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.
As part of our 2022 series celebrating International Women's Day, we spoke to Emma who is our People & Welfare Manager at Mont Rochelle Hotel & Vineyard in Franschhoek, South Africa. Across the hotel, farm and winery at Mont Rochelle, approximately 40% of the team are women, a figure we continue to work to grow and cultivate.
Tell us a bit about yourself please Emma
My name is Emma Booth and I’m the People & Welfare Manager at Mont Rochelle. I am the youngest of three children, raised in Cape Town by a British mother and South African father. I have worked in the hospitality industry from the age of 17 as I really enjoy working with people! I’ve spent a few years in front of house but for the most part in human resources. I am currently studying a degree in Criminology and have a particular interest in trauma, youth ‘at risk’ and the cause and effects of crime.
What are your responsibilities at Mont Rochelle?
Every day is different and involves pretty much anything people-related; recruitment, counselling, payroll support, disciplinary issues and labour-related matters, administration (everyone’s favourite!), health and wellness, team events as well as community development. I’ve also offered to help out in the kitchen but I’m yet to be taken up on that one…!
What’s your proudest achievement?
To have worked as a People Manager for three different 5* properties without a HR-specific qualification. I am also quite proud of the fact that I managed to remain relatively sane during the hard lockdown in 2020…. at least I think I did!
What does it mean to be a woman in your culture and country?
I am privileged in that I grew up in a stable family environment in a relatively safe neighbourhood but sadly, this isn’t a typical setting for a South African woman. Violence against women is a common occurrence, many are single mothers and are raising families in communities that lack basic infrastructure and services without a stable income or, no income at all. Although our status in society is nowhere near where it should be, South African women are typically strong, resilient and live with the spirit of Ubuntu (“I am because we are”) at heart and deserve to be celebrated every day!
What would you say to a young woman just starting out in her career?
Look at women around you for inspiration, understand your unique characteristics and qualities, be authentic and don’t allow anyone to take your voice away from you.
Can you tell us a bit about the work you do in the local community?
I facilitate the spend of the Company’s donations budget, working very closely with local NGOs, volunteering for fundraising events and, providing input on new initiatives and community projects. I also managed the Virgin Unite funding that was generously provided for community relief during COVID-19.
Outside of Franschhoek, I am working with a NGO in Hanover Park, Cape Town on an initiative that utilises community-reported crimes to collate statistics with the idea of exposing the true extent of crime, to include criminal incidents which aren’t reported through official channels. The aim is to analyse patterns in criminal activity, identify effective interventions and ultimately reduce crime in the area. This initiative was launched in December 2021 during the “16-days of activism against gender-based violence” in an effort to highlight what it is that many South African women are living with on a daily basis.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you personally?
In some sense I feel saddened by the fact that there is a need for there to be a specific day devoted to celebrating women but I obviously understand the necessity for it; we have a long way to go before equality is obtained, before violence against women no longer fills the pages of the media, and for diversity and inclusion to become a way of life. It is of course a great opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women throughout the world and recognise the progress that has been made in terms of gender equality but ideally, I would like to see it become obsolete.
How can men get involved in International Women’s Day?
Speak out against prejudice and inequality, be mindful of your words and actions towards women and celebrate and acknowledge the role that women play in your lives. If not already, start doing so on International Women’s Day and repeat daily until the next one comes around. Equality can’t be achieved without the support of men!
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Take care of your mental health and don’t be afraid to ask for help!
How do you balance your work and home life?
I’m still working this one out!! Balance is not something that comes naturally to me and although I’m better at it than I used to be, I don’t always get right. It requires effort, planning and often the setting of boundaries. Take some time out (even if it’s just five minutes a day) and don’t be too critical of yourself if you can’t maintain the balance that is expected of you.
What women support and inspire you on your career path?
In the public domain I have a lot of respect for Professor Thuli Madonsela who, in her role as Public Protector, pursued social justice with courage and integrity and still continues to do so! I have been fortunate to have worked and be working with some talented and brilliant women and surrounded by many in my personal and family life too; my sister, sister-in-law, my late aunt and, of course, my mother. She maintained a full-time job, (in a male-dominated industry), raised a family, took care of the household, yet was always available to us, kind and caring, not afraid to speak her mind and played tennis until her late sixties. And she made it look so easy!
Read our accompanying International Women's Day interview with Mariana, Camp Manager and Jane, Head of Housekeeping at Mahali Mzuri, Kenya here.