International Women’s Day: Saluting Tourism’s Leading Ladies – Sophear Mom Sreat, founder and CEO, SOPHIYA Travel & Tours and U&ME SPA, Cambodia

The fight for gender equality is for everyone, and necessary for economies and communities to thrive. With this in mind, International Women’s Day 2020 galvanises all women to work towards an equal world. In support of this campaign, TTG Asia and TTGmice are featuring women leaders in the travel, tourism and business events industry this week. Today, we speak to Sophear Mom Sreat to find out how she is challenging cultural norms, empowering women and trying to strike the perfect work-life balance.

What are the main issues surrounding gender equality in Cambodia’s tourism industry?
I’ve been working in the industry for about 20 years. Many local businesses are husband and wife owned, with the majority registered under the husband’s name while the wife carries out most of the operations. I wanted to start my own company to empower other women and show we can develop our own successful business. There has been a lot of changes in this but gender equality is still a concern in Cambodia. Women are still heavily influenced by cultural norms that determine that men go to work and women stay at home. This mindset is a huge limitation. Another problem for Cambodia’s tourism industry is that it is challenging for women to travel far from home.

How are you challenging this mindset?
I’m the vice president of the Cambodia Women Entrepreneurs Association (CWEA). We have about 600 members, of which 10 to 15 per cent work in the services industry including tourism and travel companies, hotels and restaurants. We work closely with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and other ministries to run programmes that invest in women by offering support, training and funding. As a female entrepreneur, I’m showing how women can turn a small business into an SME, and scale that up further into a big business. Women, and men, in Cambodia need a lot of support to change this mindset over time.

How do you promote gender equality in the workplace?
Education is the most important and biggest challenge in Cambodia. This is in terms of financial support, training and access to markets and networks. All of these things are easier in the digital era, but traditionally, Cambodia’s tourism industry works offline. Many elements have gone online now, which is great, but for many peers, it’s difficult to learn these new skills and retrain staff. They continue the traditional way, lose business and go bankrupt. We have to support these women and provide proper education and training.

What are your ambitions at work and in the home?
Women have ambitions, but also want to provide for our family and ensure our children have a good education. We say women have a thousand hands; we are housewives, mothers and income contributors. Many families have problems because of time management, and there’s a lot of talk about work-life balance. My husband runs his own company, I run three companies, we have one son and another on the way. We have to manage our time carefully. My husband and I have a mutual understanding and from time-to-time check on each other. I often work late and go to functions. He’ll tell me, “Hey honey, you’re so busy this month. Is there anything I can do to help?”, and I’ll do the same for him.

How can the industry be a more welcoming place for women?
CWEA is doing great work to challenge cultural norms. With committed support from both the government and private sector, I believe we will see real gender equality. The most important thing is self-empowerment and staying strong for yourself.

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