Leaders look to turn diversity conversation into action
Leaders look to turn diversity conversation into action
23 SEPTEMBER 2020 7:54 AM

Speakers on panels as part of the NABHOOD 2020 online conference said that the time is right for change in how the hotel industry identifies, hires, empowers and advances people of color.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Diverse voices in corporate roles at some of the top brands in the hotel industry are determined to ensure that calls for representation and inclusion, particularly in leadership, are more than “lip service.”

Racial unrest and Black Lives Matter protests across the country have fostered a moment that requires not just conversation, but also action, panelists said during sessions on diversity and inclusion as part of NABHOOD 2020, the online conference of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers.

For the hotel industry, the solution is greater diversity, particularly at the top, said Andy Ingraham, president, CEO and founder of NABHOOD.

“We have a lot of diversity, but as you get higher, it just seems to be non-existent,” he said. “The key is industry CEOs have to make the commitment, but what happens all too often is we have a bunch of lip service and nothing really happens.”

DeShaun Wise Porter, global head of diversity and inclusion at Hilton, said the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis has led to a global awakening, and industries would be foolish not to acknowledge that and react.

“It opened up the doors for corporations, particularly corporate America, to take a stand and say, ‘We are going to do more.’ I think there’s always been somewhat of a call for representation at every single level,” she said. “We see several more companies now trying to take active measures in which to diversify their boards, as well as their C-suite leadership. It starts at the top, we say for absolutely everything, but for whatever reason, we’re struggling to actually bring this to life from a leadership perspective.”

Part of the responsibility is also on people in and entering the workforce to question and hold companies accountable during interviews and on the job, Porter said.

“Another thing you’re going to see is that choice is going to start changing the game,” she said. “You have minorities that are now literally asking questions during interviews. There are social media sites that are dedicated to … highlighting just the disparities in actual diversity in C-suite and director positions.

“As people start to really lean in and ask those questions, there’s going to be companies that are going to literally be ahead of the game.”

Porter said there are essentially a couple of routes to increase diversity within a company.

“Whether it’s for Blacks, Hispanics, LGBTQ, honestly … it’s either you create new positions in which to accelerate or essentially you’re looking at attrition … and making sure you are being intentional about how you are back-filling those,” she said.

“The foundation is really around intentionality. At Hilton, we have quarterly talent reviews, so that is where we are constantly assessing our high potentials across all lines of the business and identifying the opportunities for each of them as well as any necessary development. Second to that is investing in high potential.”

Raymond Co, SVP of human resources and global learning at InterContinental Hotels Group, said the nature of the hospitality business itself requires it to be an example to the world in these efforts.

“First of all, it’s the right thing to do as human beings. It’s a human rights issue; it’s the ethical thing to do. Second, it’s a business imperative,” he said. “We chose to be in the hospitality industry. This is an industry where we welcome people from all walks of life, all backgrounds. In principle, we should be role-modeling inclusion, because that’s just where our guest is coming from.”

Apoorva Gandhi, VP of multicultural affairs and business councils at Marriott International, said diversity and inclusion within a company speak to its core values.

“It’s fundamental to all of us as human beings to make sure that we are promoting … especially in this industry … a hospitable welcome to all,” he said.

“As we always say at Marriott, we want to welcome all, no matter who you are, where you come from, who you love or what your abilities are,” Gandhi continued. “It’s critical to how we do business. Especially in the hospitality business, it’s all about the welcome, making people feel comfortable as they are. It also really comes back to what your company’s core values are. It’s taking care of our associates so that they can take great care of the guest. When that happens, the guests keep coming back again and again. … Not only is inclusion the right thing to do, it actually helps you drive great business results.”

Caroline Warren, EVP and chief people officer at Pyramid Hotel Group, said to “really get in front of the issue,” the industry can’t be “reactionary or hesitant.”

“Sometimes in our industry it can mean altering our standards that we may have with our hotel positioning and our leadership to make sure we’re making this a priority for our company,” she said.

That starts with making sure there is an environment of inclusion and openness in companies, Warren said.

“We want all of our employees to feel confident, to feel that they can speak up and that their voices are valued and heard,” she said.

Porter added that vocal advocates are also needed.

“We’re going to need to have advocates across the business internally and externally, continuing to lean into this conversation in which to drive change,” she said. “We have to have advocate for each one of these, particularly around our Black talent, because they need someone to be able to speak for them in rooms they are not in.”

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