Skip to main content

Overturning Orthodoxies: A Look into the Lack of Diversity at Hotels

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% are minorities. But it doesn't have to stay that way.
a group of people posing for a photo
Advertisement - article continues below

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.

Through these leadership experiences and “swimming in the data,” I learned a thing or two about sourcing and developing diverse talent in the hospitality industry. Today, the hotel industry’s consolidation has made the executive ranks a small world. Many of my former corporate colleagues, owners and business partners are now CEOs of major hotel brands and real estate groups. Most are quite sophisticated, care deeply about building winning cultures and have established clear metrics that define winning in real estate, property operations and online distribution. But prior to 2020, few have set diversity as one of their top management priorities. Many have remained silent despite their good intentions and continue to invest large sums of money marketing their brands as champions of diversity on social media platforms. 

But the hotel industry remains extremely conservative with few outsider CEOs. Being in the same industry and working for the same company for a long period of time can ingrain -- even the most exceptional business leaders -- orthodoxies or deeply held beliefs about “how we do business in this industry.” These widely adopted orthodoxies are perpetuated by the investment community, media, academics, industry associations and universities.  Not all orthodoxies are toxic, but the ones that are create massive blind spots which ultimately become driving lanes for disruption. 

Next week I'll share how you can identify these toxic orthodoxies and what you can do to address them.

To read part two, click here.


Alexander Mirza wearing a suit and tie


Alexander Mirza is the founder and CEO of Mogul, with a mission to address talent in the hospitality industry through data science and artificial intelligence. He has more than 25 years of experience in management consulting and hospitality as a senior executive.

As a management consultant, Alex led scientists in Shell’s Gamechanger Program and generated $3 billion of new businesses addressing climate change. He advised CEOs, Heads of State, and the Davos World Economic Forum.

Afterward, Alex joined Starwood as Head of Strategic Planning, reporting to the CEO and the CFO. He led high profile projects including corporate strategy for the board of directors. He was subsequently the SVP of Corporate Development at Hilton and the SVP of Hospitality at Caesars Entertainment where he reported to the CEO and Chairman.

In 2012, Alex founded Cachet Hospitality in Shanghai. Under his leadership as CEO, Cachet opened properties in China, Southeast Asia, and North America, received design awards, raised four rounds of capital, and was recognized as “Asia’s Up and Coming Management Team.”

Alex received his MBA from Harvard Business School and holds a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences and a Master’s from Queen’s University at Kingston, where he was an Aga Khan Foundation Scholar. He has been recognized as Canada’s “Top 40 under 40” and awarded Toronto’s Mayor Volunteer Creed.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds