There was a time just a few years ago when hotel chain executives would hold their collective breath waiting for the NAACP to release its then-annual report on diversity in the U.S. lodging industry. The report would routinely make headlines, as the civil rights organization excoriated the industry for its failures in hiring sufficient numbers of minorities or in promoting them to leadership positions. The report also took the hotel business to task for not using minority suppliers and for not offering opportunities for minority ownership of properties.
Late last month, the group reintroduced the study, this time looking at the diversity practices and policies of five hotel brand companies. And while none of them aced the test and the overall grades were lackluster, I didn’t see much news coverage of the report on the supposed failings of the industry when it comes to diversity.
Has the hotel industry become more diverse and color-blind when it comes to hiring and promoting? Or is it a case of scandal fatigue, considering the NAACP first issued such a report in 1997? Or, as I wrote back in 2005, perhaps the hotel business isn’t as irresponsible as the NAACP would have us believe. An alternative theory may be that the labor movement, particularly UNITE HERE, has taken up the cause of all (allegedly) downtrodden workers in the hospitality industry.
No matter the grades (Marriott got a B and the other chains studied—Hyatt, Starwood. Hilton, Wyndham—all got Cs), I believe the hotel industry is one of the greatest industries in the world for advancement and opportunity, no matter your race, religion or homeland. Just ask the 20,000-plus Indian-Americans who own half of all the hotels in the U.S. whether this country is a land of opportunity.
Without exaggeration, I can say this is the last and only major industry where hard work and determination are more critical than education and experience when it comes to opportunities for advancement. It’s still a business in which a high-school graduate with the right work ethic and tirelessness can become a GM, VP or even president of a hotel company. Nobody cares your color if you can boost RevPAR by 10% a year.
This is not to say it’s difficult for minorities to reach the highest levels of the industry. It’s still a sad commentary that so few women or people of color have made it into the corporate suites of these five hotel chains or, for that matter, any other. The industry needs to continue to find ways to tap into the rich diverseness of the country, but all in all its record isn’t much to be ashamed of.