Overturning Orthodoxies: How Hotel Ceos Can Accelerate Diversity
By Alexander Mirza Founder & CEO, Mogul | August 2021
As a double immigrant raised in Toronto, having spent a decade in New York and eventually starting a lifestyle hotel brand in Shanghai, I enjoyed the benefit of living in and working among the most diverse and multicultural places on earth. I have also worked for diversity award winning corporations such as Deloitte, Accenture, and Hilton to name a few.
Research confirms that discrimination is best understood, not by classroom lectures or corporate training, but by those who have experienced it firsthand. In 2007, when I was SVP of Corporate Development at Hilton, I was presenting to the Board of Directors at a Waldorf Astoria resort in Phoenix. After a very thorough question and answer period that followed my presentation, I undid my tie and walked to the valet to retrieve my car rental. The valet crew was out retrieving vehicles so I waited politely alongside a few other hotel guests at this iconic resort.
In a span of a few minutes, not one but three white men handed me the car keys to their vintage sports cars, mistaking me for the valet. I passed the keys over to the actual valet who quipped, "This is one of the few places where they trust brown people." It turns out all three were CEOs of real estate and finance companies and were frequent guests at the resort. While the implicit bias of this experience was demoralizing, it pales in comparison to the explicit barriers that women and ethnic minorities face in reaching the senior ranks of the hospitality industry.
Given the lack of diversity at the top of hotel companies, it is even more important for executives to get off the beaten path. When I became CEO of Cachet Hotels in Shanghai in 2012, I championed increasing diversity and made it one of my top three objectives as CEO. In many Asian markets, hotel owners strongly associate prestigious international hotel brands with the tall handsome European men who usually manage them. Despite this association, in 2012, Cachet Hotels set a bold goal of 50% female and minority general managers at our hotels and restaurants. At the time women comprised 70% of the hotel workforce in China, but only 5% of full-service hotel general managers.
Cachet Hotels' diversity initiative grew from a top-down purpose that I articulated at our first Chinese press conference in Shanghai to being a widely adopted practice that was embraced by hotel operators whose entire work experience was working for European men in mainland China. Five years later, we met our objective across our entire portfolio of hotels and restaurants in China, the rest of Asia and the Americas. We were also pleased that a few years later, in 2015, Accor announced a goal of 35% women hotel general managers in the Asia-Pacific region.
I returned to the States a few years ago and partnered with hotel industry veterans, data scientists, and technologists to build MogulRecruiter, an elite talent marketplace whose mission is to perfect meritocracy and accelerate diversity. According to our research at MogulRecruiter, women and minorities comprise 60% and 40% of the U.S. hotel front-line. However, only 20% of U.S. hotel General Managers are women and 10% minorities. Blacks represent 15% of the frontline and only 1% of hotel General Managers. It took us a few years to analyze the data but we have developed algorithms to rank diverse pools of talent and predict their worth and annual compensation. Today, our talent database has over 500,000 elite hospitality leaders in supervisor roles and above featuring over 50% women and 33% who identify as minorities. However, our work is just getting started.