Skift Take

Diversity in leadership makes a company better — period. While to be commended for laying the groundwork for advancing diversity when hiring picks back up, Hilton and other hotel companies can't stop with their latest diversity targets. This needs to be a long-term initiative across the entire industry.

The pandemic greatly reduced employee counts at hotel companies around the world. But, amid signs pointing to a travel demand turnaround, Hilton outlined plans Tuesday to build up gender and ethnic diversity in leadership roles as hiring picks up in the future.

Hilton plans to achieve gender parity in leadership roles around the world by 2027 and have 25 percent ethnic diversity in U.S. leadership roles within the same time frame. The company plans to hold itself accountable with a public dashboard updated annually to report on hiring as well as tying executive compensation to how much progress is being made.

The company currently has 17 percent ethnic diversity at corporate leadership roles in the U.S., and females account for 37 percent of global leadership roles.

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It may not seem like a massive hiring target for a deadline nearly six years away. Company leaders told Skift last year of a hiring goal to have a 50 percent diverse slate of candidates interview for any open position at Hilton.

But Hilton’s chief human resources officer says the hiring goals are ambitious given the reality of today’s hotel industry and uncertainty in when recruiting gets back to pre-pandemic levels.

“It seems like the right time to set this longer-term goal now because we’re going to be in this period of building back,” Laura Fuentes, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Hilton, said in an exclusive interview with Skift ahead of the announcement. “We’re hopefully not just bouncing back but bouncing forward.”

Hiring is still limited at hotel companies given the uncertain timeline of the recovery.

There are only 53 open corporate positions at Hilton, per its website, and that comes after the company cut 2,100 corporate roles last year due to the catastrophic impact of the health crisis on the industry.

“We find ourselves in an interesting position for our industry because we’re not hiring en masse yet. In a usual year, we’d be hiring thousands of people. We’re not in that situation now,” Fuentes said. “I want to set goals that are ambitious but that take into account our current business context.”

Recruiting Infrastructure

Hilton continues to build out recruitment tools amid historically low demand and an uncertain hiring climate.

Virtual internships replaced in-person experiences for college students. There’s also greater emphasis on campus recruiting from historically black colleges and universities.

Hilton announced plans in February to partner with Morris Brown College and investment firm CGI Merchant Group on a $30 million hotel and hospitality training center on the Atlanta campus.

“We want to make sure we sustain a relationship with this early talent pool so that, when they are in the market for full-time roles, they know about us and the schools know about us and have seen our commitment during tough times,” Fuentes said. “It starts by building those deep-rooted relationships and building the pipeline.”

The company has other initiatives like boosting diversity within the interviewing process, mentorship matching with senior leaders, and providing more talent rotation programs into different jobs within the company. While devastating on so many levels, the pandemic may have helped advance the talent rotation program and helped workers garner new sets of skills.

“To some extent, we’ve been able to be more deliberate about this in the last year because we’ve had a smaller population and people had to stretch into other roles they may not have traditionally had access to,” Fuentes said. “It has created some opportunities that we maybe wouldn’t have seen so readily before.”

The Work Ahead

The hotel industry certainly has a diverse workforce given its global reach, but diversity in leadership continues to be where companies fall short.

Black people account for one in five American hotel jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But they hold only one in 60 positions at a vice president or higher level, according to a report last year from the nonprofit organization the Castell Project. They hold 1.5 percent of overall hospitality industry executive positions compared to five percent of executive positions across all industries.

No industry should give itself praise, given both figures are well below the 12.3 percent share Black people have of the U.S. labor force. But many companies are underway with their own initiatives to boost diversity.

Facebook committed to a 30 percent increase in the number of people of color in leadership positions over the next five years. McDonald’s set a target of at least 35 percent of leadership roles going to candidates from underrepresented groups and achieve at least 45 percent of leadership positions going to women by 2025.

Marriott plans to achieve gender parity in global leadership by 2025, up from its current rate of women accounting for 44 percent of leadership positions around the world. The company doesn’t have a publicly stated ethnic diversity in leadership target. But its charitable arm did announce in February a $20 million endowment for a hospitality leadership academy at Howard University, a leading HBCU in Washington, D.C., in honor of Marriott’s late CEO Arne Sorenson.

Other companies aren’t as far ahead. Accor CEO Sebastien Bazin didn’t hide last year from criticism, or from taking full responsibility, for some of the lacking diversity at his own company.

“I have been miserably failing at the executive committee level, which is only 15 percent [female]. My fault,” Bazin said at Skift Global Forum. “I can’t sacrifice someone because of his gender. Give me another five years. I will get there.”

Along with looking at market uncertainties and its internal composition to set its own leadership diversity targets, Hilton leaders looked externally to other companies as well as best practice consortiums like Diversity Inc. and Great Place to Work.

“We look across the board. Certainly, we’re always watching and learning from other companies,” Fuentes said. “It’s a space where we obviously all compete for talent. We all understand having the best and most diverse workforces is a chief competitive advantage.”

She also emphasized Hilton’s gender and ethnic diversity goals announced this week are only the latest in the company’s ongoing diversity and inclusion commitments. The company aims to go above publicly stated diversity targets and the 50 percent diverse applicant pool target in instances where there is a job opening on a team without much diversity.

“It’s not just about meeting these goals in totality. Our vision is to have fully inclusive and diverse teams,” Fuentes said. “It’s not like we want to get to 25 percent [ethnic diversity in leadership] and stop there.”

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Tags: coronavirus, coronavirus recovery, diversity and inclusion, hilton

Photo credit: Hilton rolled out new diversity in leadership targets this week, aiming to achieve gender parity in global leadership roles and 25 percent ethnic diversity in U.S. executive levels by 2027. Altercari / Wikimedia

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