“For example, recently, in commemoration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we hosted a panel discussion with Javier Palomarez, chair of the National Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, to discuss the potential of the Hispanic marketplace as it relates to hospitality,” she says. Structured like business units, these groups offer team members a way to accelerate their functional skill sets outside their day-to-day roles and assume leadership positions in specific tasks, notably in organizing teams, which plan cultural events throughout the year. It’s another opportunity for employees to exhibit ownership in the company’s core values.
While the resource groups meet among themselves to work on initiatives, they additionally work with other TMRGs on other events so there’s a lot of cross-pollination. “These groups are indispensable given where the workforce is coming from in the next 20 years. It affords us the ability to tap into that talent base,” says Nelson, who is the executive sponsor of the Hispanic/Latino TMRG.
Populations of the five dominant domestic multicultural markets are expected to grow to a combined 326.2 million by 2020, nearly 45 million more than at the start of the decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Census, as reported by AH&LA. Hilton recognized this growth potential years ago, leveraging diversity through its decade-old supplier diversity program, having developed relationships with more than 4,000 women and minority-owned businesses and having spent more than $500 million with those businesses since 2010.
(See video highlights from last year’s HR and Diversity Summit)
“Diversity is just one of the criteria we use when we’re bidding out contracts,” says Bill Kornegay, SVP of supply management at Hilton and executive sponsor of the African-American TMRG. “But it can act as a tiebreaker. We are mandated to spend at least 20 percent of our monies in America on minority-owned suppliers.”
Suppliers are defined as businesses that supply any goods or services used by a property location, which would include law firms, accounting firms, advertising agencies. It’s a broad definition. Hilton identifies two classes: Tier-one suppliers work directly with Hilton, tier-two businesses supply goods and services to Hilton suppliers. “In many cases, we’re engaging big suppliers to align themselves with small minority suppliers so the small company gets a boost and can learn,” says Kornegay. “The best scenario is that the bigger companies get the smaller companies going and they, in turn, start doing more business with Hilton. If it doesn’t work out that way, then at least we are contributing to the better.” He says, “When you build a hotel, it really impacts that community. And when you hire from within that community, people are able to look around and see others who resemble themselves, who are moving up. Therefore, people feel encouraged, like they can make headway.”
For years, the lodging industry has struggled to overcome an unfavorable image regarding minorities—it wasn’t a place where people of color, for instance, could make headway. According to Gerry Fernandez, president of the nonprofit Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance, the hospitality business could do more to rebuild its image in terms of attracting diverse talent. “In terms of the industry’s reputation, there are still some deep-seeded influences. It wasn’t all that long ago when blacks couldn’t stay in hotels or restaurants. Collectively, the hospitality business needs to paint a picture of being a good place for people to work and advance.”
The NAACP issued a critical report card on the lodging industry in 2012, and while it did take a lot of people by surprise, it served to bring focus on diversity issues. “Ours is a unique model compared to other industries so the NAACP’s grades were not clearly indicative of what’s happening,” says Kathryn Potter, SVP of marketing and communications for AH&LA. “The big companies, especially, have interwoven diversity into the fabric of their business practices and they have specific objectives. Our industry gets it more than most because we hire and host people of all backgrounds.”
Still, there’s room for improvement by building what Fernandez calls cultural intelligence. It refers to an individual’s knowledge and skill level in interacting with diverse groups. It’s your ability to understand and gain positive results across cultural barriers, be it language, speech patterns, gestures, and other nuances of human behavior. Beginning this fall, the MFHA is introducing cultural intelligence workshops and webinars to help businesses attract, recruit, and interview multicultural talent as well as coach, motivate, and develop their careers. Additionally, disciplines on how to sell, market, and serve a multicultural audience are offered. “Companies need a core, cultural diversity strategy beyond just philanthropy,” says Fernandez. Because ultimately, cultural intelligence is about doing better business.
Fernandez points out that as the baby boomer generation retires, more people from the blossoming multicultural talent pool are going to be needed to replace them. So companies are going to have to be aggressive and offer competitive packages and a chance for advancement. “The big brands recognize this and are doing a good job. Good leaders know you need smart, capable people,” he adds.
Ford believes Hilton is walking the talk. “We’ve developed analytics to measure success in diversity,” he says. “There’s a rigorous annual review of talent. To ensure accountability from the top, a percentage of our leadership team’s compensation is aligned with our diversity efforts.” This is measured across three main competences: collaboration, leadership, and living core company values.