A new study by Castell Project that counts the number of Blacks in leadership in the U.S. hospitality industry reveals a truth most people already know – the tally is low. ‘Hospitality is even more dependent on Black employees than other industries in North America so equity, equality and inclusion are vitally important,’ reads the report.

‘It Has To Be Us, Too’

As U.S. hospitality businesses face issues of racism, diversity and inclusion, a new study shows a significant lack of Blacks in industry leadership

“Diversity in leadership has not been a high priority for the hospitality industry. But, with attention now, it can shape the future of the industry. This means being mindful of the post-COVID racial makeup of organizations, intentionally rewriting biased recruiting and advancement policies and holding leaders accountable for building and leading diverse teams.” Peggy Berg, author, “Black Representation in Hospitality Industry Leadership 2020”

A study released Monday shows a dramatic dearth of Black leadership at hospitality companies throughout the U.S.

Though Blacks hold one out of every five jobs in the hotel business, the industry “is structurally biased against them” when it comes to advancing to higher career rungs, writes the report’s author.

Peggy Berg, founder and president of Castell Project, conducted the study to count the number of Black men and women in leadership positions in hotel companies.

What she discovered is shocking.

First, know this:

  • One in five people working in the hotel business is Black, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • Black employees comprise nearly 19 percent of all workers in the hospitality industry.
  • That’s 53 percent more than Blacks’ 12.3 percent share of jobs in the overall civilian labor force.

In its study called Black Representation in Hospitality Industry Leadership 2020, Castell Project reports:

  • Of 630 hotel companies’ websites, 84 percent or 529 companies have no Blacks in executive positions.
  • Of the websites, 102 show Black employees as directors and above.
  • Black executives represent just 1.5 percent of hospitality industry executives at the director level or above.
  • That is 12.5 times below Blacks’ proportionate share of hospitality industry employment.

Berg writes these statistics could “only occur in an industry that is structurally biased against them.”

Castell Project’s study, Black Representation in Hospitality Industry Leadership 2020, released Monday, charts the number of Black men and women in leadership in the U.S. hospitality industry as shown on 630 company websites. “Representation of all Black leaders is extremely low in the hospitality industry, but Black women hold an even smaller share of leadership jobs than their male counterparts,” says the report.

Berg established Castell Project about four years ago as a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing women in the hospitality industry. The report on Black leadership in hospitality is a new tack for Castell.

In an interview with Long Live Lodging, Berg said: “I think all of us in the industry walk through our properties and go to our meetings and know that there’s an issue here that we’re not permitting Black people to move up in our industry. But until you actually count it, you don’t know.

“I was honestly shocked when I saw these numbers. Because it’s one of these things that you know in the back of your mind. But when you actually see the numbers, it’s suddenly real. And the numbers are dramatic enough, it can’t be just them and it can’t be just the score system; it has to be us, too.”

LISTEN: BIG DISCONNECT: Episode 276 of Lodging Leaders podcast explores how the U.S. hotel industry hires for diversity but fails to promote inclusion.

276 | A Measured Response: Hotel industry hires for diversity but fails with inclusion

The report notes the devastation of employment in the hospitality industry caused by the coronavirus pandemic. And Berg notes how industry employers bringing people back to work – and whom they bring back – will define the industry for years to come.

“The companies that are going to come out of this strongest are already looking around the industry … and saying, ‘Who has been let go that’s a remarkable talent that I did not have a chance at six months ago.’ They’re already identifying the talent they want to use to upgrade their companies as we restart.

“That process needs to also be about diversity.”

Culture is changing, Berg said. “As difficult a time as this is, it is a remarkable opportunity from a corporate framing and ideal-future perspective. This is how we’re going to be the companies that do best next.”

Right now, it is difficult to determine what jobs will be available as the crisis eases.

More than 7.6 million people working in U.S. leisure and hospitality sector have lost their jobs, reports the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

The hotel industry alone has lost 70 percent or nearly 1.6 million jobs and $38 billion in room revenue since mid-March, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck America, reports AHLA.

