Sisterhood Soiree: Where women leaders in the hospitality and nightlife industry left everyone in awe of their courage

On the eve of Women's Day, some boss ladies spoke about India's journey in accepting women in the food and beverage space. Present at the event were Shatbhi Basu, Anuroopa Banerjee Gupta, Bhargavi Naidu, Amninder Singh,

Sisterhood Soiree: Where women leaders in the hospitality and nightlife industry left everyone in awe of their courage

Women in India have come a long way to make a mark in a society saturated with the patriarchal narrative. There are many who have fought social prejudices and limitations to have made a considerable name for themselves in their own industry. Talking specifically of the hospitality sector and the nightlife business, India has seen a lot of women undermined for their involvement in this particular space. However, it would be apt to say that the industry has evolved manifold with more women leaders now becoming prominent voices in the sphere. 

Some such women shared an empowering dialogue on the eve of Women’s Day at ‘Sisterhood Soiree’ - an initiative by the India Nightlife Convention and Awards (INCA), with their title partner as Heineken. The evening saw some remarkable women expressing their thoughts about how the industry has evolved for women over a period of time. Inspiring female participation and encouraging aspiring women in the hospitality space, the event witnessed three engrossing panels at the venue ‘Lord of the Drinks’. 

The event began with a panel that drove conversations around Women in the Food & Beverage domain, while the second and the third spoke about Women in the Media and Entertainment space and Women in the Mix, respectively. 

Many interesting women leaders from the hospitality and the media industry, who were primarily involved in the food and beverage space, were present at the event. These included the first Indian woman bartender, Shatbhi Basu; Head Chef at Oi Kitchen and Bar, Anuroopa Banerjee Gupta; Head of United Breweries, Bhargavi Naidu; Executive Chef at Arth Restaurant and Lounge and  Chef Amninder Sandhu  They have been playing a big role in inspiring women to come forward and participate in a revolutionary change where females are at par with the men in the hospitality space. 

Others present at the event included Malini Agarwal, Amy Shroff, Rachel Goenka, Gauri Devidayal, Shibani Dandekar, Manasi Scott, Riva Bubber, Chef Amriner Sandhu, Chef Anuroopa B Gupta, Tanya Swetta. The panel disucssion was followed by a party spearheaded by women DJs and bartenders taking charge of the evening. Most celebrated DJs of the industry like DJ Shez, DJ Nisha Harale and DJ Smokey kept the dance floor busy through the evening.  

Riyaaz Amlani, the Co-founder of INCA and CEO & MD of Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality Pvt Ltd said, “Countries like US and UK have mandates where they need to have a specific percent of their workforce as women under equal opportunity employment. Inspirations like the Sisterhood Soiree are an inspiration for those who are looking at venturing into the hardcore and demanding industry of Hospitality and Nightlife.”

It was quite intriguing to hear women talk about how they are trying at an individual level to nurture more women talent in their specific domains. Talking of Shatbhi Basu as one of such boss ladies and the first Indian woman to break the barriers for women in the bartending space, went a step further to start a bartending academy called STIR. She has been one among such remarkable women who have been promoting other aspirants like her to come forward and be fearless. Hearing her talk was indeed a moment of self reflection, promoting one to single handedly beat the odds. 

In one of the panels, Sophie Sinha, Head of Marketing at Moët Hennessy, shared her experience, saying, “I have been in the Wine & Spirits space for 10 years. When I stepped in it, it was a totally different universe back in 2009. Over the last 5-7 years, we noticed that there was a complete paradigm shift in the way people perceived alcohol. There was a lot of consumption happening at home because not a lot of people were comfortable to go out and drink - because there weren’t a lot of places to go to, which serve the right thing that they wanted to have. And especially for women, because in a lot of places at the time across the country, drinking was considered to be a taboo for women. One would look at a woman drinking and say- Oh my god! She is holding a glass of alcohol. I remember that if you’re working in the alcohol industry, you will be tagged in a certain way, like you have nothing else to do. And I told them that - No, I chose to do this. This is my choice because this is something that I find very interesting. And I think it is fantastic that things have changed for the country and I think it has a lot to do with social media and also because the generation has really changed.”

About a decade ago, it is true that whether it is about drinking and selling alcohol, or about women working as chefs in a professional kitchen, they have been either looked down upon or seen as an unwelcome entity in the hospitality space. However, the scenario is now changing with women taking the lead and flipping mindsets. 

Talking about how an event such as this can encourage other female aspirants, Bhargavi Naidu, Head of Marketing at United Breweries, said, “Nightlife space, as we all know, is largely a male dominated thing. But, ofcourse, there are women like Manasi Scott, Shibani Dandekar who are a part of the Food & Beverage space. Manasi has been around in terms of DJing and Music. Women like these have been taking the baton ahead for the longest time now and there are women like you and me who jump into this and make it larger than what is it at this point of time. There has never been a better time than now to talk about gender equality. I think these women do a phenomenal job in a space which is considered a man’s world. I think that the narrative is clearly changing and we just want it to change faster. And we want to see more and more women to see this space as a comfortable space to come in and not just lean on to industries like IT and FMCG. Women should start taking up other options as a career choice, whether it is being a chef, being at the bar or managing operations of a pub or a club or a hotel. That’s how we see this as an event.” 

In an interaction with Anuroopa Banerjee Gupta, she spoke about how other young aspiring females in the industry can be influenced by watching women in the hospitality and nightlife sector flourishing. Talking about the role of such events, she said, “I think it is very important to come out and talk about your experiences. In an industry where it has been such a taboo for women to be in, when other women come and see the whole lot of the women in the industry, whether they are bartenders, chefs and restaurateurs. Events and forums like these create a change and a ripple effect in the system. I might be somebody who doesn’t have the courage or isn’t able to take that leap of faith because I am worried. But when I hear about the journeys of others who have done it and are happy doing it, flourishing in the sector, it creates a support system going forward.”

It was quite interesting to know the little backstory of all these women who have been thriving in the hospitality space, setting a benchmark and laying down the footsteps for many other aspirants like them to follow. Events like these are indeed important to help the tables turn in a patriarchal setup, being a catalyst to drive an ongoing change. 

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