This week, we celebrate International Women’s Day with the women that we know and the lessons that they can share. Stephanie Chai, founder of The Luxe Nomad and Robb Report Singapore Thought Leader, weighs in on girl power, feminism and hiring regardless of gender
Stephanie Chai is a self-admitted workaholic—it’s a trait that has existed within her from a young age. As a teenager, she would spend her weekends researching business ideas instead of spending it on leisure activities like shopping. When it came to her career and purpose, it’s always been very clear to her—she was never going to work for someone or do something corporate. By 14, she had her whole life planned in front of her; setting four main goals as benchmarks for her own success.
Her first two goals were to enrol in a university and dabble in the show business industry—both of which she achieved, graduating from the University of Auckland and having experience as a TV presenter. Her third goal is to start her own business. Today, Chai is the CEO of The Luxe Nomad, a luxury villa booking portal and management company. Featuring thousands of curated villas in 33 destinations around the world, it is Asia Pacific’s leading travel booking website for luxury villas.
Here, we speak to her about International Women’s Day, girl power and feminism.
Why do you think it is important to celebrate International Women’s Day?
It’s an opportunity to showcase what women have achieved and how far we have come from the days of yore, when we couldn’t even vote! I feel that with the Me Too movement, we are also seeing more equality and recognition for women. But [that said], there’s still more to go and glass ceilings to break. Gender bias is more often than not unspoken and unseen, but it is very much alive given the number of positions of power women hold in board, C-suite and investor positions.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘embrace equity’. What does this mean to you?
For me, I look at it mainly as an employer and from the perspective that entails giving everyone the equal opportunity to rise above, no matter what their role or department they are in. If you look at the hospitality industry, whether it’s senior management or operations, it is male-dominated. I’m proud to say that at The Luxe Nomad, we have had many women in operations, C-suite positions, and a former female general manager.
Do women support each other enough?
I think for the most part, we do. But you might find some women preferring feedback from men instead of women.
What does the idea of power mean to you?
The ability to implement change.
Girl power vs feminism. Discuss.
Girl power is more the rallying of troops. That is, women coming together and helping one another out, or women achieving things they only imagined. Feminism is the belief that women should be treated equally like men and be given the same rights and opportunities. I think both are important, women should [also] help and uplift other women, and give them [the] opportunities to do so. We cannot expect society to change code and conduct overnight, even if legislation does.
Describe your biggest achievement thus far.
From building The Luxe Nomad from out of my apartment during its first years (with two cats roaming around) to hitting eight figures in sales. And all that with a team that has been predominantly female! Today we have more of an equal split between men and women, but our early years were very much female-powered. We just never had a lot of men applying to be part of reservations and marketing, apart from tech. I do still believe in hiring the best candidate, regardless of gender.
As someone whom we consider successful, what wisdom can you share with the rest of us?
Always be humble. The minute you let it all go to your head is when you make mistakes, and we should never stop learning. Also, don’t forget to give credit where credit is due and share the pie, as we only get to where we are with the right team.
If you could have dinner with three powerful women, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
“There will be great presidents again but there will never be another Camelot.” I think Jackie O would be the most interesting person to speak with, but I would also love to speak with Mother Teresa to understand her innate selflessness and how she brought change to the forgotten. Margaret Thatcher, too. Not only was she the first female British prime minister, but the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century. Divisive as she may be, I still believe she did a lot for the country and for women.