AAHOA Celebrates International Women’s Day with a HerOwnership Panel Discussion on Capitol Hill

By Olivia Story posted 9 days ago


Last week, AAHOA hosted its Spring National Advocacy Conference, bringing together lawmakers and 200+ AAHOA Members strongly advocating for the hospitality industry. AAHOA rounded out the advocacy event with a HerOwnership panel discussion that featured Sonali Desai, Executive Director of the House Democratic Caucus, along with Women Hotelier Directors Lina Patel and Tejal Patel. This panel was held in celebration of International Women’s Day and focused on championing diversity and representation in government. 

Desai opened the panel conversation by sharing her experience breaking barriers on Capitol Hill. 

“When I first came to Capitol Hill, 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,” Desai shared. “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 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. It's not just about getting the members elected, but it's also keeping them elected, so they can then rise the ranks,” Desai said. “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. 

“My dad had odd jobs when he first moved to the U.S., but then he ended up going into hotel ownership. 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 owner goals. It was a big part of the community that we had during my time growing up, and I'll never forget it.”

Check out how you can continue to celebrate women this month: 

Learn about AAHOA’s HerOwnership Initiative



Helpful Resources

aahoa action center


American Rescue Plan State & Local Advocacy toolkit

What happens when your forbearance is up?

AAHOA Hospitality Labor Report