AAHOA Hosts HerOwnership Panel on Capitol Hill
In March, AAHOA hosted its Sprina National Advocacy Conference, bringing together lawmakers and 200-plus AAHOA Members strongly advocating for the hospitality industry. AAHOA rounded out the advocacy event with a HerOwnership panel discussion that featured House Democratic Caucus Executive Director Sonali Desai, former AAHOA Women Hoteliers Director Eastern Division Lina Patel (2017-2023), and Women Hoteliers Director Western Division Tejal N. Patel.
It was an honor to have Desai join AAHOA Members for a powerful HerOwnership panel conversation and champion diversity and representation.
Like the women of AAHOA who pioneered gender equality, inclusion, and women’s participation in the association, Desai also shared her experience breaking barriers on Capitol Hill.
“When I first came to Capitol Hill,” Desai shared, “I did not see many Indian faces at all. And that was on the member level and on the staff level. I kept having to explain myself and felt very much like an outlier. But, as time went on, I learned about different groups in Congress that support staff. I got involved with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association and the South Asian Staff Association.”
IN THE BEGINNING
In 2011, Desai kicked off her career in government as a legislative assistant for U.S. Representative Melvin Watt (NC-12), where she worked on legislative issues including energy, environment, small business, trade, tax, welfare/hunger, animal rights, and census. Then, in 2014, Desai moved to U.S. Representative Judy Chu’s (CA-27) office, where she was the legislative director from 2016 to 2019.
During the panel discussion, Desai explained the importance of having Asian-American representation on Capitol Hill and how to expand opportunities for minorities in D.C.
“Having voices that understand our community and keep an eye out for issues that are important to us is critical,” Desai said. “It’s not just about getting the members elected, but it’s also keeping them elected, so they can then rise the ranks. On the staff level, it’s really important, too. There are a lot of different perspectives, whether it’s the communications angle – like how are we messaging and talking about certain policies, and are there certain things that we’re not being sensitive to? For example, this week, we were writing a statement about Holi, and we were making a graphic about Holi. We talked about what should this look like and talked to folks on the team that are having these experiences.”
While her career path eventually led her to become the executive director at the House Democratic Caucus in January 2023, Desai is no stranger to the hospitality industry. She spent her childhood attending AAHOA events and growing up in her family’s hotel business.
Launched in 2022, AAHOA’s HerOwnership initiative offers networking and educational opportunities for women hoteliers and hospitality industry professionals, and supports all women in their hotel ownership endeavors and aspirations, helping to ensure more stability and opportunities for generations of women to come.
“My dad had odd jobs when he first moved to the U.S., but then he ended up going into hotel ownership,” she said. “Eventually, my dad had a few different hotels that he owned and managed along with my uncle, who was also involved in the industry. From there, they had a ton of family and friends who were also supporting their hotel ownership goals. It was a big part of the community that we had during my time growing up, and I’ll never forget it.”
The entire AAHOA team sincerely thanks Desai for her invaluable contribution to the AAHOA Spring National Advocacy Conference and for speaking on the HerOwnership panel. Her work has championed South Asians in government and created a more inclusive society for everyone to achieve their version of the American Dream.
AAHOA will continue to host important women-centric events on Capitol Hill and across the U.S. These conversations show that today’s women are bolder, business-savvy, empowered, and are making a name for themselves while empowering others in the process.