Hilton’s Welcoming Environment® Success

A Q&A with Hilton’s chief talent and diversity officer on embracing diversity, equity and inclusion, promoting racial justice and keeping team members and leadership excited about this vital mission

By Maggie Callahan

FRM SepOct OnlineExclusive Hilton

When results were compiled from Association Forum’s Welcoming Environment® research earlier this year, one thing was clear: associations still have plenty of work to do when it comes to creating atmospheres of diversity and belonging, both for employees and members.

But, as Association Forum CEO and President Michelle Mason points out, getting to that desired destination is indeed a journey, and one way to learn is by observing others who have been successful in this pursuit.

Hilton, a partner in Association Forum’s Welcoming Environment initiatives, is one inspiring example. Being in the business of hospitality, Hilton understands that building a Welcoming Environment is everything. To hear more about their strategy, successes and lessons learned, FORUM had the opportunity to ask Laura Fuentes, chief talent and diversity officer at Hilton, more about their journey.

FORUM: Hilton began prioritizing DE&I in 2010. What sparked this effort?
Fuentes: At Hilton, we were founded on the belief that global travel can be a bridge to international peace and understanding. Conrad Hilton set out to “fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality.” And so, our commitment to creating a place that celebrates and welcomes all was sparked by the forethought of our founder more than 100 years ago.

FORUM: Can you tell us more about some of the highlights on your DE&I journey since 2010?

Fuentes: 2010 marks the inception of our current framework for diversity & inclusion and has encompassed such milestones as the creation of our Executive Inclusion Council and Team Member Resource Groups, Operation Opportunity commitments, industry-leading parental leave policies — all culminating in recognition in some of the most formidable assessments of workplace culture and D&I practices, such as DiversityInc (#2 Top 50 Companies for Diversity, 2020) and 100 Best Places to Work in the US (#1, 2019 & 2020).

During this journey, we have been listening to and learning from our team members and guests since our founding. Our efforts range from setting measurable diversity goals and working closely with our team members to tap into their unique viewpoints, to executing policy and advocacy work. We are also proud to offer annual diversity and anti-human trafficking training, Team Member Resource Groups and an award-winning supplier diversity program for which we were ranked by DiversityInc as the #1 Company for Supplier Diversity in 2020.

In recent months, we have amplified our listening efforts to convert the gravity of this moment in time into meaningful, long-term action against systemic racism. We have been on this journey but know there is more we can do. Recently we have:

  • Activated the Hilton Effect Foundation, our company’s primary international philanthropic arm, to further support our partners at the front lines of the fight for social racial justice.
  • Adopted measures that will ensure diverse slates of Director candidates and increase the diversity of Hilton’s board.
  • Set leadership diversity targets across our corporate and hotel teams that are tied directly to leadership compensation and must be met by 2025.
  • Expanded on our universal Unconscious Bias and Inclusive & Respectful Workforce training for all of our employees; and
  • Invited our 106 million Hilton Honors members and team members to join us by donating Hilton Honors Points to community organizations like the Black Lives Matter Foundation through PointWorthy; we convert donated Points into a cash contribution to support these organizations.

Additionally, we are proud to announce DeShaun Wise Porter as a new vice president of diversity, inclusion and recognition. In this role, DeShaun is working to continue our existing commitments to diversity and inclusion across the company and place an even greater emphasis on it through her expanded scope.

FORUM: At Association Forum, we talk about how diversity and inclusion must be embraced at the top. What role does your leadership team play in fostering a welcoming atmosphere?

Fuentes: As a business of people serving people, Hilton has long been committed to creating a welcoming and inclusive experience for all of our team members and guests. Our team members play an important role in these efforts — and accountability starts at the top. As our President and CEO Chris Nassetta shared in a recent statement, “Diversity and inclusivity are part of our DNA, and our hotels are an integral part of every community. Our ability to foster human connections across these communities is needed now more than ever.” Chris chairs the Hilton Executive Inclusion Council (EIC), which comprises the company’s most senior leaders and provides oversight of our diversity and inclusion programs and initiatives. Our executives also play an important role in leading our Team Member Resource Groups — communities that foster understanding, celebrate our uniqueness and inform our business decisions. These groups are each chaired by a member of our Executive Committee and actively led by members of our leadership group.

