"Male Ally of the Month,” is a column that focuses on the men going out of their way to support women in the hospitality industry. While we all know they don’t have to help, these guys want to help, and this new column will take the time to find out how and why they are determined to help us reach gender equality.
Anton Safonov is the Co-Founder of Aquarius Hospitality Solutions. A 20- year veteran of the Hospitality Industry and an Operations and Brand Transformation strategist, his hospitality journey and his championing of women throughout his career through his hiring, training, and mentoring practices, wasn't a conventional one.
Anton’s career took root in the disciplined environment of the U.S. Navy, a male-dominated environment where in 2002, he was honored with the National Service Defense Medal for his contributions to the war on terror. His military experience, combined with the influence of strong women in his life, laid a foundation for his career path and credits his mother and his two teenage daughters as part of his inspiration for his work advocating for gender equality, inclusion and pushing for equal pay for equal work.
Meet this fierce advocate for women in our industry, and our first ally of the new year, Mr. January, Anton Safonov.
We’d love to hear about how your mother first inspired you to champion women.
My mother has been a huge influence in my life. Her ability to overcome tough times and make wise decisions has always guided me. She showed me how important it is to be strong yet understanding, both at home and at work. Her way of living and facing challenges has taught me to lead with kindness and honesty. Her impact is not just in what she taught me, but in the way she lived her life, showing strength and kindness that I try to bring into my work every day.
My mother's resilience, along with the powerful influences of women during my Navy years, have been pivotal. Their varied life experiences have shaped my understanding of the indispensable role women play in enriching our professional landscape.
My drive to support women comes from recognizing the unique insights they bring to our industry. Their perspectives add richness to our collective efforts, enhancing our hospitality experiences and making them more inclusive. Women in my career have been key collaborators and mentors, introducing diverse viewpoints that have enriched both our brand ethos and guest interactions. Their influence has been fundamental in shaping my approach to leadership and hospitality.
During your formative years you frequently traveled between Russia and the United States. How did this shape your world view and how did your mother help you navigate this chapter?
This lifestyle influenced my deep connection with my mother, who played a pivotal role in managing these transitions. I remember one trip back from Russia to the US. I was a teenager, trying to balance the cultural shifts and the challenges that came with constant travel. It was a turbulent time, not just in terms of flights but also in navigating my own identity.
My mother became my anchor. She was my constant amidst all the change. There was this one time, right after a particularly exhausting journey, when I was feeling particularly disconnected and adrift. I was struggling with the sense of belonging in either country.
She shared her own stories of youth, of moving, adapting, and finding her place in new environments. She spoke of the strength in embracing different cultures and the importance of staying true to oneself amidst change. It wasn't just about adapting to new places; it was about understanding and valuing different perspectives. Her wisdom helped me see the richness in our diverse experiences and taught me the power of empathy and the importance of building connections with people, regardless of their background.
Her guidance during those years of travel instilled in me the values of adaptability, cultural sensitivity, and empathy. These have been cornerstones in my career, especially in creating inclusive environments and advocating for gender equality in the workplace.
Let’s go back to the beginning of your journey, and how it led you to a career in hospitality.
My pathway into the hospitality world began during my service in the U.S. Navy where I was on leave for the Thanksgiving holiday. A conversation with a hospitality executive during that Thanksgiving dinner set me on this course and my first role as a night auditor soon evolved into a general manager position. It is in my role as a hotel general manager where I started to craft unique experiences and stories in every facet of hotel management.
What captivates me the most about hospitality is the craft of creating engaging and memorable guest experiences. Every interaction and meticulously designed spaces contribute to a unique journey, turning stays into cherished memories for our guests.
Durning your career, how has your experience been working with women in leadership roles?
Working with women leaders has been enlightening. They have taught me the importance of strategic thinking paired with empathetic leadership. It's about understanding how to be efficient and inspiring at the same time...
One woman leader who greatly influenced me taught me to see more in myself than I initially realized. She encouraged me to trust in my abilities and understand that I had much more to offer. Her guidance was a turning point, showing me the power of self-belief and the importance of recognizing and using my full potential. Her influence changed my life.
Study after study shows that diverse companies are more profitable. Why do you think the hotel industry still struggles with gender equality?
Diverse leadership enhances our decision-making with a variety of perspectives and experiences. It's about integrating these insights to create a more inclusive and resonant brand and guest experience.
The hotel industry's challenge with gender equality stems from traditional structures that have often overlooked the varied experiences women bring. Overcoming this requires not just policy changes but a cultural shift in how we view leadership.
As an incredible ally to women and women leaders, what tips would you offer to men who want to be better allies at work?
Being a better ally involves acknowledging and valuing the unique experiences and insights women bring to our field. It's about supporting their journey, ensuring their voices are heard, and their contributions recognized.
How can women better advocate for themselves?
Women can better advocate for themselves by really embracing and sharing what makes them special and unique. Building strong relationships and believing in themselves is key. I often remind women to be proud of what they've done and to speak up confidently. Trusting in yourself and having a clear voice are important in getting recognized, especially in fields where diverse voices are still working towards being heard equally.
Asserting one's unique journey is key to influencing the future direction of the hospitality industry.
With the launch of Aquarius Hospitality Solutions, you’ve been working a lot on branding. What would be a first step for those hoping to creat their own, personal brand?
Good personal branding is about telling your own true story in a way that connects with others. It means finding what makes you different – your experiences, talents, and passions – and sharing this in a real and relatable way.
When I help others with their branding, I focus on getting to know yourself deeply and honestly sharing your story. It’s about turning your own experiences into a brand that really speaks to people. Once you’ve identified your distinctive story, let it guide your branding strategy."
As the father of two girls, what lessons would you share with them and what do you hope to see for them in their future careers?
Looking back at my younger years, I wish I had been more attentive to each moment and interaction. Each decision contributes to our broader journeys, and each experience is a part of our unique career paths.
For my daughters, I envision a future where their talents and passions define their career paths, unbounded by gender. I hope they find industries where diversity in thoughts and creativity is celebrated.
Thank you, Anton!