As we celebrate Women’s Month across South Africa, we are tremendously proud to acknowledge our incredible all-female leadership team at Thompsons Travel and have done a round table to get their input on what inspires them as women leaders, what motivates them to give of their best, and why they are passionate about being in South Africa’s tourism sector.
What does the concept of Women’s Day in South Africa mean to you personally?
Sharon Leong: Being born into a close mixed family, you get the opportunity to be inspired by many women from many backgrounds. My mom, like many mothers in South Africa, played a multi-faceted role. Woman’s day is that small recognition of what the true iron ladies of Africa can do.
Chantal Kliche: To take a day, a month, a moment, and an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the much-needed appreciation and reflection of extraordinary women who have such a positive impact within our family lives, our communities, businesses and within our nation giving that true feeling of being a proudly a South African superhero!
Priti Ramkissoon: Women’s Day in South Africa along, with so many of our other proudly South African commemorative days in our calendar, for me is about remembrance and gratitude. The days where women, men and children in our country fought for equality and fairness so that the new generations can have the voices and opportunities that we have today. We have strong women out there in our country, not just the leaders in businesses, but the resilient moms, grans, and young entrepreneurs who I am surrounded by and who give me the same inspiration to be a stronger woman and to continue pushing towards my goals and aspiration.
Mary Shilleto: Having been given the opportunity of leading a business in a very challenging industry with great successes over the years, as well as challenges, Covid being the biggest challenge ever, I have admired our team for overcoming every obstacle thrown at them.
Patricia Kinnear: The answer to this would be STRENGTH. I work with incredible, strong women. They bring so many different skills to our team. It is impressive how they manage to pull everything together – it is especially inspiring, during these turbulent times!
Melanie Hoock: A Day to acknowledge what all those women do – from being a mother and wife, to having a career, to managing a home – we just get it done, no complaints!
Kaylene Du Plessis: Acknowledging the struggles we as woman have had to overcome and celebrating the strength and balance it requires to be a working woman today. Our battle for gender equality is far from over but we are making headway.
Desire Van Rooyen: A reminder that all those brave women who fought for women’s rights and equality, it’s a day to be grateful to them, and a reminder to lift those women around us up, to be supportive, and to keep fighting for women’s rights.
Jacqueline Sijeku: Women’s Day is a time where we empower and celebrate the beauty and strength of South African women in our society; a day that brings women of South Africa together.
Mandy Singh: Women’s Day is a day of solidarity for us all to celebrate the social, political, cultural, and economic achievements of women. For me, this day acts as an opportunity to reflect and admire my mother. Her constant strength and resilience have helped shape me into the woman I am.
What are your thoughts on women in leadership roles in South Africa, specifically in the tourism sector?
Sharon Leong: I consider myself rather fortunate to have had the opportunity to work for and beside many inspirational female leaders in my travel and tourism career. It is an instinct for a woman to bring people together creating an environment for collaboration with others. Bringing unity to the workplace is an advantage in a modern organization such as Travel and Tourism. The industry needs to actively increase the pipeline of women in middle and senior management roles, improving the culture and receptiveness of organizations toward women leaders.
Chantal Kliche: I’m truly honoured to have had the opportunity to work alongside some incredible leaders within the travel, tourism, and airline sector. I have learnt that there is no limit as to what we as woman can accomplish by taking one moment at a time; by balancing both work and life with continued resilience; passion and collaboration. We strive with perseverance and to successfully reach our goals as one community!
Priti Ramkisson: Our Thompsons Travel brand alone is an impressive example of women in leadership roles, and I am so fortunate to be surrounded by all of them daily, who inspire, persevere, and lead by example. They have all grown strength to strength in their leadership roles, continued to hold their head up high throughout all that we have gone through as a company and as an industry, and it’s an admirable and proud place to be!
Mary Shilleto: I do believe that women leaders offer a quite different dynamic to the business environment, especially as they personally juggle home, children, husbands, and family time with very demanding positions, so they are able to lead with empathy and compassion.
Patricia Kinnear: Women in leadership roles carry the burden of work in their workplace and at home. They juggle both but still succeed in driving tourism in South Africa forward.
Nelda Pillay: Women are phenomenal leaders due to their nurturing and patient nature. We are rising in every sector because of our dedication and hard work. The tourism sector is one that’s grown wonderfully over the years and is filled with beautiful, intelligent women at the forefront. Our very own Mary Shilleto is iconic in the travel industry for her leadership through the years and has passed the torch to and mentored many a young woman along the way.
Tazlin Stavrinou: I think women inspire and motivate the tourism industry to keep on pushing through in good and tough times.
Desire Van Rooyen: It’s especially encouraging to see more female pilots. It should not just be little boys getting on a plane, seeing a male pilot, and aspiring to be a pilot one day.
Jacqueline Sijeku: Women are really making a name for themselves and have proven that they are constantly winning against inequality, ensuring they belong in the places where decisions are being made.
Mandy Singh: Women, especially in Africa, despite the inequalities resulting in underrepresentation, have become important actors in the sector in many ways. Travel statistics indicate that women as consumers are the drivers of the travel economy. They have a higher spending power and this influences travel and other aspects of travel.
Any advice for young women starting out in the business world?
Sharon Leong: Be bold, be strong and surround yourself with people that will inspire you. Healthy competition will keep you motivated so shift your focus on uplifting one another as opposed to negatively competing. Women are powerful and can bring about positive and lasting change.
Chantal Kliche: Continue to support, uplift, and encourage those around you: in your family, circle of friends, business world, community and in our nation! Some challenges may appear to be insurmountable but try embrace them, learn from them, and continue to persevere at your best! Never give up!
Priti Ramkissoon: “Find your way from the very beginning – your true north star – and stay connected to it as you evolve and navigate your career.”
Mary Shilleto: Just look at our management team at Thompsons Travel and within the Cullinan Group to see the opportunities that are available to pursue for young women starting out in the tourism industry.
Nelda Pillay: Knowledge is power, courage is strength, add this to determination and hard work, and you have the recipe for success! Remember to have a kind heart above all and respect other queens on their journey too. Women supporting each other creates a beautiful balance in the workplace.
Melanie Hoock: Believe in your own ideas and know your worth!
Tazlin Stavrinou: You can achieve anything you put your mind to no matter how big or small, we are stronger than we think.
Kaylene Du Plessis: My advice for young women is to stay true to who you are, stand your ground and remember these famous words: ‘Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo’ (You Strike a Woman, You Strike a Rock).
Jacqueline Sijeku: Never give up on something that you strongly believe in. No one is going to believe you like you do! We also need to be able to embrace failure and use that as a learning curve.
Mandy Singh: Be eager to learn, but do not be a pushover; find other women to connect with; It’s a different mindset from college; Stay away from comparisons; Play your own game; Approach the first job as an opportunity to get your feet wet; Learn to accept criticism; Don’t stop learning.