Leading for a Culture of Inclusion and Belonging

Lori Kiel, Chief Commercial Officer, The Kessler Collection, HSMAI Foundation Board Member, Sales Advisory Board Member
Karen Wollard, Ed. D., Research Manager, HSMAI Foundation 

This is a workplace where everyone feels included, where everyone knows they belong. Where people feel valued and respected. We encourage diversity so that every visitor who comes here sees that our staff is as diverse as they are. We have systems and strategies to ensure that everyone here has a voice, feels they are treated fairly, and knows that their concerns are heard and acted upon.   

We hire the best people, give them the training they need to succeed, ensure they have the tools and resources to do their jobs, and offer promotions and opportunities for growth to everyone who is willing to do the work. We talk openly and transparently about how every team member can continue to grow and move ahead.” 

Does this describe your workplace culture? If not, would you like it to?  

Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B) is a framework for creating a culture in the workplace that promotes a sense of belonging regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, language, background, or any other characteristic. This is especially important in hospitality because the industry serves people from all social classes and places, offering a welcoming experience to all.  

While 18.8 percent of people working in hospitality are Black, just 1.5 percent of hospitality professionals in director positions or above are Black, according to the Castell Project (2022). Last September, the HSMAI Foundation commissioned research together with Tourism Diversity Matters to hear how Black professionals in commercial professional positions at the manager level and above felt about their experiences.  

The results showed that, of respondents:   

  • 78% felt their managers were not equipped to manage a culturally diverse workforce. 
  • 78% felt they could not thrive in their current work environment. 
  • 83% said they did not receive the same compensation packages as their non-minority counterparts. 


  • Just 22% felt their onboarding experience helped them prepare well for their roles. 
  • Only 17% reported having a sponsor who helped them succeed. 

The DEI literature has documented similar concerns from marginalized groups. These professionals discuss experiencing microaggressions, being overlooked for career advancement opportunities, being excluded from team activities, and feeling isolated.  

Employee satisfaction lags across the industry

In addition to the specific experiences faced by underrepresented groups, employee satisfaction across the industry has been low, resulting in high turnover and understaffed departments. Employee satisfaction surveys post-pandemic have consistently rated compensation equity as a number one concern. In addition to racial and gender pay equity concerns, the tight labor market has resulted in wage increases for new workers while those who toiled through the dark days are making less.  

Staffing continues to be an issue, with many people still doing the work that multiple people did prior to the pandemic. Onboarding, mentoring, and professional development have been cut back or eliminated as tight staffing levels limit the time and resources available. A lack of experienced talent has made this situation worse, limiting mentoring opportunities and often overwhelming those who are expected to train new hires while continuing to do the multiple jobs with which they are already tasked.  

To do better, leadership is essential

Embedded in any discussion of DEI&B is the cultural landscape that has made this a political issue. It is true that first and foremost, DEI&B is a choice. Leaders choose whether to create and support a culture where inclusion and belonging happen.  

Leaders decide: 

  • Who gets interviewed and hired. 
  • What resources and tools are available for onboarding and development. 
  • Who is promoted and who is expected to do the work without the title or compensation that others receive. 
  • When and whether to have Employee Resource Groups; how employee concerns of fairness and equity are heard; who mentors whom; how compensation decisions are made; who is invited to the table; etc., etc., etc. 

Accountability starts with every leader choosing to make DEI&B a reality, not just a priority. For those who are taking a wait-and-see approach, realize that 62% of U.S. workers consider DEI initiatives when considering a job offer.  

Cultures change when behaviors change. You may not be able to dictate attitudes, but leaders can dictate the behaviors they expect in the workplace:  

  • Mandate respect and fairness, and practice inclusion.  
  • Help underrepresented groups feel valued, supported, and empowered to succeed in their careers.  
  • Insist on compliance at every level.  

Hospitality is a people business that is built on welcoming all, in front of the front desk and behind it. 

To read more about Corporate Culture and Values, along with the seven other top talent trends, read The State of Hotel Sales, Marketing, and Revenue Optimization Talent 2022-23: HSMAI Foundation Special Report. 

Categories: Sales, Talent and Leadership Development
Insight Type: Articles