Student spotlight: Minu Nair on being a mother, student, and woman in leadership

Minu Nair is a student in the Master in Talent Development & Human Resources at HST. Mother, talent dev professional, and master’s student, Minu has fine-tuned her ability to multitask—and do it well. Learn why she moved from Dubai to Madrid and what she’s learned along the way, including her experience as a woman in leadership.

You’re too strong-headed for a woman. 

My grandmother’s words still ring in my ears. My family was always generous with the career options they had for me: I could be 1) a doctor, 2) a nurse, and if at the end of the day nothing else worked out, 3) a teacher. So it’s safe to say that a Master in Talent Development & Human Resources came a bit out of left field. But in the end, I’m supported by a loving husband to help make this year at HST a reality. 

Life before HST

From growing up in India to developing my career in Dubai, life always seemed to get more and more confusing. I completed my Bachelor in Hotel Management, and earned myself a management trainee badge from a prestigious Indian hotel chain after graduation. That’s when reality hit. Hard. 

I couldn’t see myself working in hotels for the rest of my life. The glamour was there, sure—14-hour shifts in high heels, the required smile, struggling to pull the inventory trolley across the butchery section. And the list goes on. But while I knew it wasn’t for me, I did make note of three valuable lessons prior to pulling the work plug.

  1. Empathy is a priority with each and every customer
  2. Learn one new thing every day
  3. We always have a choice 

Turning lessons into leadership 

After leaving the hospitality field, I got hooked on travel and tourism—and through my job with Emirates Airlines, I began to learn what leadership meant, particularly in the face of obstacles. A leader has purpose, vision, and the zeal to deliver—and to lift their team to deliver with them. A female leader must have all the same, albeit with more hurdles to jump over and with the social expectation of elegance and humility.

Books about being a woman in leadership spread far and wide, but the one that changed my own mindset was Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War for Women. It served as a guide for me to understand my own strengths and weaknesses, how to turn disadvantages into advantages, and how to pick my battles. The workplace itself is a battlefield (I personally like to refer to it as a jungle) and it’s important to equip yourself in the best way possible. Make yourself indispensable. Take risks. Try new things. Even just wear something you normally wouldn’t. Turn discomfort into comfort, and own it. 

There’s a necessary element of humility when it comes to leadership. Accepting that you don’t know everything, but having the drive to learn and continue to ask questions until you learn as much as can, will lead to your seat-swap at the table, and employees one day asking you the questions. It was continued failure that led to my first major success. 

Shift in philosophy and career

I moved up at Emirates quickly, from customer service agent, to tour consultant, to senior tour consultant, and finally, to reservations tour officer. So, why did I leave my job behind to pursue a master’s degree at HST?

It was simple: people. I had a boss who equated leadership with profit—nothing more, nothing less. But I saw a leader as someone who was responsible for equipping their team with the tools they need to reach their personal bests, ultimately contributing to the overall success of the organization. Though the world is exceedingly digital, I knew it was a mistake to forget the humans that make everything—including tech—possible. Companies need technical experts, but they also need human capital experts

Being a woman in leadership

In understanding my priorities, I saw opportunity. The corporate ladder stands tall. And for women, it often stands taller. When a golden chance comes around, you must grab it with both hands and the climb will come more quickly. The next peg in my ladder looked like a master’s degree, so I grabbed it. 

Women in leadership have a long, hard-fought history. And mothers like myself are adorned with even more challenges. In 2020, companies have begun understanding the importance of our spots at the table—and on the once-elusive ladder. In the aim of being a role model to my son, I’m making sure I get my seat. 

women leaders

Being a working mother has had its challenges. Studying a full-time master’s in a foreign country has its challenges. Being away from my family has its challenges. But I know that fulfilling my passions is worth it. That my future is worth it. And that while the best lessons I’ve learned come from my son—being a bit more tech-savvy, keeping my inner child alive—I’ll leave you with a few of my own.  

Advice & tips

Empathy is a priority with each and every customer.

Step into the shoes of others. Everyone has a story. And while you read those of others, don’t neglect your own. Take five minutes at the end of each day to reflect and be grateful. You wouldn’t speak badly of a loved one, so don’t be negative with yourself. At the end of day, we’re all works in progress.

Learn one new thing every day.

Failure is inevitable. But so is growth. Ask questions and accept uncertainty. The most qualified person you know has new questions every day. 

We always have a choice.

Our moments of truth are our own. Regardless of what has happened, we can make choices to affect what will happen. Take time to do fun, unexpected things. Each year I make sure to do something new (i.e. white-water rafting in Bali, flying in a seaplane, sandboarding in the desert…). No need to be crazy, but challenge yourself, personally and professionally.

Minu and her family white-water rafting in Bali

This is my story thus far in the corporate world as a woman in leadership. I would like to attribute all my success to my role model, my mother: strong and determined, yet soft and caring. Go out into the world with the pride and respect that you deserve and never give up on yourself.


minu nair ieMinu Nair is from India, and has lived in Dubai for the past decade. She previously worked with Emirates Airlines and is now pursuing the Master in Talent Development & Human Resources at IE School of Human Sciences & Technology. She’s a blogger, a bathroom singer, and a travel enthusiast. Connect with her here.