Beyond the executive team, all leaders at Hilton have a responsibility to put diversity and inclusion at the center of all that we do. To hold our leaders accountable, we’ve implemented various measures, including, in 2015, directly connecting team member engagement to annual leader bonus criteria and, more recently, setting gender- and ethnic-diversity hiring goals. These are some of the many ways our leadership works to create a sense of belonging for all of our team members.

FORUM: Your DE&I strategy takes a three-pronged approach: culture, talent and marketplace. How are each of these initiatives crucial to your goals?

Fuentes: Our strategy is to leverage and promote diversity and inclusion through a framework of culture, talent and marketplace initiatives that foster innovation and create a globally competitive business.

  • Culture: We are committed to creating an inclusive workplace and a culture driven by our team members’ unique viewpoints and diverse backgrounds and experiences, from Team Member Resource Group engagement to team member benefits that support personal and professional growth. When we create an environment where all of our team members feel included and supported, they are able to extend that experience to our guests.
  • Talent: We attract and develop the best and brightest talent in hospitality with focused development and representation of diverse workplace segments and innovative recruitment, learning and leadership development programs. Our
  • Marketplace: We engage, support and create business opportunities in our communities. As part of our Travel with Purpose 2030 Goals, we aim to double our sourcing from local, small and medium-sized suppliers and minority-owned businesses. Effective supplier diversity enables us to work with businesses that may otherwise encounter barriers that challenge their start-up and sustainability, and, in turn, small businesses prove nimble and innovative, which positively impacts our bottom line and aligns with our pioneering spirit.

FORUM: How do you educate employees about — and keep them excited about — DE&I?

Fuentes: Our community of 420,000 team members reflects a rich tapestry of backgrounds and cultures. When we celebrate our teams — recognize their individuality as well as the traits that connect us — we create an energy that defines what Hilton hospitality is all about. We embed a sense of belonging and inclusivity in all that we do — from offering learning and leadership development programs to hosting celebratory events around key cultural moments. We also deliver robust eLearning courses specific to relevant topics like anti-trafficking, codes of conduct, harassment-free workplace, unconscious bias and delivering an inclusive guest experience. Doing so virtually affords us the opportunity to reach a broader audience on these critical topics. Pairing these trainings with resources, like those offered by our Team Member Resource Groups, is an example of Hilton’s commitment to an inclusive workforce that fully represents many different cultures, backgrounds and viewpoints.    

FORUM: Fostering a Welcoming Environment is an endless endeavor. What type of check-ins or benchmarks do you use to assess how you’re doing?

Fuentes: In addition to ongoing conversations with our Team Member Resource Groups and Team Members, we have several measures in place to benchmark our diversity and inclusion efforts. We hold our leaders accountable for contributing to Hilton’s D&I commitments and tie it to their pay. We also monitor feedback directly provided by our Team Members through our Global Team Member survey. Finally, our diversity initiatives, programs and metrics are reviewed annually with our board of directors.

FORUM: What advice do you have for other organizations as they create a Welcoming Environment strategy?

Fuentes: We believe that the work to become an inclusive, Welcoming Environment for all is never-ending. So while we don’t profess to have all the answers, we hope that what we’ve learned along the way in our journey can be of use to others. First and foremost is the importance of listening —when we are open to the feedback and perspectives of others, we create space for conversation and change. We have also learned to stay true to our values. They are our North Star in good times and perhaps even more so in challenging times. We teach our team members to lead with hospitality always — the value on which were founded over a century ago. When we do, we are able to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality that we believe is needed in the world now more than ever.

For more about Hilton’s DE&I journey, read their brochure on diversity and inclusion. Ready to start your own journey? Association’s Forum has the resources to get started right now.

About the Author

Maggie Callahan is a Chicago-based writer and editor.

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