NABHOOD study tackles diversity

NATIONAL REPORT—While African American employees are prevalent on the front lines of the hotel industry, there are very few people of color among the executive ranks and in the boardrooms. This issue is tackled in the newly released study by the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers (NABHOOD) titled “Creating More Opportunities and Executive Leadership Positions for People of Color in the Hospitality Industry.”

In the study, NABHOOD executives, along with a group of researchers from Cornell University, the University of Rhode Island and other schools, explained the roadblocks African Americans face when seeking high-ranking positions, as well as solutions that could help make it easier for them to climb the corporate ladder.

“At the bottom of the food chain, there are people of color, but at the top there are none,” said Andy Ingraham, president/CEO, NABHOOD. “We have to be real clear and real specific in saying, ‘This is a great industry.’ But how do we make it more inviting to African Americans to stay in?”

According to the Castell Project’s “Black Representation in Hospitality Industry Leadership” study released last month, 84% of the 630 hotel company websites reviewed did not show Black executives on their websites. It also stated that, although Black people make up 17.9% of employees in the hospitality industry, they hold 0.7% of CEO jobs within U.S. hospitality firms. At the director level and above, they hold 1.5% of the positions.

The study also found that the representation of Black women in leadership is heavily weighted toward human resources, which employs 67% of Black female directors. Black male leaders are most found in operations and, to a lesser extent, in accounting/finance, notably at the director and VP levels.

“When we go out and talk to young people, we see a lot of folks graduating from hospitality schools, but they can’t get into positions that allow them to move up the corporate chain,” said Ingraham. “When you look at companies across the board in our industry, for the most part, there is almost a vanilla executive team; you go to the boardroom, there’s a vanilla boardroom.”

The NABHOOD study offered several causes for the lack of African American representation in the hospitality executive ranks:

Isolation and lack of support. Underrepresentation at work leads to stereotyping, being marginalized and feelings of isolation.

Lack of mentors and access to social networks. Black employees at all levels find it difficult to tap into and leverage the social networks that enable advancement to leadership and executive roles, while Black women face difficulties in finding mentors and being taken seriously.

The middle-management plateau. Many scholars have written about Black professionals hitting a “middle-management plateau” in which, despite having many years of mid-level management experience, they lack the organizational visibility and personal mentorship needed to break into upper echelons of executive leadership.

Lack of commitment to diversity by executives/board members. NABOOD noted a WittKieffer study that found a lack of genuine commitment on the part of executives and board members might also explain the lack of diversity and inclusion at higher ranks.

The burden of working two jobs in one. Black professionals are often expected by their leaders, or feel personally compelled, to participate in diversity and inclusion activities in addition to their own job responsibilities.

The glass cliff. Black professionals are often given a shot at leadership during periods of organizational crisis, a phenomenon referred to as the glass cliff because of the high-risk nature of accepting such an assignment.

Racially influenced attrition. Research has uncovered several instances where Black leaders are more likely to leave their organizations than white employees. Black workers are more likely to be aware of and sensitive to the existence of “ambient racial discrimination” within an organization (whether or not it is affecting them personally), and this awareness is positively related to turnover intentions.

Bias in employment decision-making: Black workers and leaders often fall victim to systemic biases and discrimination during the performance appraisal process, when being selected (or not) for job assignments, and during deliberations about promotions and advancement.

“When African Americans look at the industry, they don’t see a reflection of what America is or a reflection of people moving up the line,” said Ingraham. “If you look at Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach [the three major markets closest to NABHOOD headquarters], there are only five black hotel general managers, yet there are more than 1,000 hotels. My parents were dead set against me working in the hotel industry because they didn’t see people that looked like them.”

Michael Thomas Paz, an assistant professor at Cornell University’s School of Business Administration and one of the researchers on the NABHOOD study, added, “We’re not seeing the mentorship support that’s going to pull people up through middle management into the executive ranks. We’re not seeing people having the visibility to show young Black men and women that management is for them. I think that what we are trying to point out is that in order to really diversify the industry, companies are going to have to take leadership on this.”

Through research performed by Paz and others, as well as the experience of NABHOOD executives, solutions on how to ramp up diversity in the hospitality industry were offered in the study. The organization believes the first four are of the utmost importance. All companies associated with the industry—from the brands right down to the property level—should do the following:

• Include at least one African American candidate in final-round deliberations for all director and higher-level searches. Ingraham called this the “NABHOOD Rule,” which is similar to the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” where ethnic-minority candidates must be interviewed for head coaching and senior football operation jobs.

• Become leading sponsors of and participants in a Hospitality Executive Leadership Fellows program that NABHOOD and other organizations will establish. The fellows program will have the specific goal of grooming midcareer African American managers for executive leadership roles.

• Set African American participation goals within existing general manager development programs to increase representation at the individual property level.

• Participate in a “badge” or “gold star” certification program NABHOOD will create, which recognizes hospitality industry firms for following best practices when it comes to the employment and promotion of African American employees.

• Track employment and advancement statistics for African American employees at all levels within the company and make that information publicly available.

• Provide initial and ongoing support for Black owners and developers through targeted loan/key money programs and increased representation on owner advisory boards.

• Support Black communities by setting publicly available targets for spending with Black-owned businesses, including contracting firms.

• Explicitly incentivize all managers and executives to follow through on these commitments through performance-based pay tied to diversity outcome metrics.

Among other actions the study offered for long-term success are creating initiatives specifically aimed at improvements for Black employees; recognizing and paying for the formal and informal diversity and inclusion work that Black workers perform for the organization; making diversity mentoring a central practice in the organization; investing in the success of African American employees; and promoting African Americans from within.

“The hotel companies are going through a tough time, but as they begin to rebuild, if they insert diversity into the core values of their corporate culture and stick to it, then we can really make a change,” said Ingraham. “We hope that this set of principles we put together are going to be woven into the fabric of the hospitality industry.”