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Community Spotlight – Sting Khumalo, HR Director

Sting Khumalo is the HR Director at the luxury 5-star hotel, The Biltmore, in Mayfair. A South-African native, Khumalo’s awe-inspiring role as Director of HR stems from a varied experience of working in hospitality. Having worked in the industry for more than fifteen years, Khumalo’s success is accredited to her determination, passion and overall support she has garnered over the years.

We spoke to her about her career, mentorship and her own hopes and dreams for the future of hospitality as a black woman in the industry.


Tell me a little bit about yourself? 

I’ve been in the industry for 15 years now and it’s really been a matter of me working my way up to the top. I first started my career in housekeeping while I was a teenager and still living in South Africa. I eventually moved to the UK, where I first worked as a general assistant in a small 12-bedroom boutique hotel in the Lake District. I’d say it was here when my career really kickstarted. I then joined the Hilton group as housekeeping supervisor and it was there where I learnt so many key skills that I’ve taken with me throughout my career. It was at Hilton where I also started training people working in the sector.

Having a 90% rating, people would often send their staff for training at my workshops because it was what we excelled in. People would also come to me personally and ask things. I think this was when I started to gain recognition for the hard work I had put in, winning multiple awards as a Centre of Excellence trainer. It’s also where I first started thinking of working in HR.


My career has really been a journey for me. On the one hand, it’s been slow and gruelling, and it’s been wonderful and rewarding on the other. My journey has required quite a bit of reinvention and patience, understanding the nuances of progression in hospitality. Every time, I have advanced and have almost become a new person because of the skill set required at different levels of my career.

As of now, I’m a really friendly and outgoing person. I’ve got a great personality and enthusiasm which makes it easy to work with people. People can easily approach me and I honestly thrive in an environment of being around people. It’s so rewarding to see ways in which I can make people feel better about themselves, and give out positivity to inspire others. It’s also super rewarding when I find myself interacting with people from different backgrounds.


How long have you been working in HR?

I did my masters degree in Human Resources at Liverpool John Moores University and have been working in the field for seven years now. For me, HR is life, I work with employees in the sector where we do lots of succession planning. I like that someone is coached through and then eventually that person is promoted. Seeing someone’s career progress, and part of that transition of seeing someone progress and become a manager eventually, or even assistant manager or supervisor. I thrive on seeing people reach their desires and goals within their career. That’s what I ultimately love about being in HR.

Do you have a proudest moment that you can identify in the last year? 

When I was promoted to become Director of HR at the Biltmore. My other proudest moment was when I was featured in the Caterer magazine for Black History Month. I was recognised as having an inspiring career in the industry. It was a real indicator for me to think about all that I’ve done and I just felt like everything was really coming together.


Can you identify a career challenge so far?

I’ve had a few hurdles, here and there. Just being a black woman, for one. It’s all about knowing your worth. I’ve worked hard to demonstrate that, so that I can’t be ignored in the industry. One cannot be passive in the desire for advancement. You have to actively seek that elevation. I’ve had to put myself in a position where I could get enough recognition.

In the past, I’ve had to go and demand the promotion, or demand a pay rise. I had to actively seek that elevation. It’s not like it just came by, I did lots of hard work, and I had to put myself forward. I had to really work hard to set myself apart from others, and shine bright enough that there would be no choice but to take notice.


I was also conscious of being black. There weren’t a lot of figures who were at the top for me. So I thought I need to be known for something. I didn’t have to deal with racism or misogyny a lot. But knowing that, it can happen, and when it has happened is  tough. Although when these situations do present themselves, it does test one’s resolve. I have to rely greatly on my professionalism, faith and support of my colleagues to help me maintain my highest ethics and standards. This can result in a lot of pushbacks which is definitely very hard as a black woman in the industry.

How has mentorship supported your career progression?

A lot. I had one general manager earlier on in my career who helped me discover my potential in HR. I’m also really fortunate to have two mentors from Be Inclusive Hospitality as well. They’ve been really good to me. When the programme started I had a mentor for six months and then I had a promotion to Cluster HR Manager. Then, I had another mentor and was promoted to Director of HR. Having a mentor really helped my career, actually – it’s been really good. For me, it wasn’t about someone telling me what to do with my job but someone that helped me with my soft skills. I’ve learnt to present myself in a certain way that I wouldn’t have done before that’s helped me with my career.


The future of hospitality is…

I’d say it’s pleasantly optimistic. We’ve seen our industry bouncing back after COVID, business has picked up however there are setbacks and challenges with Brexit. Recruitment sessions for me in HR, and Christmas has been really challenging. It’s led to so many things that have waged war between restaurants and hotels.

So, it’s important to look after your team to be able to retain them. There are times where you were operating on a skeleton crew and were forced to dig deep to reveal strengths and talents of yourself and the employees. It’s absolutely built on the talents that we have in the industry, and whoever was there had to work harder. But then it’s absolutely built on the talents that we have in the industry. And we never knew, you know, we have so many gems within the industry until now. So those who managed to shine have gone to be great prospects, really. If it continues on like this I’d say really optimistic.

Read more interviews here.


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