Across our Virgin Limited Edition collection of eight global hotels and retreats, inspirational women occupy positions across all departments, with some having been with us for 10 years or more and others recently joining the Virgin Limited Edition family. Passionate about their success, many of these women have stepped outside of traditional stereotypes and biases to forge their careers, all the while balancing their personal lives and pursuing their passions.
This International Women’s Day we spoke to Virgin Limited Edition women about their professional lives, what makes them tick and what this day and its theme of #BreaktheBias means to them.
At our tented safari camp Mahali Mzuri, located in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy in Kenya, women make up over half over the senior leadership positions: a proportionately high figure in the Kenyan Mara. As part of this, we endeavour to hire from within the local communities our hotels are located in and at Mahali Mzuri, we're proud to say that 100% of our staff are Kenyan. We spoke to Mariana, Mahali Mzuri's Camp Manager and Jane, the Head of Housekeeping at Mahali Mzuri to get their perspectives as Kenyan women in the hospitality industry.
Please tell us a bit about yourself
Mariana: My name is Mariana Kathini. I am a Kenyan, born & brought up in the coastal city of Kenya Mombasa.
Jane: My name is Jane Koimerek and am the Head of Housekeeping at Mahali Mzuri in Kenya. I have a diploma in hospitality management and am very passionate about my career. I enjoy lighting up the faces of my guests with the magical preparations of their rooms, which always change according to seasons and time of day! I love the way they smile and look forward to another night in our camp after a long day of experiencing the wildlife in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy. I pride myself on having the energy to work hard and come up with new ideas every day.
What are your responsibilities at Mahali Mzuri?
M: As Camp Manager I find myself performing various duties, overseeing general operations and working with camp personnel to help keep the camp running smoothly - I focus on ensuring that guests have an incredible experience with us.
J: I’m the head housekeeper in charge of the housekeeping team. Sometimes I’ll also assist with guests’ orientation and manning the gift shop.
What’s your proudest achievement at work?
M: Being part of the great team that helped Mahali Mzuri be voted the Number 1 Hotel in the World last year! This is no mean feat and even more so for myself as one of the team leaders; it made me be proud as a lady. I'm also very proud of my team, they are the best: when guests say that Mahali Mzuri is the place they have had their best experience since being on safari and that the team here makes them feel at home, I feel such pride.
I am the longest serving manager at Mahali Mzuri and also the first native person to be promoted into a managerial position, something I'm especially proud of being a woman. I see that my company values women in leadership.
J: Definitely when we were voted as the Best Hotel in the World last year! Being featured on our company website and social media, and showing off to the world what we do as a team has been the most memorable moment and the biggest achievement so far in my career. This has made me more confident and wanting to do the best that I can to make sure that we do better every day.
What does being a woman in your workplace mean to you?
M: Wow! It means a lot. It means what men can do a woman can too. For the camp, being a woman means I bring a little homely touch too! In my role, I bring empathy. Women who are empathic leaders are often perceived as "too nice" and that is not the case: it takes a strong leadership skill set to be a good listener and understand the deep layers of all sides with your team. An empathetic work environment leads to happier employees who feel a stronger sense of belonging and ultimately take better care of our guests. So I believe in making sure the internal customer is happy first then that way they will make the external customer happy.
J: For me personally, it means attention to detail. I bring a clean eye for detail and I bring that to my workplace, I think women generally have a great eye for detail and I see that in my team too.
What does it mean to be a woman in your culture and country?
M: In many African cultures, women are expected to be responsible for things that men are not. There are more pressures put on girls and women to look and behave in certain ways. The culture also says women place is in the kitchen, they're not expected to work nor speak their minds. But women are equally capable as men to be successful in their careers.
In Kenyan hotels, men still dominate in senior leadership roles. The hospitality sector is dominated by women with an average of 55.5% - 60% of the workforce in the tourism industry comprised of women, but there remains very few in key leadership positions. The women will be mainly found in positions that are stereotypically ascribed to their gender, such as sales, housekeeping, and marketing. So I can say am lucky to be in a leadership position.
Kenyan women are seeing more and more that they can follow the career that interests them, not those they are expected to do, and also now we have a number of women in visible leadership positions. Many women, especially the younger generations, have seen they can do anything a man can do, so we now have many ladies rising through the ranks and demonstrating their skills and experience. Also there was a lot of campaigning for girls and this also made more ladies take up the challenge to take senior positions in companies.
