No More Fear, Says Group Tackling Racism in Hospitality

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Amid the COVID-19 crisis and the racial protests, a new group called Next Generation in Lodging held webcasts to discuss racism, diversity and inclusion in the hospitality industry. It’s not been easy. In their third webcast, racist hackers infiltrated the discussion, forcing an end to the event.

No More Fear, Says Group Tackling Racism in Hospitality

Next Generation in Lodging takes on disproportionate level of loss and lack of progress among Blacks, Latinos and other people of color

Nearly 8 million people working in the U.S. hospitality industry have been laid off or have seen their jobs eliminated during the coronavirus pandemic, according to reports.

At least half of the people out of work are restaurant employees while the rest include hotel employees. Of those, many are front-line staff such as check-in, housekeeping and maintenance of which Blacks, Latinos and other people of color comprise the greatest number of employees.

HIGHEST JOB LOSS: Black workers in the U.S. have lost more jobs than White workers because of the economic fallout from COVID-19 crisis, reports the Economic Policy Institute.

Added to the loss of jobs are the social unrest over the killing of Black people at the hands of law enforcement and other race-related issues coming to a head.

It’s exhausting and it needs to change – for once and for all, say proponents of diversity and inclusion.

A new group of hospitality professionals is taking up the banner for a fresh start.

Next Generation in Lodging was formed in May by Christopher Henry, co-founder and CEO of Majestic Hospitality Group in Los Angeles, Davonne Reaves, founder of The Vonne Group in Atlanta and Omari Head, senior associate at Paramount Lodging Advisors in Washington, D.C.  Head and Reaves are black and heterosexual. Henry is Latino and gay.

The three had met while members of American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Under 30 Gateway, a peer group of emerging hospitality professionals. They have aged out of the group, but they remained in touch, supporting one another as they navigated their way through their careers. What was missing, they agreed, was an organization that served midcareer professionals.

Next Generation in Lodging co-founders formed the group in early May to serve and support midcareer hospitality professionals. Their initial programming quickly switched gears from operations to racism, diversity and inclusion after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, on May 25 at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

When the COVID-19 crisis infected the economic health and well-being of the hospitality industry, the three decided to team up to create New Generation in Lodging and offer webcasts about various aspects of the hotel business. Their first digital event in May focused on human resources.

Then came the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police officers and the subsequent protests that spread nationwide and even to other countries.

The social unrest has forced many civic and business leaders to examine decades-old policies, procedures and programs that might give the impression of racial equality but are grossly failing in achieving any real and permanent upward mobility of minorities.

The Next Generation in Lodging team quickly shifted their business program to promote honest discussion of the issues of racism, diversity and inclusion in the hospitality industry.

The time is now. The opportunity is unprecedented.

The webcast project was titled “Inclusion is a Unicorn.” The first installment featured Reaves, Head and Henry telling their experiences of facing racism and bias over the course of their careers.

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.

“Probably 10 years ago I would have been afraid of having this conversation,” Reaves said in the June 5th webcast. “I would have been afraid of what my counterparts would say, of offending them and still have my job.”

But Reaves works for herself now. “I want to not be afraid of having this conversation because that’s where it starts,” she said. “If we can’t have this open dialogue … how do we solve this issue?”

The issue, they agreed, was one of inclusion. In the webcast and in an interview with Long Live Lodging, Head said while the idea of inclusion exists and actual practice of it does not.

“Inclusion is absolutely a myth,” he said during the webcast. “They’re letting people in, but they’re not being included.”

‘A Lot of Isolation’

Head is senior associate at Paramount Lodging Advisors, a hotel brokerage founded by Sanjeev Misra, an Indian American hotelier. According to the company’s website, Head is the only Black male on the leadership team.

In a follow-up interview, Head painted a picture of his professional experience. “As a black person in hospitality, it’s also a lot of isolation. You go to these conferences; you go to these events; you look at the panels, and you ought to ultimately ask yourself, ‘There’s something very unique about the fact that there’s nobody here who looks like me or there’s a handful of people who look like me,’” he said. “And then you also have to wonder, ‘Does anybody else not see this?’”

