Howard University’s leadership program aspires to diversify C-suites in hospitality industry

An experiential learning program designed to create pathways, prepare students for future leadership positions and improve diversity in the hospitality industry.

Howard University, a prominent historically black college and university (HBCU), prides itself as one of the world’s leading institutions for professionals in business, health, science, engineering, arts, law and education. For more than 150 years, the university has a history of advocating for social justice and architecting social change. Howard University’s mission is straightforward: “to prepare scholars to learn, lead, and embody excellence in truth and service.”

With goals and a mission like these, The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation (The Marriott Foundation) knew Howard was the right place to carry on the legacy of its late CEO, Arne Sorenson, after his death in 2021. Arne was passionate about improving diversity in the hospitality industry, especially in leadership positions.

To put the action behind this passion, the foundation presented Howard University with a $20 million endowment to establish the Marriott-Sorenson Center for Hospitality Leadership in the School of Business. The center’s goal is to provide students with leadership skills and experience to help create a pipeline to diversity in the C-suite levels of the hospitality industry.

C-suites must be representative of the country

Howard University and the Marriott Foundation help shine a light on the underrepresentation and challenges faced in the hospitality industry. According to the Castell Project report on Black representation in hotel leadershipblack employees currently occupy less than 2% of management positions, despite representing 13.6% of employment in the hospitality industry.

“The need for American C-suites to be more diverse is urgent and necessary, and we are in a position to help hold the industry accountable,” said Dr. Anthony D. Wilbon, Dean of the Howard University School of Business.

The institutions undertook to find a professional consultant with industry experience to advise them on establishing and launching a hotel leadership program. The goal: to answer questions about current gaps and challenges that may impede the growth of black employees at the leadership level.

Why PwC?

PwC proposed an innovative method to execute the project, which involved the company’s hospitality specialists and its collaborative working methods between business, experience and technology (BXT). The company was selected because of their people-centred approach to helping the team design a goal-driven pipeline from scratch.

PwC has a long-standing relationship with Howard University. From its previous pro bono activities to its current internships and entry-level recruitment, PwC understands the university to be synonymous with excellence, leadership, service and truth and shares its commitment to fairness. PwC also felt that to be successful, the solution had to start with the people who would be most affected by the center.

Perspective is key when designing a change program

In collaboration with Howard University and the Marriott Foundation, PwC organized and led a virtual design workshop, welcoming more than 85 senior executives and entrepreneurs from the hospitality industry who shared their thoughts, experiences and hopes for this that the center could become. Additionally, Howard’s president, provost, business school dean, faculty, business and business students joined to listen and inspire the creation of a differentiated curriculum.

The workshop opened with honest discussions about how to effect change in executive suite diversity, how to recognize and address black history linked to the industry, and how to actively highlight racial equity. . The dialogue helped build trust within the group, providing an emotionally safe space for candid conversations to help address a critical industry issue and opportunity. The energy and response of the participants demonstrated the center’s likelihood of success.

“Bringing together some of the industry’s ‘who’s who’ was a response to Arne’s call, but also a recognition that Howard University was in an excellent position to hold the hospitality industry accountable for inclusion and diversity,” said Lawrence Ballard, partner at PwC.

Howard University drives innovation around how students learn

The findings of the workshop gave the university and the foundation a basis for developing the leadership program. PwC helped categorize these results to create the vision, structure, implementation plans and growth targets.

The center will not serve as a new degree-granting program. Instead, it will be a space to train students outside of a formal major. Each year, the leadership program will identify a cohort of business school students to immerse themselves in the hospitality industry. These students are expected to participate in extracurricular activities, internships, and externships to learn the practices associated with onsite hospitality leadership to complement classroom learning experiences.

To create an executive level pipeline, training students only in hotel management is simply not enough. With input from Howard University, the Marriott Foundation and key industry leaders, PwC helped design the leadership program to focus on three main pillars of immersion: 1) investment lending and asset management, 2) data and technology, and 3) entrepreneurship and innovation. These can allow students to learn more about the layers of the industry, including how data and analytics influence hotel occupancy and real estate decisions, or how the global economy shapes investments and strategic partnerships of hotel owners and operators.

Howard University and the Marriott Foundation want to provide students with a better view of the aspects and inner workings of a multi-billion dollar industry, spanning not only hotels, but also restaurants, travel, tourism, real estate and business. By design, the program aims to “equip students with the right skills and experiences to pursue high career paths in a variety of professions,” said Lawrence Ballard. whether in hotel management, finance or entrepreneurship.

The Welcome Center serves as a model for academic development

The first cohort of business schools is expected to start its leadership program in fall 2022. The center has already received positive feedback, requests for student participation, and offers to help it grow.

Throughout history, there has been a negative connotation associated with black servitude in the United States that extends to the hospitality industry. Early in the development of this program, the tension around service and servitude surfaced. Dr. Wilbon shared that when he spoke with Howard University students or heard about their conversations at home about what they wanted to pursue in life, hospitality was not among the top picks.

The program leaders have made it their mission to inspire students, to change their vision of what a career in hospitality could be, raise awareness of the many different companies entering the industry and get students excited about future C-suite opportunities.

Using BXT co-creation and collaboration techniques, stakeholders from Howard University, the Marriott Foundation, and PwC led the initial design plan for a purpose-built program. It serves as a starting point for conscious change. These future leaders can help bring a diversity of thought, perspective and approach to executive discussions across the industry – a proven way to help make businesses more successful.

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Kevin E. Boling