Women in Hospitality: Aminath Shaly, Director of Human Resources for Amilla Fushi, The Small Maldives Island Co.
For the latest instalment of our ‘Women in Hospitality’ series, we speak to Aminath Shaly, Director of Human Resources for Amilla Fushi by The Small Maldives Island Co. In an industry where women make up only 8% of the workforce (of which only 3% are Maldivian women), this series aims to spotlight women in leadership positions throughout the Maldivian hospitality sector. Shaly is currently based at Amilla Fushi resort. Here she talks about her career journey, resort life and how all employees have the capacity to surprise you.
When did you decide to join the hospitality industry?
At school, I was always very sporty – a little notorious even! I always had a ‘go get ‘em’ attitude! So when I used to hear people talk about resort life, describing it as pretty scary and different, I immediately thought “I’m going to go and experience this for myself!” I wanted to do the things that people didn’t often do. That’s how I found myself at 17 on my way to Sun Island Resort to work as a telephone operator. Luckily, my parents were very supportive – they never said no to me, they’ve never imposed anything on me.
After my initial bravery, when I got there I started to panic. I called my mum and said: “I can’t do this. I miss my friends and I want to come back to Male’!” But luckily my mum encouraged me to stick it out and not to give up so fast. I was there for 10 months and I learnt a lot. However, after a while I started to get bored. I wanted to move to Front Office and there was no available post –so I moved to Meeru Island resort as a receptionist.
When did you start working in HR?
Whilst I was at Meeru, the resort began to change the ‘personnel’ department to a ‘human resources’ department – it was the beginning of the idea of ‘human resources’ in the Maldives at that time. A foreign consultant, a Scottish lady called Paula Hughes, came over to set up the HR department and I got the opportunity to work with her and I just learnt so much from her. She was my guru! We’re still in touch today, actually. So that’s where it all started! I ended up working with her for three years.
Later, I moved to One and Only Kanuhura and it was there that I worked my way up the HR department. I started as an HR assistant, then officer, training coordinator and finally acting assistant manager. After three years, I applied to Huvafen Fushi as an HR manager. I was only 24! It was pretty unheard of as HR was a very male-dominated department – even the local news did a piece on me!
Tell me a little bit about your academic studies.
It was at Huvafen Fushi that I started working and I can honestly say it was the best time in my career – The senior management, especially my HRD and GM, they continually pushed me to be the best I could be. Maybe as a result of that, whilst I was working with them, I did a professional management development course at the Cornell University programme at Singapore in Human Resources Management. It was only a 2 week course but it was then that I got hooked on learning.
In 2009, I got the opportunity to move to the corporate head office as a corporate human resources manager, overseeing the Universal and Per Aquum resorts. I capitalised on being in Male’ by completing my diploma at Clique College. It was tough – classes were from 6-10pm every night so I’d go straight from work but it was what I wanted so I went for it! I then went on to complete my degree and now I’m currently doing my MBA with The London School of Commerce UK, which is an associate college of Cardiff Metropolitan University. The course is based in Sri Lanka so every 6 weeks I go there for 4 days.
What would you describe as your biggest success?
My biggest success is the people I work with. All my team are such stars! It’s been wonderful to see them grown and develop. For example, my current HR assistant – during his first two days he kept saying “I can’t do this!” but he’s doing so well now. Sometimes I just know that someone is going to be a star and that’s exciting to see. We’re now working on an apprenticeship with the Ministry of Education and putting together a training programme with them so I hope to see even more of that over the coming years.
The people! I have worked in this industry for the last 15 years, with so many different nationalities and I still get surprised by people. Every single individual surprises you. You never know how something will end – you think that you know someone, you think you know how they think, but still at the end of the day, everyone is very different, everyone is individual.
What are the most important skills to learn as an HR manager?
When I’m talking with my team, or when I’m talking to another colleague, I’ve learnt that I have to change myself, the way that I approach them and the way that I speak – so that people can understand me. I also try to be very flexible. This is not a city hotel, we live here. I can’t force people to stick to a strict schedule. In HR, you are always on the job – when you go to lunch, you’ll be discussing HR issues with the staff. We don’t build relationships by staying in the office – if staff come to the office, then it’s ‘official’ – instead we chat with people. I want to change people’s thinking about HR – we’re not here to punish you. We’re not the police department!
Has there been anyone in particular that has really helped you on your career journey?
My best friend Anyu. She has been by my side since the beginning. She has always supported me to ‘be somebody’. When I wasn’t sure about getting onto the speedboat to go to Sun Island all those years ago, she was the one who literally pushed me! Up to now, she has always been my strength and would always listen to me. I only got married last year but my husband is extremely supportive of my work, too.
Do you think there’s been a change in the last ten years in how society perceives the work that you do?
Definitely – I believe it’s changed for the better. When I started working in resorts, some of my friends’ parents advised them not to even talk to me! Even up to 2006, I can say that, when I told people that I worked in a resort, I would get very negative responses. Nowadays, that very rarely happens. People who used to judge me for working in a resort now bemoan their own daughters for not being more like me.
What’s next for you in your professional life?
At the moment, we’re looking at the company’s second property, Finolhu, which will be opening here in Baa atoll in April 2016. So now I am also working on the pre-opening HR work for that resort in addition to what I’m doing at Amilla Fushi. I’d never want to work for a different company – I’m in love with this company, the management are amazing and I don’t see myself working for anyone else! As the company grows, I hope I can grow with it.