In many parts of the world, including Nigeria, when a woman introduces herself as owner of a particular business or the head of a corporation, the response and cooperation she gets is usually not encouraging, as compared to when it’s a man in that position.
For years, women have suffered a weltering array of stereotypes, but this is changing, as they are not giving in. While some are taking on male-dominated roles, some others are taking steps to kick against the stereotypes and give women a voice.
Amaka Amatokwu is one of the growing number women in Nigeria that’s doing all it takes to ensure women are heard. This she does for women in the hospitality industry through the initiative, Women in Hospitality Nigeria (WIHN).
In this interview, she reveals more about the initiative and how she’s empowering women in the hospitality industry.
Tell us a little about yourself
My name is Amaka Amatokwu- Ndekwu. Born October 23rd and from Ibusa, Delta State. I have worked in the hospitality industry for about 8years and I would say my journey thus far has been amazing. I am a sociable, enthusiastic, resourceful and much organized person, possessing an abundance of energy and drive, with good skills in customer relations, management and human resources.
Endowed with excellent communications skills, I am able to establish productive relationships with people at all levels. Whatever I do, I always endeavor to pay attention to detail and have a creative mind in coming up with solutions (fondly called Miss Fix it).
I am an alumni of Madonna University Okija, European School of Economics, London and the Lagos Business School respectively.
What’s Women in Hospitality Nigeria all about?
We are a group of professional women engaged in management, operations, food production, travels, tourism and customer service. This association was founded with the aim of being a voice of support, unifying all women in the hospitality industry in Nigeria and hopefully outside the shores of Nigeria.
We also aim to inspire and empower our women while promoting gender diversity and leadership in the hospitality and tourism industry.
We are currently operating in the western and southern parts of Nigeria with a long-term goal of establishing vibrant chapters in all thirty-six states and the FCT.
What inspired the idea for this?
Over the years in my journey as a hospitality professional in Nigeria, I experienced or witnessed other women’s degradation and victimization from different parties in society. Female professionals in the industry are either stereotyped as potentially being indecent or considered a waste of time and not a real career. I also witnessed situations where owners or management find it difficult in giving a woman leadership positions and responsibilities simply because they think she has too much drama going on in her life and won’t deliver.
On the contrary I think that is not the situation in all cases. Yes women have a lot going on but we have a lot of superwomen who have been able to strike a perfect balance with multi-tasking family and career. Gender equality has been an issue not just in the hospitality industry but in all industries, all over the world. I decided to be a part of the change agents who want to ensure that there will be some kind of balance for easy and fair results. I was inspired to create a platform for women to be heard, trained and giving equal opportunities at the top.
There are other important reasons why this association was founded but in summary we want to create a paradigm shift in the perception of women in the hospitality and tourism industry.
Ho do you reach out to women in the industry, and what does it take for them to be actively involved in the initiative?
We currently have about 300 active members from the west and southern part of Nigeria on our social media groups and we are increasing daily. Our community is kind of a tight unit, so reaching out to other women can be a lot easier especially from members. We have representatives who are highly successful in their careers, making contact with hospitality and tourism-based organizations to create more awareness about WIHN and the benefits of being a member.
To be a member all it takes is to register with us by filling our application forms attached with a cv and passport photograph
Send your filled application form to [email protected] , and a representative will be in touch with you.
What activities do you carry out to empower these women?
We have a very busy calendar for the remaining part of 2017 and 2018. We organize trainings, seminars and workshops for our members and the general public who have interest in joining the industry. We have seasoned professionals with wealth of experience who volunteer and are happy to transfer knowledge and assist our members in dealing with professional and sometimes personal issues.
We intend to start programs reaching out to students in post-secondary institutions from January 2018. We intend to open their minds to the benefits of starting a career in the hospitality and tourism industry.
We also have mentorship programs that encourage and help our members with delicate issues, career plans and advancement.
Tell us about your success rate so far. How has the initiative been able to bring out more women leaders in the hospitality industry?
Our success rate has been very encouraging, we have been able to expose our members on things they were hitherto unaware of pertaining to the industry, we have been able to develop their confidence level in performing their jobs, we have been able to communicate the need and benefit of personal improvement and a commitment to professional excellence, by getting certifications and degrees to boost their chances of getting higher positions.
We have been able to form a unified front and also create a bond amongst ourselves irrespective of the fact that we are meant to be competitors to each other’s brands.
We have also reached out to some government agencies and institutions, recruitment agencies and private organizations; we are having talks with them on support and partnerships.
What are the challenges you face running Women in Hospitality Nigeria, and how do you overcome them?
Oh wow, I guess no good thing really comes easy. It’s not been easy getting sponsorships and partnerships, we would be happy to partner with organizations that want to impact in the lives of the next generation of service people in the hospitality industry.
Everyone expects to get good customer service wherever they go, but in reality, not many Nigerian owners are ready to invest in training and career development for these people. We want to create adequate training and platforms independent of the owners but for the benefit of the individual.
We have some amazing partnerships and sponsorships, we appreciate our organizations and hope to get more on board.
How would you describe the current state of Nigeria’s hospitality industry?
It has really improved. We are more exposed to international industry standards and expectations, due international brands venturing into the huge Nigerian market.
A lot of young people are being innovative with tourism and embracing the industry and I am happy we have some of our female members playing major roles. I wish we could get more support and platforms from our country to explore more opportunities in the hospitality and tourism industry.
What are the regular challenges industry players face?
For the hospitality industry. lack of adequate training and good working conditions.
For travel and tourism, lack of interest by Nigerians in exploring our local tourist attractions or destinations. Also, lack of enthusiasm of the government in developing these local attractions.
Have you always had plans to set up a Not-For-Profit initiative?
Yes, I have always wanted to contribute more to the industry.
What has been your most exciting moment, since you started running Women in Hospitality Nigeria
My exciting moments, when good feedback and appreciation are being given in the course of carrying out our set objectives. My personal goal is to continuously make positive improvements in every member’s career
What’s your advice for newbies in the hospitality industry, and those still thinking of making an entry?
If you enjoy making someone smile because they got good service then you are in the right industry but if you think it’s a just a job where you earn salary without interest or love for service, then find another industry.
Hospitality and tourism is an industry where happiness, satisfaction and excellent customer service are the key ingredients to a successful career. It’s really an enjoyable profession where you get to meet people from hugely diverging cultures and societies, but all these people have one thing in common: they want to experience fantastic customer service wherever they decide to visit or vacation.