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Tuesday, Sep 27, 2022

Despite Push for Diversity, Hotels Struggle to Find Qualified Applicants

In keeping with Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ diversity program, Regional Manager Joe Terzi says he’s actively trying to attract more qualified minorities and women to move up the ranks into management, but the “applicant flow is not as strong as we’d like to see it.”

“One of the objectives we as a company have is to identify high-quality minority candidates and women to work at every hotel, to help them to move up the ladder into positions of more responsibility and to make sure they’re mentored and their skills and talents are developed,” he said.

Terzi didn’t share any numbers on minority employment in the region he oversees, but said that while recruitment touts opportunities for advancement, the message doesn’t seem to be getting across to college graduates. And he’s scratching his head trying to figure out why.

There are no hard statistics to measure diversity in the county’s booming hospitality industry. As more restaurants and hotels go up in response to an improved economy and the continually increasing flow of tourism, the nonprofit San Diego Workforce Partnership projects that the industry will employ 205,000 people by 2010 , 44,000 more than in 2004. Though it’s widely known that Latinos hold down the bulk of the lowest paying jobs, and the number of minorities and women in the highest, best-paying jobs is low.

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Sources say one of the key problems recruiters face is that college graduates, including minorities, simply aren’t enticed by the grunt level jobs the hospitality industry offers at the first rung of the career ladder when they could make more money and climb faster in other fields. Terzi doesn’t know whether there’s any validity to that theory. But like it or not, there is no quick elevator to get to the top in the hotel business, he said.

“Our business is providing service to guests at the point of contact, whether it’s delivering food or room accommodations,” he said. “It’s not like other jobs where people at higher levels have a support staff to help.”

“As a management trainee for ITT Sheraton, I peeled onions, washed dishes, cleaned toilets and did every line job in the hotel because management wanted to make sure we understood what the hotel business is all about and understood how to keep people in all of those positions motivated,” he said.

No matter how hard he tries to recruit more minorities, Terzi admits he might not be trying hard enough and he’s open to suggestions.

“If there is an organization or someone who can present an opportunity or plan of attack for growing diversity and attracting qualified applicants, I am raising my hand to see how to do that,” he said.

Kathleen Cochran, general manager at Loews Coronado Bay Resort & Spa, who is one of a handful of women and minorities holding such a position in the more than 100 full-service properties countywide, has some advice to offer.

“Minorities aside, we’re dealing with a whole different generation here,” Cochran said. “This is Gen X and Gen Y, the children of the boomers, and they watched us work our butts off and not spend any time with them and then get laid off.

“So they’re saying, ‘What are you going to do for me?’ and ‘I want tomorrow and next week off, and why haven’t I been promoted, I’ve been in this job one second.’ ”

As hiring practices and attitudes in the workplace change, however, the hotel industry needs to follow suit, she said.

“The hotel business has been behind in pay for the amount of education and time you have to put in to qualify for higher management, yet we wonder why people don’t want to get into this business,” she added.

Upgraded Position

To that end, Loews recently upgraded a front desk clerk’s position and nearly doubled the pay to recruit college graduates, including women and minorities. She didn’t cite the salary, but said that it’s close to what a graduate might expect to earn starting as a guest services manager at a major department store or an entry-level manager in the banking industry.

Loews has had an affirmative action plan in place since 1989, said Alan Momeyer, vice president of human resources at the company’s New York City headquarters. This year, if results improve, it will also sweeten the pot for general managers at its 19 properties.

At present 35.2 percent of all management, from the president to the supervisory level, are minorities and women,” Momeyer said. “That’s up from 33.1 percent at the start of 2006.” Of Loews’ 7,500 employees, 1,200 are in management, he added.

Under the NAACP’s Economic Reciprocity Initiative, Loews is graded annually on its diversity program from hiring and promoting to marketing and advertising, purchasing and philanthropic practices, he said.

“They’re pretty tough,” Momeyer added. “It’s hard to do well. But I have to say that the industry, as a whole, has changed as a result of the expectations of the NAACP.”

Aside from various hotel companies, the organization also grades the automotive, financial services, retail and telecommunication industries.

Last year, the NAACP gave Loew’s a grade of C-plus. But it has pledged to work harder, and if it receives a B-minus this year, the general managers will see a bonus in their paychecks, Momeyer said.

Edison Nesfield, director of catering for the Gaslamp Quarter’s Hotel Solamar, says that as far as he knows, he’s the only black with that job title at a high-profile property locally.

“If the county’s population is 5 percent black, then the executive ranks of hotels and restaurants should be 5 percent black,” he stressed. “But that’s not the way it is. We, as an industry, need a more diverse voice.”

One way hotels could achieve that, he suggested, would be to recruit experienced minorities and women from other hotels across the country.

That way, minorities and women considering hospitality as a career or those in the lower ranks would have role models to look up to.

“The younger people could actually see where they can go,” he said. “Seeing is believing.

That San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, which manages the Solamar, is considered one of the most advanced when it comes to diversity is why Nesfield joined the company, however.

“When I went to the corporate headquarters in San Francisco to interview, I saw African-Americans and Asians walk by me and it wasn’t just one or two, it was seven or eight, and I realized they weren’t just guests, they worked there and I thought, ‘Wow, this is great.’ ”

Greg Smith, Loews’ senior vice president of human resources, said that aside from emphasizing diversity in hiring and promoting minorities, women and gays, the company “also looks at women who are economically or socially disadvantaged.”

“We do a novel thing in moving them into training programs alongside college students,” he said.

The company measures its success by anonymously surveying employees, Chief Operating Officer Niki Leondakis added.

“Our internal surveys tell us year over year if our commitment to diversity continues to improve,” she said.

Defined Practice

Michael Gallegos, president and chief executive officer of San Diego-based American Property Management Corp., said his company doesn’t have a policy on diversity at its 47 hotels nationwide and in Mexico because there is no need.

“We have no defined policy, but we have a defined practice, and I can’t believe that any hotel company could have a problem hiring women and minorities,” he said. “There is a plethora of talented women and people classified as minorities to choose from.

“Sixty percent of all of our general managers are female and 50 percent can be classified as minorities. That includes Hispanics, Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Native Americans. We truly are the United Nations of the hotel industry and we are also very proud of our track record of providing opportunities to people of various sexual orientations. We focus on capability, experience and attitude and nothing else matters to us.”

This is the second of a two-part series on diversity in San Diego’s hospitality industry. The first, “Push for Diversity in Hospitality Industry Falters,” ran on Jan. 8.


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