Creating Real, Sustainable Change.
After 20 years of working in the hospitality industry, having helped a global hotel chain become the well-respected brand it is today, I quit the job I loved.
At an otherwise unremarkable meeting, in front of the executive team, some of whom I had known for more than a decade, my General Manager called me a racial epithet and, perhaps fearing that was not enough, coupled it with a slur used against women. Eventually, he was fired, and shortly thereafter his privilege provided him the opportunity to be hired by another major hotel chain in the same city. From there, he often returned to the hotel for meetings and to join my coworkers for after-work cocktails in the lobby.
I reacted as I always had whenever an unfortunate African American made the news: I vowed to work harder to fit in. Maybe, if I mirrored my coworkers, I could (re)gain their respect. I also tried to talk to the corporate office about the conditions that had allowed this person's racist views to flourish unabated, but they were unwilling to take a stand or "rock the boat".
I would hate for anyone else to experience what I did at work those subsequent months/years - feeling ashamed, being marginalized, and not valued by coworkers who saw what happened to me and either exhibited the same conduct as my former colleague (with impunity), or simply avoided me. At home, I faced different struggles- recognizing that I was modeling behavior for my 6-year-old son to emulate by remaining silent and knowing what I stood to risk by speaking out.
Now, 2 years later, the current focus on re-examining inherent bias and overt racism stirs my optimism for a better future for my son's generation. I hope that companies, both large and small, will use this time to thoughtfully evaluate their stated values, and will do the work to examine how they uphold them on a daily basis. I know that creating meaningful change will not happen as quickly or easily as adding a black square to a social media feed.
In the hospitality industry, like in many industries, creating real, sustainable change means not only stating anti-racist policies but also building organizations that hire people of color, incorporate their perspectives and deliberately create an environment in which they too can flourish. It means expanding this inclusivity beyond a one-hour seminar. It means rethinking the way in which hotels and their staff view and interact with ALL of their guests. It means creating programming that honors the spectrum of thought and interests of the modern traveler who wants to be warmly welcomed and truly seen for who they are.
A good place to start? Addressing the following:
- Recruiting: Be intentional in recruiting by seeking the best talent from diverse resources. Add HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) to your recruitment schedule; many HR managers have never heard of these universities. Educate them.
- Training: Ensure that you are creating the atmosphere that both your employees and your clients seek by investing in longer term, programmatic initiatives with measurable results.
- Representation: Diversify the company’s Board of Directors to establish authentic and sometimes uncomfortable engagement from the top of the organization on down.
I’m willing to invest the time and effort to make that vision a reality. How about you?
Cindy Hill is the founder and President of Grace Marketing, a full-service branding and marketing firm that specializes in customized, innovative, and inclusive programming for the hospitality industry. She is currently at work on a book that outlines her experiences developing and later leaving a global hotel chain.