Seema Jain was a finance nerd until her job at Marriott International required her to push up sales. In the middle of the brutal 2008 recession, she spotted a group of Indian travelers at a nearby hotel. She wanted them to stay at her Marriott Residence Inn property.
Working closely with the general manager, Jain showcased its cultural amenities, including Indian breakfast, Indian newspapers, Indian TV stations, Bollywood nights, educating the staff on Indian culture. The Indian clientele increased from 15% to 30% within a year, and revenue soared. She was able to replicate these results for over 14 other cultures and communities, and became Marriott’s multicultural director.
This is perfectly in line with what many companies are starting to implement more systematically with diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) programs within their companies.
When the pandemic ended her time with Marriott, it allowed her to bring her knowledge to other organizations and industries through her own company, Seva Global.
Apart from being a corporate whiz, Jain is also a working mom who runs two NGOs and continues to give back to her community.
How does she do it all? We find out.
How would you explain your job to a child, say a seven-year-old?
I teach people how to work with others that may be different from you. I bet you have a friend from another country. You might notice they eat different foods, listen to different music, or celebrate other holidays. I have the best job in the world, and that is to help people understand how everyone is different yet similar in ways. I want to make sure that when you grow up, you can make a difference in this world by appreciating what other cultures are about.
What does your role specifically entail? Are there specific areas of cultural competence that you focus on, like race and disability?
Seva Global offers a wide array of services to foster cultural competence across organizations. I help deliver customized solutions and consultations to increase employee engagement, enhance customer experience, and drive bottom-line results. I provide cultural training, workshops, webinars (both in-person and virtually), as well as consultation services. Additionally, I am often booked for speaking engagements for various organizations and corporations. We also have overarching presentations discussing growing business through understanding cultures and cultural competency’s business impact. Overall, I work on business development, sales, and content creation to help other companies become more culturally competent.
What are some obstacles the companies you’ve worked with frequently struggle with regarding diversity and inclusion?
Many companies don’t realize that DEIB is one side of the coin, and cultural competency is the flip side. By understanding the people we work with, the clients we serve, and the communities we live within, we can all live more fulfilling lives and accomplish more together. There are both business and financial gains that are achieved with cultural intelligence. The companies that make time and put effort into incorporating these crucial topics into their company culture can far exceed those who do not.
Tell us about the two non-profits you run. There is Supporting Excellence in Education Foundation, and one focusing on advancing Jain heritage and culture in the West. Why are these causes important to you?
In 1993, I helped start Young Jains of America (YJA), a national youth organization, to share the heritage and culture of Jainism. In 1998, I co-founded the Supporting Excellence in Education Foundation (SEED), which awards scholarships to Indian high school students.
YJA is very important to me as I want to ensure that future generations have a place to convene, discuss their culture and religion, and bond with one another. It serves as an opportunity to meet other Jain youths and maybe, eventually, life partners. I am so proud of this organization’s growth and success. I just finished my term on the board of trustees and will be presenting a session at the next YJA conference in Dallas this July. This organization will always have a special place in my heart.
SEED was the perfect intersection of my desire to help youth, connect to my culture, and promote educational opportunities for Indian American youth who need financial assistance. I always strive to give back to my communities and create a positive impact, and these organizations have helped me do so. My company name comes from the Sanskrit word seva, which describes the act of selfless service. I try to bring this idea into all facets of my life.
How do you manage work and run your non-profits at the same time? How do you get so much done?
I have been blessed with fantastic time management skills. I give my father, Dr. Surendra Singhvi, total credit in this area. When I was growing up, my father made me keep a log of how much time I spent in each activity every day (reading, eating, playing, getting ready, religion, studying, etc.). Luckily, I have developed strong time management skills and excellent multi-tasking skills from those days.
My involvement with YJA is now minimal – I am there to support the youth and serve as an advisor. While I have left SEED Foundation to pursue other interests, I stay in touch with all the board members to keep up to date on the foundation’s activities.
As a working mom and new entrepreneur, managing my day from work to personal is a must. I love routine, starting my day with a workout (yoga, cardio, or strength training). I love to walk and catch up with calls to parents and friends during this time. I plan my family meals to ensure a healthy diet and make time for myself and my husband in the evenings. We are empty-nesters and are enjoying this new lifestyle. We love entertaining and having friends and family over.
I feel balanced with work and family responsibilities, but I can be overwhelmed at times. That’s when I decide to take things off my list to achieve harmony within. Life is about deciding your priorities. Today, my biggest focuses are my family and aging parents, as well as growing my business.