Developing and leading an inclusive Hospitality organization

The ability to lead inclusively is more important than ever.

Hotels, restaurants, seniors living organizations and other hospitality firms increasingly rely on diverse, multidisciplinary teams. These combine the collective capabilities of people with different gender identities, different ethnicities, cultures, ages and generations, and more.

But simply throwing a mix of people together doesn’t guarantee high performance; it requires inclusive leadership to bring the best out of today’s teams. It requires ensuring all team members feel they are treated respectfully and fairly, are valued and sense that they belong, and are confident and inspired. Doing that successfully requires understanding the importance of diversity and inclusion.

At the 2019 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colorado, an entire panel was dedicated to workplace inclusivity in the restaurant industry. Leaders from across the country joined in the conversation — titled “Hospitality’s Moment to Lead” — and focused on the power of modern hospitality to be a driving social force for equality and diversity.

While the panel’s chefs and restauranteurs all presented unique insights, they all agreed the recipe for success — in both restaurants and hospitality as a whole — lies in creating a supportive, welcoming environment for both diverse staff and guests. Reports indicate that diverse teams command an average of 19% more revenue: meaning success reaches all the way from front-of-house to the bottom line.

The way forward

Hospitality organizations have entered a new era where not only are stakeholders feeling empowered to speak up and act on diversity and inclusion, it’s expected: from employees, from guests, and from shareholders. Many hospitality firms have responded by announcing hiring or other internal goals focused on underrepresented groups, and by pledging support for organizations or initiatives tied to supporting diversity and increasing inclusion.

Along with demonstrating clear leadership in an area so important in today’s society, Harvard Business Review (HBR) research shows that focusing on inclusion and developing inclusive leaders directly enhances performance. Teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing, 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively. As well, a 10% improvement in perceptions of inclusion increases work attendance by almost one day a year per employee, reducing the cost of absenteeism.

What makes leaders more inclusive?

HBR identified six categories of behaviours that distinguish inclusive leaders from others, and included examples of ways inclusive leaders exhibit these behaviours:

  • Visible commitment: Inclusive leaders show true commitment to diversity, they challenge the status quo, they hold others accountable and make diversity and inclusion a personal priority. They can give compelling reasons why being inclusive is personally important to them and to the business more broadly – and are prepared to do so publicly.
  • Humility: Inclusive leaders are modest about their capabilities, admit mistakes and create the space for others to contribute. They demonstrate a humble, unpretentious work manner that puts others at ease, enabling them to speak out and voice their opinions.
  • Awareness of bias: Inclusive leaders are aware of personal blind spots and flaws in the system, and work hard to ensure meritocracy. As an example, they show empathy for working parents by checking in with them, offering extra support or pushing back deadlines, and in the current business environment, by showing grace when children interrupt video meetings.
  • Curiosity about others: Inclusive leaders demonstrate an open mindset and deep curiosity about others, listen without judgment and empathize with those around them. They acknowledge team members as individuals, address each one by name, and know their work stream and the work they do.
  • Cultural intelligence: Inclusive leaders are attentive to others’ cultures and adapt as required. They take the time to learn the ropes (common words, idioms, customs, “the way things run around here”) and the cultural norms within each of their teams.
  • Effective collaboration: Inclusive leaders empower others, acknowledge diversity of thinking, and focus on team cohesion. For example, a restaurant owner in San Francisco recognized that a lack of English language skills was impacting collaboration in the kitchen, so they created an English language training program for their culinary team.

These traits may seem obvious. However, inclusive leaders ensure that everyone agrees they are being treated fairly and respectfully, are valued, and have a sense of belonging and are psychologically safe. Subtle words and acts of exclusion by leaders, or overlooking the exclusive behaviors of others, easily reinforces the status quo. It takes energy and deliberate effort to create an inclusive culture, and that starts with leaders paying much more attention to what they say and do on a daily basis, and making adjustments as necessary.

Hospitality organizations can take the lead

Hospitality organizations can help foster inclusive leadership by treating guests in the same inclusive way:

  • Chronic Tacos is careful to ensure images and videos used to promote its products demonstrate the brand’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness
  • Accor’s McGallery Hotel Collection developed “Inspired by Her”, a collection of products and services designed by women, for women
  • Ontario’s Centres for Learning, Research and Innovations in Long-Term Care (CLRI), in cooperation with a number of seniors living organizations, developed an industry guide for supporting cultural diversity for guests
  • Many hospitality organizations have incorporated physical design elements to accommodate the diverse natures of their guests, ranging from including ramps as well as stairs to making door and handles easy to operate, integrating a variety of both large (wheelchair friendly) and smaller spaces (for guests with autism), and more

From the hospitality organization to the hospitality professional, leaders who consciously practice inclusive leadership and actively develop that capability will harness the full power of their diverse teams. The results will include superior performance and success as an organization and as individuals.

To learn more on this and other hospitality trends and insights you can check out our blog.

Written by Patricia Viscount and Rob Fisher