Carla da Silva
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Despite the large number of women who make up the travel and tourism workforce, unfortunately there are still very few women at the top.

A simple glance at the boardrooms of most airlines and hotel groups, and you’ll see that on the boards at these companies, women typically only hold between 10% and 25% of the directors’ spots.

However, in Africa, we have some amazing, powerful and successful women at the top of the ladder in the travel industry. Amongst these women is Air Mauritius’ Carla da Silva. We sat down with her to chat about what it takes to make it to the top.

You are Air Mauritius’ Regional Manager for Southern Africa and Latin America; BARSA Chairperson; Aviation Coordination Services Non-Executive Director and Reach for a Dream Foundation Director. How did you get to the top? What has your path been like? 

I got to the top by sitting on the shoulder of many great giants, both women and men who believed in me, identified potential in my abilities and stretched me.  I believe in mentors, with whom you can share, brainstorm and whom you can ask for help. That is the only way you learn, grow and take others along with you.

As a gymnast from a young age, discipline, focus and hard work is what I believe in.

In my corporate career, it has been ‘working the extra hours’ whilst others were sleeping; taking on the additional roles and responsibilities without compensation but knowing where I was heading towards.

I had a dream wall in my bedroom from a very young age where all my dreams, aspiration were visibly seen. I reminded myself that I can do all things provided I persevere, work hard and understand that career success is a journey.

The path has not been easy. I have had to climb many steep hills but I never gave up.  I am by nature a very optimistic and a ‘big picture’ person so I tend to focus on the end-result and on where I am going as opposed to the current situation.

There have been many challenges but my secret has been to remain focused, work hard and hold hands with other leaders in order to continue to embrace the challenges and remain strong.

My biggest strength is definitely my strong leadership skills where I am able to positively influence people I lead and work with. That is indeed my greatest asset.

The travel industry is in constant change. What are some of the most significant changes you have witnessed and how have you faced these changes and challenges? 

The world is a global village. Change is part and parcel of our lives on a daily basis irrespective of industry but travel world has changed and is continuously evolving.

One needs to remain relevant and adapt constantly.  Technology is one of the most significant changes I have witnessed and I have embraced the world of technology in many different spheres i.e. mobile technology, e-commerce and social media.  Challenges need to be managed but one must be innovative and move with the constant change in order to survive.

Do you have any tips for up-and-coming women in the travel industry? 

Surround yourself with winners.  Find time to seek mentors, both women and men, and spend quality time with them.  It is important to hold hands with people as nothing is achieved alone but collectively so much can be achieved.

Stay focused, humble irrespective of your role and work hard.

Embrace challenges, remain optimistic and be innovative, do things differently so that you will be noticed in a very competitive and cut throat environment.

What do you feel has been the best decision in your career? Why? 

The best decision was pursuing my passions and working hard continuously and consecutively to achieve them.  Adopting great mentors in my career journey who stretched me beyond my imagination.

I have embraced every opportunity offered to me even it meant no compensation in the short term, for me it was about the learnings and the exposure.

Making mistakes is part of your journey as a human being; I learnt that it is perfectly normal to make mistakes because you grow tremendously during such trails and challenges making you a strong and wiser leader.

Which woman has inspired you in your career and in your life? 

There have been a number of strong women I have leaned on in my life however to name a few: my mother, Maria Rodrigues who instilled the importance of education in me from a very young age;  bosses and mentors that I have had during my career who left a footprint in my heart have been Clea Spann and June Crawford in particular.

A woman who has inspired me is Sheryl Sandberg, the author of Lean In.

I am very passionate about giving back and from a humanitarian perspective Mother Teresa and Doctor Beverley Wolmarans have truly inspired me to make a difference in the lives of children and women.

How important do you feel the role of travel technology and has been in the growth of the aviation industry…

Technology has played a critical role in the travel world and continues to play a major role.  The industry has grown not only from a distribution perspective but certainly from a technology point of view from innovation, convenience to speed making the world a village allowing us all to communicate and grow our businesses on many different levels and spheres.