Hilton this month began to lay off 22 percent of its global corporate workforce, more than 2,100 people. And it extended furloughs, begun in March, another three months.

Marriott International announced on May 27 it was extending furloughs and “rolling out a voluntary transition program” for employees who want to leave. It said it expects to eliminate corporate jobs in the coming months.

Hyatt Hotels Corp. in mid-May announced the layoffs of 1,300 people.

Standing By

As ugly as the picture is, many people employed in the hospitality industry want to return to work, according to a survey by Hcareers, a hospitality job and recruitment site.

I’LL BE BACK: A June 3 survey by Hcareers of laid-off hospitality workers shows the majority of respondents want to return to work in the industry when the COVID-19 crisis eases and hotels get back to business.

Douglas Tutt was named CEO of Hcareers in early June, the same time the report was release. Tutt led the initiative and secured financing for Virgil to acquire Hcareers two years ago.

From the beginning, Hcareers’ goal has been to recruit employees of all races to fill jobs in the hotel industry.

Few business sectors allow people to rise through the ranks from the ground floor up. But the hospitality industry is built on people who grew in responsibility and stature as they learned along the way – either with a formal education or certification and on-the-job training and experience.

Tutt and Mitchell are Black, and Tutt acknowledges the need for the hotel industry to acknowledge its failing in hiring, training and advancing Blacks and other minorities through the ranks.

Now is the time to change the stories of the people seeking to return to their jobs as well as the companies who will rehire them.

“The past few weeks have illustrated the inequities in the American system,” Tutt said. “And the question is once you recognize, ‘Yep, I do have prejudice,’ what do you do about it and what do you stand for? A part of it is a leadership question and how those leaders in this industry want to acknowledge and support the efforts to build a successful company as the complexion of this country is changing.”

A Harris Poll released earlier this week shows Americans want companies to practice and influence change on social issues, but most feel businesses are not making an impact. On the issue of racial equality, only 21 percent of those surveyed believe corporations are having a positive impact.

Tutt has lived and worked all over the globe. He grew up in government housing in Springfield, Massachusetts, subsisting on food stamps and other government aid.

He said he’s lucky to have gotten out of the environment and lamented the lack of Black role models for today’s young people looking for a way out and a growth path.

Opening a door to opportunity is not enough.

“When you look at the data it certainly highlights that Black Americans and people of color in general get in the door disproportionately one and a half times the national average, but they don’t advance up through the rank proportionately,” Tutt said.

The culture change that is taking place in America is forcing business leaders to make strategic decisions in hiring, especially if the business wants to succeed in the near future.

Tutt points to the nation’s changing demographics.

“If we’ve learned anything in the last couple weeks is millennials are much more diverse. They are by far and away more diverse from a color standpoint than this country has ever seen. We have seen them out in the streets and they are willing to voice their opinion.

“If you’re building a successful business over the next 10 to 20 years, you’re going to have to confront how do I attract and retain talent and what is the type of culture that I want to build to give people a sense of inclusion.

“It’s a strategic decision you’re going to have to confront one way or the other. People want people like them in the business. Young women want women in leadership positions; people of color want people of color in leadership positions and if that’s not part of your belief system and the culture you’re building your business around I would argue it’s going to tough to attract and retain talent over time.”

Making It Work

In many cases, businesses that claim they are diverse in their hiring practices, stop there. But to truly make a difference, inclusion is key.

Tyronne Stoudemire, vice president of global diversity and inclusion at Hyatt Hotels Corp., defined inclusion: “Diversity is a mix of differences, and inclusion is making that mix work.”

When a business examines whether it’s equitable in hiring and promoting, it should ask employees if they feel like they belong. An employer can hire for diversity, Stoudemire said, but a disconnect occurs when leadership does not properly train supervisors on inclusion or take steps to align employees with the company culture.

“We all agree to diversify. We say we want to change. But then we hire people of color and leave them to their own demise,” Stoudemire said. “They get lost in the chaos of the organization. They need to know what’s expected and how they can make their careers a success.”

Stoudemire said studies such as those by Castell Project reveal the truth about equality and inclusion in business.

And, he noted, if any business sector can make a difference in advancing Black careers, it’s the hospitality industry.

“Hospitality offers a career path that’s different from most industries,” he said. He noted Corporate America has only four Black CEOs. “That does not represent the workforce.”

To be more inclusive; to honor, respect and leverage the differences among employees, corporate leaders need to look two levels down and find Blacks in mid-career. These are tomorrow’s leaders. “Invite them to have a seat at the table,” Stoudemire said.

“If Black lives really matter to all, then how many Blacks do you have on your corporate boards? If Black lives really matter, then how many Blacks do you have in your senior roles? If Black lives really matter, then what is your commitment to asking questions toward creating a more diverse corporate environment?”

LISTEN: ‘INCLUSION IS A MYTH’: To hear the co-founders of Next Generation in Lodging talk about race, diversity and inclusion in the hospitality industry, check out Episode 275.

Absent From The Conversation

The coronavirus crisis has had a significant impact on Black workers in hospitality, and it also has affected whole communities that depend on hotels and other public venues to gather and support each other.

Jason Dunn Sr. is chairman of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals. In the first three months of the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak, Dunn said, the meetings industry lost more than $130 billion in business.

But there’s even more damage being done to Black organizations and communities, he said.

WATCH: ‘DIVERSITY HAS BEEN SILENCED’: In a video posted on the coalition’s website, Dunn says the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Black Americans to the sidelines of the hospitality industry as Black workers comprise most of the front-line jobs that have been lost because of the economic crisis caused by the outbreak.

A lot of Black organizations such as the Urban League and AME Church are nonprofits and mission-driven. Their bylaws require them to meet regularly to discuss and resolve social issues. “Some of these groups are fundamental pillars of the Black community,” Dunn said. “They are interwoven into the culture of the Black community. The programs that benefit them are now at risk because the groups are not meeting and having those conversations that we typically would.”

COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, has hit the Black community hard. As Long Live Lodging has previously reported, a report  by the Economic Policy Institute shows that Black workers are disproportionately experiencing financial and health insecurities compared to Whites.

Across all sectors of the U.S. service economy, including hotels, Black workers are more likely to comprise those in front-line jobs and these are the jobs that are being lost. In addition, because of health concerns, Black citizens are sheltering at home and not participating in community or church gatherings that they depend on to connect them to each other and discuss the events and issues of the day.

“These people have been taken out of the conversation because of COVID,” Dunn said.

Dunn said collecting the right kind of data is imperative to advancing Black workers and professionals as the hospitality industry recovers and gets back to business.

He is leading an effort to survey the industry in hopes of getting a clear picture of how the pandemic and systemic racism have combined to discourage Blacks from pursuing advancement in their travel and tourism careers.

The Castell Project’s report is one of the first that reveals the truth in career advancement for Blacks. Berg offers encouragement to right the ship.

She writes: “Diversity in leadership has not been a high priority for the hospitality industry. But, with attention now, it can shape the future of the industry. This means being mindful of the post-COVID racial makeup of organizations, intentionally rewriting biased recruiting and advancement policies and holding leaders accountable for building and leading diverse teams.”


For more on Long Live Lodging’s reports about diversity and inclusion in the U.S. hospitality industry, check out our previous coverage:

  • Lodging Leaders podcast with Andy Ingraham, founder and president of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers.
  • Long Live Lodging’s multimedia report about the NAACP report card on diversity at hotel companies.
  • Long Live Lodging’s multimedia report about the big business of multicultural tourism.
  • Lodging Leaders podcast about women venturing into hotel investment.
  • Lodging Leaders podcast about the slow climb for women to the top rungs of leadership at hospitality companies.
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