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Is the Hotel Industry Failing To Live Up To Its DEI Promises?

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, the world witnessed a global public outcry against systemic racism and injustice, and an unprecedented show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. And, amid the fervor of the cultural moment, many hotel companies and hospitality organizations issued supportive public statements about their respective commitments to fairness and equality and pledged to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in their workforces and operations.

Among them were such major industry players as Four Seasons, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, IHG Hotels & Resorts, Sandals Resorts, Hyatt Hotels Corp. and Marriott International. At the time, all expressed their support for the widespread social justice movement and emphasized a commitment to attracting and retaining diverse talent.

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Have They Delivered?

In a new CoStar report, co-authors Miranda Kitterlin-Lynch and Leon Thomas examined whether the lodging industry has actually followed through on these promises from two years ago. While many hotel and lodging sector companies were quite vocal about their DEI commitments, “the numbers tell a disappointing story”, they wrote.

The co-authors actually reached out to a number of hotel companies (Best Western, Choice Hotels, Hilton, Hyatt, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Marriott and Wyndham), as well as the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), in hopes of learning about their special programs and/or incentives designed to prepare Black talent for roles as hotel managers or corporate employees. Only one responded to “decline participation” in the study.

It’s worth noting that the Marriott family last year gave Howard University a $20 million endowment to establish the Marriott-Sorenson Center for Hospitality Leadership and Marriott International also created the Arne M. Sorenson Hospitality Fund with the aim of establishing a direct connection to future Black professionals and funneling them into the hospitality industry’s ranks.


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A Black corporate employee amid a crowd of co-workers. (photo via iStock/Getty Images/Digital Vision)

Insider Perspectives

But, when Thomas and Kitterlin-Lynch spoke with hospitality management students about their perceptions of the industry’s DEI efforts, more than one said they felt that “it was all just talk”. Students and early-career professionals said they believe that retaining Black talent accounts for much of the problem, that organizations’ leadership fails to make Black employees aware of advancement opportunities and fails to recognize microaggressions against people of color in the workplace.

Among the Black hotel managers and corporate employees that the authors interviewed, skepticism was the prevailing sentiment about companies’ diversity messages. Several who work at hotel franchise companies said that their employers are doing nothing to improve race relations. One director of franchise services said that his company, “thinks a training session or a series of online learning modules will change things. It won’t. It’s about attitudes. Nothing will change until the attitude at the top changes.”

Craig Poole, president of Reading Hospitality, which operates the DoubleTree by Hilton in Reading, Pennsylvania, said: “A company can’t simply flip a switch and say they are a diverse and inclusive organization. Either you are or you’re not.” He added, “Companies shouldn’t have to publicize a statement about being diverse and inclusive. They simply need to be it.”

Poole believes that organizations should be able to develop homegrown talent, as his company does. “We have a hotel manager that happens to be Black. We didn’t have to search for a Black manager or even search for a manager at all because our culture of diversity, inclusion and training helped us to already have a diverse group of candidates to select from.”


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A Black hotel manager standing with staff members in the lobby. (photo via iStock/Getty E+/SDI Productions)

Statistics Say

Using Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the non-profit Castell Project’s third annual benchmarking report found that, not only has Black representation in hospitality industry leadership remained disproportionately low, but Black employment share in the sector has actually decreased.

Per the report:

— In 2021, only 11 percent of the 671 hotel company websites reviewed as part of the Castell Project research had Black executives on their websites.

— Only one in every 7.3 industry employees is Black, a decrease in representation from one in 5.7 in 2020.

— For each Black man working in director to CEO levels, there were 80 other men of other races.

— Because all women are poorly represented at these levels, there are fewer other women for each Black woman than the comparable figure for men. for each Black woman shown at these levels, there are 25 women of other races.


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Black women are even more disproportionately represented in corporate hospitality roles than Black men. (Photo via iStock/Getty Images Plus/skyNext)

If hotel brands, owners and operators actually want to increase the number of Black people who hold corporate and management positions, “they must think beyond the boardroom talk of diversity, equity and inclusion,” wrote Thomas and Kitterlin-Lynch. “They have to understand that true diversity and inclusion is more than a public statement or initiative. It’s an attitude that starts in the C-Suite.”

Fortunately, they said, there is still time for companies to start “walking the walk”. As Castell’s report points out, “statistics suggest opportunities for companies that open opportunities to Black employees not just in word, but in deed.”

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