At the second annual Lodging HR and Diversity Summit, CEOs from three of the top hotel companies—Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide, and Choice Hotels and Resorts—spoke openly and honestly about how promoting and practicing inclusion benefits their organizations and helps move the industry forward. The leaders addressed an intimate group of diversity advocates, hotel executives, and hospitality educators during an interactive panel discussion at the summit, which was held Oct. 29-30 at the Georgetown University Conference Center in Washington, D.C.
“I look at diversity in a very simple way—as one of the most important business imperatives we have to be successful,” said Christopher Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton Worldwide. “We operate all over the world, in very diverse communities. If we don’t have the background, thinking, and education—or just simply perspective—to come to the table to make decisions, we ultimately won’t succeed.”
Nassetta joined Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International, and Choice Hotels President and CEO Steve Joyce on the panel. During a question-and-answer session, the executives addressed the real-world obstacles facing the industry in terms of recruiting and hiring a diverse workforce and the challenges of creating more ownership opportunities for minorities in the hotel industry.
“Because all of our populations are already diverse, it drives everything we do,” said Joyce, who explained that 63 percent of Choice’s hotel deals get done by minority franchisees. “Our franchisee base is completely diverse, and our customer base is clearly diverse. We have to have people that know the code.”
The need for more diverse senior leadership within the hotel industry was a hot topic for the audience. Andy Ingraham, president and CEO of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators, and Developers (NABHOOD), said that increasing the number of minority leaders in the industry would have a dramatic impact on the future of the business. “You’ll get young folks, particularly African Americans, involved in the hotel industry if they see more role models,” he said.
In response, Nassetta and Sorenson documented the efforts their companies are making to increase educational opportunities and training programs to help minority workers move up in management roles within their corporate-owned hotels, providing a stepping stone to executive leadership positions. From Choice’s perspective as one of the industry’s leading franchisors, Joyce explained that the company constantly makes an effort to move forward qualified diverse candidates and place them in director and vice president roles.
“Every company out there is looking for diverse talent that they can escalate,” said Joyce. “We are constantly looking for new search firms who can get us better talent. We’re working with schools that have a diverse population. The lodging business has lagged behind in terms of senior leadership of diverse folks. To me, that implies opportunity. This is fertile ground.”
All panelists recognized certain roadblocks that make it difficult to move the diversity and inclusion needle in the right direction. One such impediment is the ongoing political debate about immigration reform and the challenges the current policies present to the industry in terms of hiring and retaining minority workers. While all of the CEOs stressed the need for immigration changes, the consensus was that, due to the dysfunctional state of the government—the shutdown being a key example—a bipartisan deal about immigration reform likely won’t be achieved any time soon.