Hotel Insider speaks with working women across the tourism industry in the country and discusses various issues and opportunities within the industry.
Aishath Shifaza (Shifa) has been working in hospitality for eight years. Today, she’s the assistant human resource manager at The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi. Hotel Insider sits down with her to have a chat about her career, her observations on society’s changing perspective of women working in hospitality, and her ideas on the future of women in the industry.
Hotel Insider: First off, can we talk about how you got started in hospitality?
Aishath Shifaza: I started off in journalism, back in 2007, in my native Addu atoll. I had the opportunity to visit a resort once, to do a feature. It was my first experience of a resort, I got to see how staff lived on an island, their accommodation and so on. Then, in 2009, I went to Male and after a year, I decided to change career. I had the chance to work at Zitali. It was a line-staff position, as a boutique sales assistant. When I started out, I realised that I had that quality: the willingness to work in a team, the team spirit. I worked there for over a year and I had the opportunity to work here at Iru Fushi, which was under a different management. I started here as an HR officer and I’ve been here to this day.
Hotel Insider: Was your family supportive when you started out?
Aishath Shifaza: When I told my parents that I wanted to work in hospitality they didn’t actually oppose it, but they weren’t supportive either. You see, our society has a strange perception of the industry, especially of women working in hospitality. My parents let me join Zitali, but it had a lot to do with the fact that I had a relative working there. My mum would check up on me every day, but by the time I joined Iru Fushi, my parents view of my work and the industry had changed. Now, couple of my sisters are in hospitality as well.
Hotel Insider: What would you say is the biggest challenge for women in entering the industry?
Aishath Shifaza: I’d have to say it’s social pressure. People’s way of thinking about the industry, which was borne out of the experience of the previous generation of people who’ve worked in hospitality. That is really the main issue here.
Hotel Insider: Do you see this mindset changing?
Aishath Shifaza: Yes, because there are a number of young women entering the industry. The change in perception is shaped by creating awareness on the work that we do here and how we live.
Here at Iru Fushi, we give a lot of opportunities to students who’re studying hospitality to visit and live on a resort for a day. They get to experience how different departments work. Both sexes come on these visits, and we ask them at the end if they would like to work here and the answer is always a resounding “Yes”. School students don’t get opportunities like this as much as is needed and parents are understandably anxious. So I think that’s a big reason why parents aren’t comfortable to let their children, especially girls, to work in hospitality.
Hotel Insider: Hospitality turned out to be a rewarding career choice for you. What would you say are your biggest achievements?
Aishath Shifaza: Well, I started out as a line staff, and I think this has helped me understand their perspective, to know their needs. This is valuable in my current position as I have to know the needs of the staff. So I believe one of the greatest achievements for me was to start out from that level and work my way up. Another achievement, I think, is getting to experience both international and locally run resorts. I had a chance to see Iru Fushi make the transition from an international to a local brand. Also, I’m inspired by the people who work in the industry, those in our brand specifically.
Hotel Insider: What’s inspiring about them?
Aishath Shifaza: We have different staff from different backgrounds and places. They’re constantly making an effort to improve, and it’s inspiring to see them learn and grow over the years. We have got quite a number of staff who’re under 25, really young people. We have a new generation of hospitality workers working here and it’s just inspiring to see them becoming more proficient and better at what they do.
Hotel Insider: Do you think there’s opportunity for local women to assume even greater leadership positions, like a general manager at a resort? We’ve seen that happen with Summer Island, with the appointment of Maria Shareef, and Fareesha Hawwa who used to oversee the Somerset in Male.
Aishath Shifaza: I’d say that it will be a challenge, but yes, I feel there’s more opportunity today. But you must know that it’s hard for locals to reach top positions with international brands, but it’s easier at locally managed resorts. If you take our brand for instance, we have a number of locals working at senior management levels, and our GM is a Maldivian. I believe there’s room for growth, especially for women, with the help of the brand and its management.
Hotel Insider: Do you have a word of advice to young women who want to work in hospitality?
Aishath Shifaza: If you’re interested and passionate, don’t hesitate to take on a career in hospitality. Things are improving.