Hot Topics—Breaking the Barriers: Creating an Industry for All

This past year has proven to be a pivotal one in how American society addresses racism and sexism in all areas. Following up on the “Industry of Inclusion,” cover story in the March issue of Hotel Business, the latest Hotel Business Hot Topics session, “Breaking the Barriers: Creating an Industry for All,” with sponsor support from and McNeill Hotel Company, focused on the issue of diversity and inclusion in our industry.

Moderated by Talia Fox, CEO, KUSI Global Inc., the group of panelists included Leslie Hale, president/CEO, RLJ Lodging Trust; Donna Quadri-Felitti, Marvin Ashner director, The Pennsylvania State University School of Hospitality Management; Andy Ingraham, president/founder/CEO, NABHOOD; and Robert Mellwig, SVP, talent & culture, Accor—North & Central America.

Fox started the session by describing the work her company does—transforming culture at organizations. “We do that through engaging [and] learning experiences,” she said. “We do that through planning, and we do that through this opportunity to elevate the mind, to touch the heart and to inspire…It reminded me of what Einstein said: If he had a problem, he’d spend 59 minutes thinking about what the problem is and one minute solving it. Well, ladies and gentlemen, our 59 minutes is up. This conversation is not just going to be about what the problems are, because I think we have spent a lot of time discussing that, but it is time to take action and to break barriers.”

Just having the conversation around diversity is important. “Part of what we need to do as an industry is provide a greater spotlight in transparency and candor and really bring this conversation that’s important to many businesses—but maybe not any greater than the hotel business—to the forefront, and so we’re trying to advocate for and champion action and change,” said Mellwig.

Ingraham said that the most important thing is for companies to take action and set an example for others, adding, “People are going to watch what RLJ does and will follow Leslie’s lead. They’re going to watch what Chris Nassetta says and does at Hilton and follow the lead. When leaders take the courage to step out of that comfort zone—yeah, they may get criticized; yeah, they may be awkward in saying it—but the fact is that [they are] taking action.”

Fox asked the panelists how to answer some leaders who say they are just choosing the most qualified candidates, but they are not finding diversity candidates who have the right set of skills to be in an executive position.

“When I hear that I always have to smile because, quite frankly, it’s nonsense,” said Ingraham.

He pointed to the fact that in South Florida, where he lives, there are only five black general managers in the hundreds of hotels in the area. “Now, it’s difficult for me to believe that there is not a sixth or seventh person available do the job and that’s across the line,” he said.

Hale said that companies need to challenge how they look at candidates and see their talent. “Look past the race and gender and see what they bring to the table,” she said. “I think that if you’re having a problem, identify it. Who’s in your chain of recruiting, you have multiple lenses right there. I find that when I’m at the table when we’re doing a talent review, it’s amazing how I can see the talent of this person differently than some of my majority partners.”

She continued, “And when I point out, ‘Well, what about this experience or that experience?’ The lightbulb goes off. It’s not because they were being malicious, it was just because they just saw the world differently.”

Quadri-Felitti also said that it is not about ticking boxes that each candidate fits, but finding each person’s potential and being adaptable, adding, “What’s interesting to me is we go to our consumers, and we personalize their experience in our hotels and we personalize the marketing to them, but [it’s] funny we have to have everything in the HR coaching; managerial development has to be non-personal. It [doesn’t] get adapted in the same way. We can do more. We can do better that way.”

Look for more coverage on this Hot Topics webinar in the July 15 issue of Hotel Business.