To create a more racially inclusive industry, hotel companies need to shift thinking and incentivize executives at the top to hire more Black talent across the board, Black leaders said.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The hotel industry has a disproportionately small number of Black people in executive roles, and for this to change, hotel leaders need to have uncomfortable conversations to change the behavior and be deliberate in seeking out Black candidates for leadership positions, sources said.
One reason why the industry isn’t more inclusive is because systemic racism still exists in the world today, and the stereotypes and labels put on Black people by society are stopping them from moving forward, Tyronne Stoudemire, VP of global diversity and inclusion at Hyatt Hotels Corporation, said during an ISHC forum titled “Black leadership in hospitality: What leading consultants need to know.”
The systemic racism seen in the world today goes back to the 1950s when after WWII real estate developers in some parts of the U.S. were told not to sell property to Black people, said Tracy Prigmore, founder of TLT Solutions.
Not only has this held back Blacks in the country as a whole, but also in the hotel industry, she said.
“African Americans, Blacks are systemically held back from generating wealth, and it's the wealth that allows you to be able to invest in hotels. And then when you get to a point where you're invested in hotels and you're an owner, you make those decisions as to who gets hired in these executive positions, and usually … we go to our network,” she said.
“If you've been segregated, and we've been segregating for generations, you don't know necessarily any people of color, and so therefore you go and you ask your best friend or you ask your buddy you play golf with, or your girlfriend who you play tennis with, and you ask them, ‘Do you know anybody who is a good GM or a good (operator)?’ You get a list of people from their circle, which this circle does not include people of color, because we've been so segregated.”
Diversity inclusion in the U.S. started with hiring a workforce that’s diverse enough to be compliant, but then turned to companies having to show how a diverse workforce could bring in more money, Stoudemire said.
The money and the data are there, so the lack of diversity in the industry is still a systemic issue, he said.
“It is within who we are and the biases that we have (preventing) us to move forward,” he said. “We have to be courageous, and we have to be deliberate and intentional in checking that bias at the door and looking at the talent that’s in front of us.”
The talent is there, but the industry is just not connecting with Black talent, he said.
“I hate when people say we’re taking a risk (hiring) a woman or a risk (hiring) someone of color,” he said. “There is no risk. The risk is not taking it. The cost of not doing it and the money you’re leaving on the table, that’s got to be the compelling reason to diversify your talent.”
Making the workforce more diverse will only happen if there’s a clear business rationale, which there is, said Errol Williams, VP of Holiday Inn at InterContinental Hotels Group.
“There has been a need for a compelling reason to push for diversity and create a more diverse workforce. … That just has not existed. It’s not coming from the outside; it's not coming from the top,” he said. “I look often to the public, to the consumer to demand to be served by more diverse populations and to have the leadership look more like the employee base, and I think the lack of that has held us back.”
Opportunities for Blacks in the industry
Black people also must see themselves in an organization, Stoudemire said. The industry can showcase success stories of Black people who have climbed the ranks from bellman to GM, but the industry doesn’t necessarily show as much of the Black CIOs or the Black hotel owners.
“The generation now, the digital natives, (they are) not going to work at a hotel to be a bellman. … (They) want to be a professional,” he said. “Most don’t understand that we have our corporate functions; most don’t understand that within a hotel you’ve got marketing and risk management and security at a couple of different levels … it’s a best-kept secret in my opinion.”
There are opportunities in various job roles across the industry for Blacks, but there are also barriers to entry for those roles.
As part of an email discussion hosted by Hotel News Now, Omari Head, senior associate at Paramount Lodging Advisors, said ownership is one of those areas of opportunity.
“The key is to have genuine and sincere efforts in attracting and recruiting Black owners,” he said. “Capital is not the main issue many times. It is knowledge about a capital-intensive sector. More is needed besides invites to the HQ. There needs to be follow up and legitimate business development instead of just one-off sales attempts.”
There are also opportunities to help Blacks on a path to the executive level, he said.
“I have volunteered with HLT 100 (Hospitality Leaders Tomorrow) that has a goal of coaching and developing (executive) talent. Work with HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) to recruit the talent,” Head said. “As an adjunct for two HBCUs I can say that I have seen disproportionately certain types of jobs are offered to HBCU students. Certain jobs are offered to students of majority institutions that HBCU students may not be aware of.”
What top executives need to know
Research from the Castell Project’s “Black representation in hospitality industry leadership 2020” report shows that 84% of the 630 hotel company websites reviewed for the study do not show Black executives on the websites and only 16% show a Black employee at the director level or above.
When asked what Black leaders in the industry would want executives to know at those companies that are lacking diversity, Head said they need to know “there is talent in shapes and forms.”
“If your company has been saying for the last 60 quarters that diversity is paramount and have been yielding no results—ask yourself if you would accept five years of poor performance with a continued promise to do better. This is essentially the explanation to the public. We are at the point where sincerity will be challenged,” he said.
How can the industry get companies to diversify their workforce? Sources said they must be held accountable, which could mean tying diversity to their compensation.
“Yes, we need to incentivize (senior executives). They should be held accountable,” Stoudemire said. “It should be tied to their compensation. Everything else that we do, if something’s broken, we put a strategy together, we get behind it and (we change). This is a critical time for us in the industry. If we’re not holding each other accountable and it’s not tied to compensation, I’m not sure we’re going to get it done.”
In an email interview with HNN, Stoudemire said Hyatt is “committed to hiring, developing and retaining diverse talent to increase representation of women and people of color.”
“To ensure our leadership better reflects our global workforce and the communities in which we operate, we’re requiring a diverse slate of candidates for all leadership roles. We also continue to link achievement of our inclusion and diversity goals to compensation for leaders at Hyatt and have committed to auditing our hiring and promotion processes to ensure diverse candidates in the selection process,” he said.
Prigmore agreed that executives at the top should be incentivized on their ability to bring in diversity “otherwise you get the same thing over and over again.”
When asked if it is counterintuitive to give up several positions within an organization to hire Black talent, Williams said companies need to set up their business the right way.
“The idea of giving up a spot, it’s not about that at all for me,” he said. “It’s about is your business set up as well as it can possibly be set up. If it’s not diverse—and we believe that diversity is important—then the answer is no, your business is not set up as well as it could be set up, so how do you fix that?”
Creating change is part of the business. Companies should identify where an opportunity is and make the change, Williams said.
The industry employs people of many different cultures and backgrounds, and there’s an opportunity for the industry to help fix racism in this country, Sheila C. Johnson, founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts wrote in a blog earlier this July.
“I urge all of you—especially in these divided times in which we find ourselves—to dare yourself to confront the issue of race as you have never done before. Consider our nation’s history, consider our collective treatment of Native Americans, consider the vast hopelessness that continues to grip our poorest Black communities, and consider that race and racism is, indeed, a problem (that) is not going to go away until we—you and I—fix it,” Johnson writes.
She added that change starts at the top, “and, at Salamander, it starts with me.”
“Look at the faces of those already in our industry. Listen to those faces talk. And read their name tags. Those are the faces, sounds and names of America. And when you do that, my fellow hospitality professionals, you will realize we have something no one else has in the ongoing quest to, once and for all, stamp out racism and ignorance in this country,” she said.
Consultants have a lot of influence over their clients, so they should be the leaders in the conversation of diversity and “have those uncomfortable conversations” with clients on where they see a need for more diversity across companies and help them along the way, Prigmore said.
At the end of the ISHC webinar, Stoudemire encouraged hoteliers to “put yourself in situations where you’re uncomfortable” and to look at what they are doing now in their companies to makes changes to “make the world a better place to work and a better place to live for everyone.”