Elevate talented people for greater diversity in leadership

Businesses should not simply exhibit more diversity in hospitality leadership, but should consciously include diverse voices and gain from different perspectives. Photo credit: Getty / E+ / Orbon Alija (Diverse Workplace with Masks)

Recent social and political events have ignited conversations around diversity and inclusion in business. The hospitality industry is not alone in taking a closer look at our own workforce to see whether we’re walking the inclusion walk. But while our front-line workers are often incredibly diverse, once you zoom in on management, franchisees and the C-suite, the diversity all but disappears. 

Though implicit and unconscious bias may play a role in this disparity in some organizations, many hiring managers and decision-makers instead point to a lack of easily identified, qualified candidates of color. While they would be happy to consider such candidates, the pool of applicants for leadership positions can often lack diversity, perpetuating the status quo of a primarily white male executive team. 

For some minority employees, it may be a matter of not wanting to speak up or ask for a promotion. Individuals may feel uncomfortable advancing into a position where they are the only person of color, or people may lack the confidence to “put themselves out there.” Sometimes barriers have to do with access to technology, comfort with language or other stumbling blocks that may or may not be clearly recognized or understood by management. But we need minority voices and talents in our businesses and in our leadership.

Let’s be clear, the point is not to simply exhibit more diversity in hospitality leadership, but to consciously include diverse voices and gain from different perspectives. It’s not only good social practice, it’s good business. A 2018 study of 1,700 companies by the Boston Consulting Group found that those with more diverse management teams show 19 percent greater revenue due to innovation. 

But as with anything worthwhile, conquering the issue of diversity in leadership is going to take effort. I challenge all hospitality leaders to answer this simple call to action: Elevate people. We need to open our eyes and make a point to notice, encourage, develop and reward high performers to ensure that talented people of color don’t get overlooked.

Train your supervisors and managers in diversity and conscious inclusion: how to watch for leadership potential among their front-line workers, and how to encourage and stretch their employees’ abilities in ways that can lead to career advancement. Instead of simply granting responsibility to those who ask or volunteer, seek to intentionally encourage, develop and draw out the talent of minority employees. 

We can no longer afford to sit on our hands and wait for change to come to us. We must actively seek out future leaders among our diverse workforce and pull peoples’ wealth of experience, talent and perspectives into the leadership roles. When business leadership is diverse, everyone wins. 

Serah Morrissey is the senior director of human resources at the InterContinental Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. She is president of the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers.