PANELISTS FOR INCLUSION IS A UNICORN PART 2 are, from right, Ashli Johnson, assistant dean at the University of Houston’s Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel & Restaurant Management in San Antonio, Texas, and founder of Hospitality Leaders of Today, a non-profit dedicated to identifying and developing minority leaders: Tejal Patel, founder, president and CEO of Neem Tree Hospitality Group in League City, Texas; and, Aron LeFévre, director of human rights for World Pride: Copenhagen 2021.

Inclusion is a Unicorn, Part 2

Next Generation in Lodging pushes forward on discussion of diversity, inclusion and equality in the hospitality industry

Pew Research Center reported last month that more than two thirds of U.S. adults support the Black Lives Matter movement.

While Black Americans strongly support it, more than half (60 percent) of white Americans surveyed also are in agreement. Hispanic (77 percent) and Asian (75 percent) Americans also are in support.

PEW RESEARCH REPORT: Pew Research Center on June 12 reported more than a third of the 9,654 U.S. adults it surveyed the week before support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Long Live Lodging has been covering the impact the social awakening has had on the U.S. hospitality industry.

In our latest effort, we teamed up with a group called Next Generation in Lodging, a diverse team of mid-career hospitality professionals who want to have significant input into the future of the hospitality industry, to produce a panel discussion about diversity and inclusion in the hospitality industry.

LISTEN: ‘WE ARE ACTUALLY DOING BADLY’: Aron LeFévre, director of human rights for World Pride: Copenhagen 2021, said he sees societies all over the globe slipping backward in efforts to expand diversity, inclusion and equality. LeFévre was among three panelists who participated in Next Generation in Lodging’s recorded panel discussion, “Inclusion is a Unicorn Part 2,” that airs on Episode 279 of Lodging Leaders podcast.

Here’s a little background on how we got involved.

Next Generation in Lodging organized a webcast on June 5, less than two weeks after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by Minneapolis police officers, which ignited a summer of civil unrest and a reckoning with deep-rooted systemic racism across the country.

WATCH: Watch New Generation in Lodging’s June 5 webcast called “Inclusion is a Unicorn,” during which three mid-career hospitality professionals share stories of racism at work.

Current events led the Next Generation in Lodging co-founders to reconsider how they can best use their new-found platform to address issues of racial inequality in the hospitality industry.

They knew the topic was not going to be an easy one to spotlight in a public forum, but they did not expect the racially charged pushback they got.

The leaders of Next Generation in Lodging are Davonne Reaves, a Black female entrepreneur and hospitality consultant; Omari Head, a Black hotel broker; and Christopher Henry, a gay Latino entrepreneur and co-founder of a hotel consulting and development venture.

The group’s first webcast addressing diversity in the hospitality industry was called “Inclusion is a Unicorn.” It was recorded live and featured the three thirty-somethings in a discussion about racial diversity, inclusion and equality and the challenges they and other people of color face in carving their career paths.

A week later, Next Generation in Lodging organized a second webcast to continue the discussion by featuring other panelists. About 12 minutes into the live Zoom event, hackers disrupted the discussion with racial slurs and images of the Nazi flag and Hitler.

This is where Long Live Lodging comes in.

We featured the Next Generation in Lodging co-founders in a podcast that reported on the Zoom bombing. We also explored the social awakening taking place throughout the country and the manifestation of inequality in the hospitality industry.

Soon after, we discussed helping Next Generation in Lodging to pick up the pieces of the disrupted webcast and share it on our platform. To ensure security, we recorded the conversation in audio and video on June 22.

The returning panelists are Ashli Johnson, assistant dean at the University of Houston’s Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel & Restaurant Management in San Antonio, Texas, and founder of Hospitality Leaders of Today, a non-profit dedicated to identifying and developing minority leaders; Tejal Patel, founder, president and CEO of Neem Tree Hospitality Group in League City, Texas; and Aron LeFévre, director of human rights for World Pride: Copenhagen 2021.

