Britta Leick-Milde was in the cafeteria when she had a revelation.
As general manager of the Hyatt Regency Kolkata (the first female GM for Hyatt in India), she was inspecting a new coffee machine.
She turned to a man who worked in the kitchen and asked if he knew anything about cleaning the machine.
He was Bengali, but he answered in fluent English.
“I went to HR and said, ‘there’s someone in the cafeteria who speaks fluent English. Maybe we should put him in another position, where he can speak with the customers.’”
She was told that he needed the flexibility of his position, because he was taking night classes in IT.
So Leick-Milde arranged for him to work part time in the hotel’s IT department so he could get experience in the field he was most interested in.
“Listening to people is very important,” she says.
It’s the sort of approach that has resulted in Hyatt being routinely ranked as one of the best places to work by Fortune Magazine.
It’s also listed as one of the best companies in the world for diversity hiring – it’s the highest placed hospitality company on the Fortune list.
Why diversity pays
Hyatt isn’t the only hotel brand that understands the value of diverse workforce.
Juan Madera, an assistant professor at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston, says more hospitality brands are joining the fray.
“If you put yourselves in the shoes of an applicant, looking at the websites of the major hotel brands, they all include statements about diversity and their inclusive culture, and there are many indicators that show it’s not just lip service,” says Madera.
He points to the fact that external groups recognize a lot of these brands for their efforts.
DiversityInc, for instance, lists Marriott, Hilton and Disney in its 2016 list of top 50 companies for diversity.
According to Madera, it makes good business sense.
“If you look at customers in the U.S. we have a very diverse country,” he adds. “We have a large immigration population, and guests and travelers from all over the world.
“A workforce that reflects the customer base is a positive benefit.”
A job worth keeping
Hyatt’s chief human resources officer Robb Webb says employing people from different backgrounds has made Hyatt better.
“By listening to them, we collectively increase the IQ of the company,” he says.
Figures suggest staff are often reluctant to leave.
“At the general manager level, the average length of service is something like 22 years, which is unlike anything I’ve seen in any industry I’ve worked,” says Webb.
Hyatt also gives employees a venue to voice ambitions and grievances through Diversity Business Resource Groups – gatherings of colleagues who share a common cultural heritage, race, gender, age or interest and who mentor each other.
This, says Madera, is another trend in hospitality.
“I’ve seen that among the major players, they’ll have a formal position overseeing diversity policies, either someone assigned to a formal role, or sometimes a council,” he notes.
“These major companies integrate diversity into their goals on a strategic level, at a corporate level.”
Digging for passion
Webb says he’s looking not for the most experienced candidates, but the most passionate.
“Workplaces have really chipped away at humanity over the years, and I’m probably part of the reason for that, because I’ve been in HR for quite a while,” he says.
Webb recalls recently talking to a young woman who wanted to work for a company and had researched and put effort into an application only to discover that the only way she could apply was online.
“She said, ‘if the people who are making the hiring decisions can’t look into my eyes and see how badly I want to work here, my chances are pretty slim.’
“It was a moment a great light bulb went off for me, followed by, ‘oh no. Do we do that at Hyatt?’”
Webb says he’s been experimenting with systems that will be more inclusive, and bring back the human element in the hiring process.
“It might be a challenge to implement,” he says, “but we have to find a solution to staff hotels and identify people differently than we have in the past.”