Demonstrating its drive to support diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in a big way, the American Hotel & Lodging Foundation (AHLA Foundation) recently announced a new $5 million, multi-year commitment and action plan to advance DE&I in the hotel and lodging industry. Rosanna Maietta—president and CEO of the AHLA Foundation and executive vice president, communications and public relations, of AHLA—shared with LODGING how the plan took shape, what it means to the industry, and what’s on tap for the first year.
How did the actual AHLA Foundation plan to advance DE&I in the hotel and lodging industry first take shape?
As a Foundation, we had been considering ways we could do more on behalf of the industry for quite a while, so we began by putting together a task force made up of those with the expertise to think through what the industry could do for DE&I under the auspices of the Foundation. Then, once we received the award, that task force began working to determine the bones of what the five-year plan should look like, identifying the areas we felt were most important, where we could have the most impact. This included: (1) Diversifying representation at all levels to better serve guests, associates, and communities; (2) elevating inclusive leadership across corporate entities, properties, franchisees, and supplier networks; (3) driving accountability and transparency to achieve measurable diverse, equitable, and inclusive (DE&I) results; (4) fostering innovative approaches to scale DE&I within the industry.
What are the factors that contributed to the decision to focus specifically on DE&I?
You know, sometimes we recognize that a moment’s time has come and we have to seize that moment. There was so much attention and discussion focused on diversity and equality and justice, it became clear this was such a moment. This was confirmed for me when I met no resistance at all while recruiting DE&I task force members.
When the task force first convened, members were thinking and talking in terms of our mission and our vision, asking “What is it that we are trying to achieve here?” What it boiled it down to was one very simple, but difficult-to-achieve, idea, which is this: “We hope to see our industry’s workforce become as diverse as the guests we serve.” And in many instances, that’s happening right now. And we just need to make sure that it is happening at all levels in, in the industry.
Then, too, beyond being the right thing to do, this “movement” is snowballing and gaining speed partly because it makes good business sense; every piece of research about diversity, inclusion, and equality shows that the more diversity there is in an organization, the better off and more successful it is.
What specific initiatives are you working on?
Once we had put together the bones of the core programs for the coming five years, we turned our attention year one, where we are now. Among the most pressing needs on our agenda is launching a leadership academy to help advance women and people of color at the executive level to the top of the industry; we are already developing a curriculum for that. We also plan to work on developing a mentorship program across the industry, possibly in collaboration with some of the great programs that already exist. Another priority for this year that I’m very excited about is raising awareness of the kinds of opportunities our industry offers, promoting the idea that hotel jobs are cool and exciting and lead to numerous pathways. Another priority can be acted upon once the industry has started recovering later this year—presumably as more people are vaccinated and traveling again; at that time, we can launch an ad campaign to really showcase how terrific hotel jobs are, with the objective of attracting people that want more than just a job, but people who will stay and grow their careers in our industry. The final key piece on tap for this year is creating a blueprint of sorts that will help owners, operators, and management companies start their own individual DE&I journeys. This would mean giving them a roadmap and foundation by serving as a hub of resources and tools to help them get started.
Can hoteliers take advantage of this program to launch their own DE&I efforts yet?
It’s still in the early stages, but we invite them to reach out to the task force made up of representative from across the industry for guidance, and we welcome their participation and financial support. The task force is ready to help those companies and individuals plug in as we’re developing all these plans and building out all of these programs. In fact, we are looking to partner with other organizations and individuals to join us, as we expect them to continue the beyond the five years included in the Foundation plan. We think these are programs that will evolve over time, and financial support is always important to ensure that we’re running them effectively and efficiently.
What would you say is the significance of this award?
I think it marks an evolution in the industry, but also in evolution in the Foundation and what our role is and can be. We’re really excited about where we’re going, but there’s a lot of work to do, so now our job is to get to work.