The conversation is rich with honest sharing on issues the industry might view as sensitive or uncomfortable.

The panel’s talking points include:

  • Though the Zoom bombing was disturbing, it was probably something that the online audience needed to see to understand the urgency of the need for the hospitality industry to become more inclusive.
  • Throughout the world, the battle for equality and inclusiveness is not going well.
  • Hospitality students need to be better educated on how to work with people of diverse backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities and sexual orientations.
  • Incumbent business leaders need to be re-educated about the value of employee and customer diversity and what true inclusivity looks like from the entry level to the top of the organization.
  • Industry leaders can be intentional in identifying, recruiting and cultivating a workforce that is diverse and reflects the local community as well as the guests who visit.
  • The frustration with hospitality industry events and conferences that feature few to no people of color as speakers.
  • How to wield your privilege to build up people who are members of a minority group to industry leaders and influencers – sometimes stepping aside so they can have the spotlight instead of you.

WATCH: ‘INCLUSION IS A UNICORN PART 2’ VIDEO: Introducing the panelists is Christopher Henry of Los Angeles, a founding member of Next Generation in Lodging.


In the opening of the discussion, Johnson and the other panelists agreed that true inclusion in the workplace is elusive.

“It is much easier to talk about than actually implement,” she said. “This concept of inclusion being a unicorn speaks to this utopian environment we think we’re living in and working in and playing in, but more times than not for lack of marginalized groups of individuals. that’s just not our reality. In hospitality we’ve been talking about inclusion for a long time. And somehow we’re still not there.”

LeFévre said inclusion will become a reality in the hospitality industry when colleges begin to make it a key element in their teaching strategies. In addition, he noted, businesses – from small ventures to large corporations – can begin to lead the way today by making a concerted effort to change the way they recruit, hire and promote people of all backgrounds, ethnicities and sexual orientations.

“I am always very uncomfortable when I’m hiring people and I see a very good person of which we already have five,” he said. “Look around you. Engage more actively. Because there’s also the situation in which people feel that they can’t apply because they look at the website and they don’t see themselves within the staff that is already there.”

LeFévre advised that corporate leaders, “look at your company and ask yourself, ‘What am I missing? Where do we have to work harder to make sure we include everybody?’

“And don’t go for the usual suspects,” he said. “Go for the unusual suspect because that person will always bring a totally different background and a lot of knowledge.”

Tejal Patel is overseeing the construction of a Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott in League City, Texas, a suburb of Houston. She is determined to build a workforce that represents “the diversity of my city because Houston is very, very diverse and there are so many cultures and I want the culture of my company to encompass that.

“It means actively trying to find resources where you can get the most diverse amount of talent. Hospitality schools, for example. We have some amazing hospitality schools in the country and even worldwide. So you can’t really tell me you’re unable to find diverse talent; it just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Patel also talked about the value of allyship, of someone of privilege promoting the involvement of minority players.

“It’s the people of power, the people of privilege and the people of platform who are really going to help drive forward this mythical unicorn we keep talking about,” she said.

“When it comes to society, it’s going to take the straight and cisgender people to move the platform forward. It’s going to take the men to help bring women forward. It’s going to take the non-African Americans to uplift the African American communities.”

Here are links to previous multimedia reports and podcasts on diversity and inclusion by Long Live Lodging / Lodging Leaders podcast.

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    Many hotels these days have made room for guests with disabilities. Hotel managers and staff should also know what the Americans with Disabilities Act says about accommodating guests with pets. During the pandemic lockdowns, a lot of people added a pet to their household and now they’re bringing Fido along on vacation. Hotel employees need to know how to cater to both consumers who are pet owners as well as guests who travel with a trained service animal. Episode 329 of Lodging Leaders podcast reports on how the ADA defines a service animal and how a hotel is legally obligated to serve a guest who comes with a dog or any other animal.

  • 328 | Curb Appeal: Hotels’ refreshed images designed to attract road trippers

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