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IWD IX: Women in India do need much more empowerment: Sonavi Kaicker, CEO, Neemrana Hotels

Women are consistent, loyal, hardworking and contribute immensely to the organization that they work for. They often put the priorities of the organization before and learn to multitask and manage their dual roles conscientiously, says Sonavi Kaicker, CEO, Neemrana Hotels.

How important is IWD for you and why?

If we look back far, there’s much to rejoice over women’s empowerment, education, and iconic positions held despite the hurdles. If we look at more recent times, we can work and hope for less gender disparity – especially in the rural areas.

Although each day is Women’s Day for me, I think IWD is very important and relevant as it gives us an opportunity to pause and look back and acknowledge the good days, the great days, and the tough days.

A lot has been accomplished in the last one year for me – both personally and professionally. IWD reminds us to appreciate all the women in our life who are our pillars of strength. 

Do you really think that women, in a fast-changing technology and modern age, needs empowerment? How did you develop confidence in yourself?

Yes, women in India do need much more empowerment. The educated, modern, and financially independent woman in India may not need empowerment as she is privileged. However, that is not what constitutes majority of India. Women who are working singlehandedly or jointly with their spouses to educate and nurture their next generation, women who are working to support elders and their immediate family members physically and financially and women in both rural and urban setups who are working at home for endless hours to provide stability, hygiene and healthy, nutritious meals for their family all require encouragement and support. 

For me personally, confidence was imbibed at a very early age. From being trained to be a good orator, solo performances of Bharatanatyam dance on the Modern school stage to participating in athletic competitions at the school and State level, and later on competing nationally and internationally in golf tournaments across the country, my parents ensured that I was given adequate opportunities to hone my skills along with a continuous focus on my academics. My teachers always encouraged me to think for myself and be independent. My Bharatanatyam guru Leela Samson imbibed a very deep understanding of discipline and respect for one-another’s time and played a huge role in shaping my personality at a very young and tender age. My golf mentors Mr. Ajai Gupta and Ms. Nonita Lal Quereshi taught me the significance of never giving up and the power of positive thinking on and off the golf course. Golf is a very humbling game as you are your only opponent! 

Despite being the younger sibling, I was sent to Oxford University to pursue my double Masters degrees without the blink of an eye. My elder brother was studying at Delhi University at the time but that was not a bone of contention for my parents. They knew that I had been given a unique opportunity by the Rhodes Scholarship Trust and they wanted me to benefit from the same ! During my first job at Sarovar Hotels as an aspiring hotelier, I was fortunate to work under the visionary Mr. Ajay Bakaya – “Learn to take decisions young Sonavi. You may make a few wrong ones but that is how you will learn.” At Neemrana Hotels, each day is a fantastic learning experience as I work closely with Mr. Aman Nath who is world renowned for his creativity and contribution to the revitalization of Indian heritage tourism. 

While women constitute 54% of the work force in global travel, tourism and hospitality industry. This percentage is abysmally low at the top level?

Although this figure may be comparatively low in India, I am certain that things are changing. There will be more women who will continue to shine as we go along. Women are consistent, loyal, hardworking and contribute immensely to the organization that they work for. They often put the priorities of the organization before theirs – as they spontaneously do on the home front too – and learn to multitask and manage their dual roles conscientiously.

What sort of challenges do you face at workplace as well as balancing work-family life?

There are several challenges faced. Sometimes there are long and eventful days at work and when you finally think the day is over and you’re assisting the children at home with their studies you receive a call from a hotel that requires urgent support and swift decision making! Or you may have to travel during a weekend for some urgent work. That’s how the service industry works. I remember receiving daily calls from my elder daughter during the Covid-19 pandemic as sometimes she faced connectivity issues at home whilst connecting to her online classes. I had to guide her and communicate parallelly with her class teacher without disrupting the workflow in office. I think multitasking is the key to overcoming challenges but sometimes it becomes a bit overwhelming even for the best of us ! The Covid-19 pandemic taught us many key lessons and work-life balance became even more vital than it had ever been in the past. Our focus was to ensure that the Neemrana family had to be sustained while ensuring that the Hotels across India continued to prosper – and as parents we had to parallelly focus on the mental health of our children. The Neemrana family was equally important as there were times when we were helping our team members to get medical help in different parts of India whilst keeping the morale high – as well as supporting the Covid requirements of the villages where our hotels are situated.

As a working parent I miss being able to pick and drop my children from school for instance, but I think I compensate for that by spending quality with them at home – be it reading books, art and craft or spending time outdoors with them on the golf range and teaching them to care for their rabbits!

One school of thought suggest that women themselves are one of the hindrances in the growth of the women. What is your take on this?

It would be wishful thinking to say that all women have experienced supportive women along their journey of life. Sometimes women have differing perspectives and pass judgements – but that’s possibly because they were not given the opportunities that others have been given and so they really can’t be blamed! It’s important to listen to everyone’s perspectives with an open and objective mind but do what you exactly believe in as no one else can take decisions for you as you must face the consequences of your decisions alone.  

At the same time, I also think that there are many women who support other women across different spectrums. There are supportive men and women family members, women who play a key role in generating employment for other men and women, and women who support each other emotionally through hardships. It would be unfair not to mention the role that some men play behind successful women!

What are your suggestions to the younger generation?

The younger generation has so much more exposure to social media and information in general through the internet that their distraction levels are epic ! The most important factor would be to stay connected to their roots and to carry their successes lightly on their shoulders. My advice would be to spend as much time with your elders and try to absorb their good qualities – they are the real living encyclopedias!

There is a lot to be grateful for – focus on the small pleasures of life. Waking up to a blue sky, a chirping bird, a flowering plant, valuing something kind that someone said to you, a childhood memory with a grandparent that you cherish, a meaningful gift that you can give someone to make them smile, sharing a laugh with your children at the end of a regular day. Focus on the positives in your life and don’t compare your journey with the journey of others – you’ll never really know the hardships that they may have faced or the issues that they may be coping with. Think about and concentrate on what you can create from scratch based on your own merit.

In the present times it’s also important that the younger generation does not put too much pressure on themselves. Whilst it is good to try and excel at something, one must not forget that the best discoveries made by scientists were accidental ones. So, an overall development is necessary – the Emotional Quotient (EQ) as well as the Intelligence Quotient (IQ). 

Although there is no shortcut to hardwork and perseverance, I firmly believe that some of the greatest achievements will be made by the younger generation whilst they lead simple lives and keep working at whatever their passion is! 

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