the fraternity.
HB: Having completed a year with the Forum, what has been the response from the Womenfolk in the industry towards the Forum?
LT: The ladies loved everything about IWH, it looked as if all were waiting for a platform like this. Now I have a core team of highly motivated ladies who are charged to take IWH to the next level. They are all professionals from different organizations and from around the globe. There is substantial progress, in fact something I never imagined. Things fell in place and found it’s path; without any blueprint. I was revisiting the journey so far and I’d fail if I didn’t share my gratitude with the members, readers, supporters and the fraternity.
There are more than 1500 members of IWH – Indian lady hospitality professionals from around the world who are creating benchmarks. IWH was invited for a Keynote at the Indian Hospitality Conclave at Mumbai on 19th December 2018. It has been offered a column in the monthly edition of a hospitality magazine. At least 3 ladies from the fraternity are conducting their research on the topic with reference to IWH. It has become an empowering platform, the content on the website is receiving rave reviews and the reach is very good. The website has featured stories, write-ups, interviews and blogs so far. The stories that bring about the personal and professional journeys of the women are an inspiration to the others.
Infact when I connected with Ms. Priya Paul Chairperson of The Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels Ltd, for doing her story; she sent me a very encouraging note, “Thank you so much Laxmi for creating Indian Women in Hospitality. I think you have created a fantastic platform and we should all talk about how we can help make this stronger in the future.”
Ms. Shatbhi Basu said,” I think IWH is a great platform to bring women together to share their ideas and to help break barriers. But more than anything, it could be a platform to help women who do not have platforms like ours to become skilled and have the ability to be gainfully employed and become independent. As women in hospitality, we have the power of education, skill and insight. We should use this to bring about change at every level possible. Together, we can achieve anything”.
Prof. Cathy A. Enz, Academic Dean at Cornell University sent her testimonial. She wrote, “I think it is wonderful! Laxmi I support your efforts and believe that you are helping provide support, role models, and insights to other women”.
If you check the testimonials they are extremely encouraging and I get a dose of my motivation from there. Ms. Shirin Batliwala called me and said that she’d be there to offer whatever support we need for IWH. She also gave a lot of valuable inputs that has helped IWH focus on its objectives and carve the roadmap ahead. The support has been tremendous.
HB: What are the key objectives of the forum and what is your roadmap to achieve those objectives?
LT: The key objectives are clearly mentioned in the vision and mission of IWH. They serve as a guide and the roadmap for us. Our vision is- connect to inspire and empower!
We have created a platform for the Indian Women working in the Hospitality industry across the globe to reach their fullest potential through knowledge sharing, mentoring and inspiring each other. We will collaborate to enhance women’s roles in their own lives, families, communities and the society with self reliance, dignity and equality. We will work for the nation building and get all Indian Women Empowered by providing support and contributing towards meaningful social causes.
HB: Hotel industry is touted as a women friendly industry, but does it reflect in the attitude of the industry in its HR practices, etc?
LT: Organisations need to take care of their employees not just women workforce and hospitality industry is no different. Women employees have a set of responsibilities even after they reach back home putting in full day’s work in their offices. If they don’t have support from their families and organizations; it can create unwarranted stress for them. Many a time even women who are star performers are forced to leave their jobs leading to a ‘lose–lose’ for all. The industry realizes this and measures are being taken; in fact many are now coming up with women friendly HR policies too. They could be – giving women employees’ flexibility in their work to manage home/ family or any demanding situation, Part time employment options, Child care leave, crèche facility, work from home, job sharing, flexi time etc. are some options that are being considered. With a proper roadmap these can be implemented and organizations can have robust Women friendly HR policies which truly will be an empowerment to the working women. It is just the beginning but things look bright.
HB: In the overall attrition, the ratios of women leaving the industry surpass men? What does it indicate?
LT: It is not true just for the hospitality industry but can be observed across different sectors. There are many reasons the topmost being responsibilities on the home front. Some women manage to create a balance by not being too ambitious when it comes to their careers. Due to lack of support, some quit altogether to take care of their responsibilities such as childcare. When the children grow up they’d have lost a few years of their careers. Some don’t even want to go back and the ones who do start off from where they left or even lower. Some organizations are allowing women to start afresh through their ‘welcome back’ programs, even upskilling them. In my opinion, women require mentoring and they can do wonders. They can contribute to and create great value for their organisations given the right opportunities.
HB: It is also a fact that the ratios of women progress to the decision-making roles are quite few. The reason being attributed is long working hours and women folks’ inability to work long hours? How do you look at it?
LT: I don’t agree that working long hours is a key to anyone’s success. Women are also working long hours in professions that demand it. The impact of the work matters not the number of hours served. In fact many organizations are now looking at ways to reduce the work week, working 5 days a week and also helping their work force lead a well balanced life. Women have been heading organizations successfully; we wish to see more women leaders and role models even in the Hospitality industry.
HB: What are your suggestions to attract more female career aspirants into the hospitality industry? What role IWH is going to play in it coming years?
LT: There is good representation of women workforce in the hospitality industry but only at the lower levels of hierarchy; it thins down drastically as we move up the pyramid. Skills reports suggest that the top two industries having the best potential to be employers to women are banking and hospitality. However, data indicates that women do not stay in the industry because they feel excluded from the informal communication networks and often feel overlooked when decisions regarding progression are made. Organisations need to focus on career path and succession planning for their women employees.
IWH has a great role to play as we have women professionals from the hospitality across organizations, geographical locations and cultures. We share information, we educate, create awareness and we also mentor. We have the veterans and the freshers on one platform. There are many role models and inspirational personal journeys of the ladies shared on the website for all to read and take a few pages off their stories. We are turning one and we move forward with renewed enthusiasm and doing things that are meaningful!