U.S. hotel companies are taking steps to improve diversity, equity and inclusion among their ranks, committing to make hotel ownership and leadership more representative of the country as a whole.
The efforts are clearly needed: According to the Castell Project’s Women in Hospitality Industry Leadership 2022 report, 60 percent of hoteliers are women, but only 10 percent hold leadership roles.
Similarly, one woman enters hotel investment and development for every nine men across the hospitality industry. And during Wyndham’s first Black Hotel Ownership Symposium in late 2022, Vaughn Irons, principal of Stonecrest Resorts, noted that of the 60,000 hotels open in the U.S., fewer than 2 percent are owned by Black people, and fewer than 1 percent of hotels are owned by Black women.
In 2021, Hilton announced its commitment to achieving global gender parity and 25 percent ethnic diversity at corporate leadership levels in the U.S. by 2027. Progress towards these goals is tied directly to leadership compensation and includes diversity slate requirements for every corporate role—a policy that DeShaun Wise Porter, VP of diversity, equity, inclusion & recognition at Hilton, said the company implemented in 2018.
Porter said the company’s new Courageous Conversations series—an internal virtual learning series that addresses issues like racism—has been a “critical aspect” of the efforts, encouraging “effective progress, greater awareness and increased understanding” throughout the workplace.
Hilton has developed partnerships and relationships with racial and social justice organizations and scholarship programs at historically Black colleges and universities. The company also developed its own Pathway Programs team to build a stronger pipeline of talent and “steward potential team members” through a career at Hilton, Porter added.
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, in turn, debuted its Women Own the Room program in 2021 to boost the number of women owners in its system. In summer 2022, it launched BOLD by Wyndham—Black Owners and Lodging Developers—in a bid to increase the overall number of Black hoteliers within the industry. The company, said Galen Barrett, Wyndham’s VP of strategic development, is developing a “culture of awareness” that issues need addressing within the hospitality industry. “We are taking steps to identify what those issues are and figure out ways to stitch those into our normal business operating processes and performance metrics,” he added.
In 2021, Choice Hotels International launched a program to provide training, education, mentorship and financial assistance to women entrepreneurs looking to become Choice franchisees. The program relaunched a year later as HERtels by Choice, part of the company’s emerging markets development program. During the company’s annual conference in Las Vegas, Megan Brumagin, Choice’s VP of environmental, social and governance, noted that the company is committing $25 million over the next three years to support finding financial support for women entrepreneurs. “We’re really putting our money where our mouth is and putting our dollars to work to actually make that happen,” she said.
In late August, IHG Hotels & Resorts launched IHG LIFT (Leadership, Inclusivity, Facilitation and Transformation), an owner growth program focused on creating more hotel development support for historically underrepresented groups within the hospitality industry, and further diversifying IHG’s hotel owner community.
In a statement, the company said it would commit more than $30 million over the next five years to support the program, which includes support, access to capital and help along the hotel lifecycle for owners who qualify in the U.S. and Canada.
The companies have made progress toward achieving their DEI goals. As of last year, Porter said 40 percent of Hilton’s leadership levels were held by women and the company had achieved 19 percent ethnic diversity in its corporate U.S. leadership levels and U.S. hotel leadership being 23 percent ethnically diverse.
By May, Wyndham had signed more than 20 deals through the BOLD program. Barrett recalled signing a deal for an Echo Suites in Daytona Beach, Fla., with twin brothers Dubi and Chuchu Ajukwu, co-managing partners of VANA Partners. The brothers, Barrett said, found a way to “develop and source opportunities in markets where they felt that they could be successful.” Wyndham worked with them to determine the right kind of market for the hotel and developed “the right deal for them.” The company, he added, is “getting into conversations” with entrepreneurs across the country “about dreams of hotel ownership and each of their unique markets and communities.” Many of these entrepreneurs, he added, are not merely looking to find lucrative markets but are “finding opportunities in the communities in which they live and work.”
John Lancaster—vice president of emerging markets, franchise development and owner relations at Choice—said the company had invested in growing its Emerging Markets team 200 percent by adding more dedicated members to focus on individual underrepresented segments.
In March, the company held its inaugural HERtels by Choice Development Seminar, bringing together several women who either already own hotels or are looking to invest in hospitality. The seminar connected the potential owners with both established industry insiders and Choice team members, focusing on the details of financing and tax credits.
In April, less than a year after relaunching the HERtels platform as part of the emerging markets development program, Choice reported a 53 percent year-over-year increase in the company’s hotel franchise deals with women owners, and more than 50 contracts signed with women entrepreneurs.
The impact of DEI initiatives, Barrett said, is increased awareness that challenges and gaps in the system exist and are structural in nature. “Let’s agree that [these issues] are important, and if we can agree, let’s find ways to bridge these gaps,” he said.