J: Coming from the Maa community I must admit that there has been a great milestone in the way my community treats women. It took years for our voices to be heard but the determination and support from the whole world has made it possible. I am proud to say that I am a Maasai. In our culture, women are the home. We build the home, keep the home, feed the family. We are the glue that keeps the family together. In my country, women are the backbone of this society: 80% of blue-collar workers here are women. We literally hold the country up with our service.
What would you say to a young woman just starting out in her career?
M: I would encourage them not to give up their dreams, as it has been said, dreams are valid and so they should invest in education, get experience, exposure and hold themselves to high standards both in performance and integrity. They should know what a man can do, so can they. The young woman should focus instead on their own goals and priorities. Other people’s opinions of you are just that - opinions. They should not listen to what others have to say about them. If you can, I would recommend having a mentor to guide you after you join the industry.
J: I think there’s sometimes a bit of a societal stereotype that women aren’t good bosses – I would say ignore this! We don’t tolerate mediocrity but are very nurturing and caring and that contributes towards us being great bosses.
Can you tell us a bit about the work you do in the local community?
M: Assisting the community around where I work makes me feel I have made a difference in each place I work. Here at Mahali we started a primary school, and I like seeing young girls progress and so with this school am proud to lead the Keep the Girl Child in School project. This means we are helping a child in need from the local community.
A random act of kindness for a neighbour or staff from the local community makes me happy.
J: My daughter has started a drive to get sanitary pads to underprivileged girls in our community. With this, every month I give her few packets of sanitary pads so they can get to the girls who need them.
What does International Women’s Day and this year’s theme of #BreakTheBias mean to you personally?
M: #BreakTheBias to me means a lot. It means that we break all the biases women face at their place of work. For instance, I would love to see a level playing ground for women. It means that we should have equal pay, since pay discrimination is particularly rife in the hospitality industry. Of course, it also means working together harmoniously regardless of gender and providing equal opportunities based on skill and experience rather than gender.
J: I am a Maa woman heading up the housekeeping department in the #1 Hotel in the World - that is the truest definition of breaking bias.
The team at Mahali Mzuri celebrating winning the title of Number One Hotel in the World, 2021
How can men get involved in International Women’s Day?
M: They can start by empowering the women in their families and then extend this out to others. Speak up against the inequality against women. This can be at places of work or at functions. Speak a positive word, a word of encouragement to the female children when they are young (and continue to do so!) and show them that they can make their dreams come true.
J: Understanding is very important. Women go through a lot and they should support women.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
M: Always know what you want to do in life and go for it, let the discouragement from people not hinder you. Do not listen to what other people say about you, have a strong mindset and utilize the strengths in skill, knowledge, experience and emotion to pursue what you want, and not wait for it to come to you. Do a lot of networking, this helps a lot as you manoeuvre your way up the ladder. Always saying yes to opportunities and not allowing fear to get in the way of opportunity. For each challenge and failure, there's something to be won. Life is boring without challenges! So it's very important to identify your interests, get ready and enjoy your challenge.
J: That I am the only person with the key to my heart, opening doors for negativity will only cause me pain which if I choose not to open door wouldn’t have affected me.
Be ready to do anything, there is a reward for every good deed and faithfulness. No experience is lost and that life is a school you win you lose you learn
How do you balance your work and home life?
M: I would say make sure everything is organised at home and you know where everything is. Then when at work, always have some time for family, talk and catch up, good morning and how the day was etc. Don’t burn yourself out with work. Don’t take your work home, give quality time to your family and friends. Work can end and you have only family or friends to fall back to so do not be a workaholic and forget your social life. Learn to manage stress at work and do not take it home with you as you will not have a good time with your family or friends.
J: Give 100% at work and 100% at home. Don’t carry work home and don’t carry home issue to work. With this I work without pressure, and I get home with a lot of peace which in return makes me a good wife, mother, daughter and sister and a great asset to my community.
Some of the team at Mahali Mzuri, including Mariana, centre
What women have supported and inspired you?
M: My Mum to start with has really supported my career by taking care of my children so that I can work peacefully. My extended family Aunties have also been of good cheer in all I do. At Virgin Limited Edition, my colleague Marta was a good supporter always encouraging me and telling me I can do it.
J: I was privileged to work under a general manager who is a woman. She had experience both internationally and locally. She believed in me and always encouraged me to be my self and do what is right. Kudos Rhoda.
Find out more about International Women's Day here.