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Last month, on International Women's Day, we caught up with Anna Sebastian, the powerhouse behind Celebrate Her, an incredible platform dedicated to elevating women and promoting equality within the hospitality industry.  
During our chat, Anna let us in on her journey in the hospitality world, what inspired her to launch Celebrate Her, and the game-changing initiatives they're cooking up. Ready to be inspired? Let's dive in!

Anna Sebastien, founder of Celebrate Her mixing a cocktail

Let's start things off with a bit of backstory. How did you get into the hospitality industry? 

Well, I guess like a lot of people kind of fell into it. My original career path was in the military, but shortly after getting a place at military school, I was medically discharged with something called Graves disease. After I left, I didn't really know what to do. I started working in nightclubs, and I just fell in love with the buzz of it all.  
And then, in 2010, I saw an opportunity to work at the Savoy as a host, and I jumped at it without really understanding the venue’s significance or how important its role is in cocktail culture. But looking back, I'm so glad I did. I spent seven years there, then got the chance to run the Artesian bar at the Langham.  
COVID changed things up a bit, but it also led me to new, unplanned adventures like consultancy work and founding Celebrate Her.

What's the story behind Celebrate Her? What got you started on this inspiring journey and how has Celebrate Her adapted and grown since its early days?

Celebrate Her started with a conversation among the girls at the Artesian at the end of a shift. We noticed how underrepresented women were in the industry and decided to do something about it. So, we organised an event to showcase female talent in hospitality with women from all over the world coming to take part, and the response was just phenomenal.  
After that, it felt like everybody wanted to get involved, and it made us feel like it was obviously something that was needed. But then unfortunately lockdown happened, so that put a bit of a hold on a lot of things. 
Despite the setback of lockdown, we used the time to organically grow our community, focusing on providing support and resources for women in the industry. Our community now includes a diverse range of professionals, connected through platforms like WhatsApp, social media, and mailing lists.  
We prioritise education, safety, and diversity, offering resources, training, and partnerships to improve the industry for everyone. We're also working on expanding to offer financial grants and are in the process of becoming a charity.

A Celebrate Her event group photo

Tell us about some of the initiatives and programs Celebrate Her offers to support women in their hospitality careers. Any favourites or standout successes?

We're all about quality over quantity when it comes to supporting impactful initiatives. We support other programs in the industry, raise funds for charity through events, and provide training in safety measures, diversity, and mental health first aid.  
One project that we’re working on that I’m really excited about is an upcoming data report for the bar industry to provide accurate statistics on gender representation and leadership positions, which is really lacking at the moment. 

In your experience, what are some of the toughest hurdles women face when working in hospitality, and how does Celebrate Her tackle them head-on?

Safety is a huge concern for women in hospitality, especially working late hours and commuting. I think that's a huge factor in why many people leave the industry. We recently worked on a project which provided £10,000 worth of Uber vouchers to different bars. Whilst this may not be a long-term solution, it raises awareness and helps us advocate for safer streets. 
Education is another challenge. Many people aren't aware of the impact their actions or words can have on others, leading to issues like sexual harassment being overlooked or normalised. Training on crisis management and creating clear protocols for reporting incidents are essential to creating a safer work environment. 
Additionally, we need to work on empowering women to negotiate better, promote themselves, and challenge societal norms. The underrepresentation in things like cocktail competitions is evidence of this. It's a multifaceted issue requiring both systemic changes and individual empowerment. Celebrate Her is committed to addressing these challenges through education, advocacy, and support initiatives. 

A group photo from a Celebrate Her event

Looking ahead, what's the big dream for Celebrate Her? How do you see the organisation making an impact in the years to come?

The big dream is to keep evolving and make a lasting impact. It's a work in progress. It's a continuous journey. I don't think it will ever be there, but it's the small changes I find really make a difference. I think the great thing about Celebrate Her is that it gives a bit of stability and a community to women in the industry. And I think that's really important.

If you could give advice to someone starting out in the industry, what would it be?

I think I would say to take every opportunity that comes your way and invest time in making connections. You never know where they might lead or what you might learn along the way. Networking has been crucial in my own career, and I believe it's essential for success in any industry.

Celebrate Her hosts a panel Q&A

How can individuals and brands support Celebrate Her's mission and contribute to advancing gender equality in hospitality?

For individuals, I would say showing up for people is really important. This could mean actively engaging with events, initiatives, and promotions within the industry. Whether it's attending events, promoting them on social media, or recommending and talking positively about others in the industry, every action counts.  The positive effect this can have is just wonderful and I think it’s so key for this industry to grow. 
For brands, providing tangible support and resources, rather than just one-off events, demonstrates a commitment to the cause. Long-term partnerships and collaborations are also key. Celebrate Her is so small in the grand scheme of things, so having the backing, support and resources of a big company can really empower our initiatives and can be so valuable.

Of course we have to ask, what is it you enjoy about working with Naked Malt?

Well firstly, I love the flexibility and dynamism of the product. It's so versatile and perfect for crafting highballs, sours and all sorts of cocktails.  

But beyond that, I really admire Naked Malt’s ethos of collaboration and meaningful partnerships, that really resonates with me. Working with Naked Malt has been a fantastic experience, especially collaborating on projects that go beyond just what's in the glass.

Celebrate Her X Naked Malt event participants

Finally, if you could enjoy a Naked Sour with any women (living, no longer with us or fictional) this International Women's Day, who would it be and what would you be drinking?

Oh, that's a tough one! From the industry, I'd have to choose Kate Nichols, the CEO of UKHospitality (the trade body for hospitality in the UK), for her incredible knowledge and insight into the industry. I think it would be amazing to have a drink with her! 
But on a more “celebrity” level, I'd love to have a drink with Michelle Obama for her strength and empowerment. And for the drink, it would have to be a Naked Apple Sour – it's just the perfect blend of flavours for a meaningful conversation.

április 08, 2024