Creating opportunity and access for all through diversity and inclusion
by ANDREA BELFANTI
Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to meet, collaborate with, and develop meaningful friendships with some of the brightest people within hospitality. Like many of you, I love this industry and its people, and I appreciate all it has provided me.
However, even with all the good we do as an industry, we have much work to do when it comes to consistently doing right by many of our colleagues who have also dedicated their careers to hospitality. As hospitality professionals, our goal is to make people feel welcome. We fall short of that for our guests and employees when only select groups of people are represented at all levels of leadership.
During the past few years, I’ve become more involved in helping women advance within our industry. Although women are more than half of all hospitality professionals, they still find it difficult to advance in leadership, with only 12% of leadership positions being held by women.
Unfortunately, this is not new information, especially for women who desire the responsibility of pushing our industry forward but struggle to find opportunities to do so.
The Castell Project’s Women in Hospitality Industry Leadership 2020 study found that in 2019 the odds of women rising into leadership positions within hotel companies are roughly 1:7 when compared to men. Additionally, this gap widens for women striving to be CEOs, as the odds of women achieving this position within hotel companies are 1:20.
We are making progress, but more progress is needed – and at a quicker pace – if we truly want women to rise into greater positions of influence within hospitality.
DIVERSITY GOES BEYOND WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP
When discrimination occurs to people who look like you, it’s easy to see the need for change and feel passionate about creating that change. However, the social justice protests and new research on Black representation in our industry helped me realize that more of our colleagues, not just women, need support. While the number of women within hospitality’s executive ranks are low, Black hospitality professionals – men and women – represent an even lower percentage of industry executives.
The Castell Project’s Black Representation in Hospitality Industry Leadership 2020 study found that while Black professionals are a large part of our industry’s workforce, 18.8 percent or one in five workers, they are vastly underrepresented among leadership.
Black executives represent 1.5% of hospitality industry executives at the director level or above on company websites, which is 12.5 times below their proportionate share of hospitality industry employment. For comparison, Korn Ferry reports that Black people hold 5% of executive positions across all industries and 4% of executive positions at S&P 500 companies.
At the highest leadership levels of hospitality, Black professionals represent less than 1% of CEOs/presidents (0.9%) and C-level executives (0.7%). Of this executive cohort, Black women represent 14% of Black CEOs/presidents.
As the data show, there are significant disparities between the number of Black professionals in hospitality and those who have risen into leadership. Additionally, when compared to other industries, it’s clear that hospitality is not setting the pace with regard to developing Black leaders for the executive suite.
IT’S MORE THAN JUST DOING THE ‘RIGHT THING’
Simply put, having hospitality’s leaders truly represent our industry’s workforce is the right thing to do. But if that isn’t reason enough for hotel companies to make it a priority, it makes good business sense in terms of profitability.
Recently published by McKinsey & Company, Diversity wins: How inclusion matters found that companies with more than 30% women on their executive teams are significantly more likely to outperform (on EBIT margin) those with less than 30% women executives.
In the case of ethnic and cultural diversity, companies in the top quartile outperformed those in the fourth by 36% in terms of profitability in 2019, up from 33% in 2017 and 35% in 2014.
We have data on women and Black representation within the hospitality industry, but there are other groups that aren’t represented at all levels of leadership in our industry. When the pandemic subsides and travel increases, the recent labor crisis will likely still be a concern. Future employees will choose industries where they feel valued and can see the opportunity for advancement. If we don’t proactively engage our entire workforce now, labor stands to become another of our long-term recovery issues.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
To make meaningful and measurable change in hospitality as it relates to diversity and inclusion, we all must commit to making this a long-term priority. While the effects of the global pandemic have reshaped our industry, causing many businesses to struggle, we cannot allow the momentum supporting diversity and inclusion within hospitality to wait until we “get back to normal.” As an industry, we have an opportunity to position ourselves stronger than before. But to succeed, we must commit to doing things differently. Diversity and inclusion are too important to only be addressed during a townhall or curated social media campaign.
It’s encouraging to see so many companies and leaders taking a stand on these issues, but we need to come together as an industry to make real change. As part of my commitment to improving diversity and inclusion within hospitality, the International Society of Hospitality Consultants (ISHC) has partnered with Questex Hospitality + Travel to launch the Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council. With our collaborative effort, we hope to serve as a catalyst to steer our industry on a path to equality for all guests and employees.
As we embark on this initiative, my challenge to you, my industry colleagues, is to take action by starting the conversation within your organization and with your industry peers and competitors. Our industry’s problems are too large and affect too many to continue postponing their importance. Collectively, we all must take part in developing the solution.
If we come together to address this problem, the future of hospitality will be stronger as a result. In the current reality of world events, we must become comfortable with change and now is the time to make changes that can have a lasting, positive impact.