Diversity Push: The lodging industry reaches out to minorities

Norman JenkinsAs the highest-ranking African-American executive at Marriott International Inc., Norman Jenkins, senior vice president of North American lodging development, is at the forefront of the hotel chain?s bold new diversity initiative. In 2005, Marriott launched a large-scale outreach program to increase the number of minority-owned hotels and franchisees in the next five years, joining other hotel chains both large and small in a stepped up effort to attract a diverse pool of prospective hoteliers and employees.

?The company demonstrates its commitment to increasing minority hotel ownership by guiding perspective owners through the process,? says Deanne Ayers-Howard, an early beneficiary of the program. In 1998, Ayers-Howard became the owner of the TownePlace Suites by Marriott in Sterling-Cascades, Va.

For Jenkins, the greater push to diversify the hospitality industry is a welcome change in an industry that has long been remiss in actively recruiting both a diversified ownership base and employees for executive-level positions. Jenkins regularly leads company-sponsored educational seminars and informal meetings to advise on and cajole prospective vendors, franchisees and employees into taking advantage of the countless business opportunities in the industry. ?We?re reaching out to people with a significant business experience and a track record of having done things,? Jenkins says. ?In some cases we are offering financial incentives to people who are considering joining our ranks.?

In his role as senior vice president, Jenkins is directly responsible for leading all development efforts related to minority ownership and employee recruitment. He joined Marriott in 1992 as an auditor, and worked in various divisions in finance, taxation and acquisition for the organization before being promoted to his current position.

Jenkins says career opportunities for minorities in the hotel and hospitality industry are numerous, including career tracks in marketing, public relations, law, accounting and architecture, and hotel operations, which includes a general manager career track. ?Marriott has a strong and positive track record of promoting from within,? he says. ?Many executives, including myself, joined the company at an entry level or in a junior management role and have worked their way up to positions of authority and influence.?

Andy Ingraham, president of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers (www.nabhood.com), lauds the efforts of Marriott and Norman Jenkins for actively seeking to increase the number of minority hoteliers, vendors and employees. Earlier this year, Ingraham received a check for $30,000 from Marriott at an educational summit sponsored by the hotel chain to woo and inform prospective owners and employees. ?Not that long ago we didn?t have any African-American-owned hotels. Now we?ve got at least 50, thanks to the efforts to Marriott and others,? Ingraham says.

Marriott, which is based in Bethesda, Md., has been lauded for its supplier diversity program, employee base and board of directors. In 2004, the company added Debra Lee, president and chief operating officer of Black Entertainment Television (BET), to its board.