LISTEN: ‘INCLUSION IS A MYTH’: Episode 275 of Lodging Leaders podcast features the founders of Next Generation in Lodging who organized a webcast series to examine racism, diversity and inclusion in the hospitality industry.

Head acknowledges he resents having to hurdle barriers invisible to White counterparts. But he doesn’t let it stop him from progressing in his career.

“The thing is to manage the chip on your shoulder,” he said. “It’s also kind of learning how to … shake things off; of learning how to process and learning how to cope; and figuring out do you have a community of people that can help you cope with this, that you can talk to.”

Racist Rants

In the second installment of Next Generation in Lodging’s “Inclusion is a Unicorn” series, Head and his cohorts had definitely attracted attention.

Unfortunately, it was not the good kind.

Henry, co-founder and CEO of Majestic Hospitality Group, was moderating the panel discussion on the Zoom platform.

The session featured Ashli Johnson, who is black and assistant dean of University of Houston’s Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel & Restaurant Management; Tejal Patel, a third-generation Indian American and founder and CEO of Neem Tree Hospitality; and Aron le Fèrve, who is white and gay and director of Human Rights World Pride: Copenhagen 2021.

A little more than 12 minutes in, hackers infiltrated the discussion with a verbal rant of vulgarities and racial epithets. Accompanying the sounds were images of the American flag and the Nazi flag and videos and photos of Hitler.

“We couldn’t turn it off, we couldn’t stop the feed,” Henry said.

He assumes it was white supremacists because of how targeted the language and images were, but he has no proof. He reported the incident to Zoom and to the FBI.

He’s not confident it will make a difference as he’s not heard back from either.

“I doubt it they will look into it, which is really disheartening.”

Next Generation in Lodging also distributed a statement regarding the incident on LinkedIn and other social media channels.

The last two lines of the statement are:

“The video shows people of diverse backgrounds simply existing and being a threat. After you take that in, take inventory of self and how your actions or inaction allows this to survive.”

EXISTING IS A THREAT: This is the statement Next Generation in Lodging published in response to what it believes was white supremacists infiltrating the group’s June 12th Zoom webcast about racism, diversity and inclusion in the hospitality industry. Christopher Henry, co-founder and CEO of Majestic Hospitality Group, published the statement on his company’s letterhead.

In an interview with Long Live Lodging, Henry agreed with Head and Reaves that they no longer wanted to “skirt the topic” of racism. After all, it’s in front of the industry’s face.

“When you pull away and look at the industry with a big lens, you see the bulk of the people who actually make the industry work are minorities – the housekeepers, the cooks, the front desk agents and valets.”

But the folks who are the cogs that turn the wheel of fortune for investors “don’t necessarily have the upward momentum that other groups have,” Henry said.

“We need to address this because nobody else is going to.”

Pre-existing Conditions

The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a double whammy on the Black community.

The virus threatens the health of African Americans more than it does Whites. The Commonwealth Fund reported counties with large Black populations have higher case counts and higher COVID-19-related mortality.

The Economic Policy Institute recently reported Black workers face more economic insecurity from COVID-19 than White workers.

In the June 1 report looking solely at the economic impact the coronavirus crisis has had on the Black community, the institute reports the Black unemployment rate is nearly 17 percent compared with a White unemployment rate of 14 percent.

FRONT-LINE WORKERS: In a June 1 report about the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus, the Economic Policy Institute shows Black workers are disproportionately experiencing financial and health insecurities when compared to Whites. This chart shows that across all sectors of the U.S. service economy, including hotels, Black workers are more likely to comprise those in front-line jobs.

As Reaves noted, hotel companies issuing statements about the current state of affairs is welcomed, but words alone do not alter the harsh reality of an economic downturn coupled with racial unrest.

Head agrees that more is needed.

“It’s about having those sincere conversations. It’s not just hire people of color, not just hire women, but are you actually going to put them in positions that matter throughout your organization? Because if it’s not filtering up, that’s problematic,” he said.

Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, hotel owners and managers had difficulty finding and retaining skilled and talented employees. That’s obviously no longer the case and now is the opportune time for employers to examine how they find employees, Head said.

“The real issue is, the better question is, am I looking for talent outside my immediate sphere of contacts and relationships?”

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