Checking in with diversity

Marriott’s focus on diversity leads to more women in leadership roles
By Don Cleary
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/25/2018
More than 700,000 people worldwide wear a Marriott name badge. Collectively, they represent 30 different hotel brands across 127 countries and territories, including JW Marriott, the Ritz-Carlton, Sheraton and more. Credit: mikecphoto (Shutterstock)

There is a saying among managers at Marriott International that comes straight from the company’s founders: “If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of the guests, and the guests will keep coming back.”

Whether it is day-to-day interactions or formal training and recognition programs, the ethos of this phrase permeates every aspect of company culture. In the service industry, an employer is only as good as the well-being of its people, and that includes both guests and employees.

In an organization that has long valued diversity, inclusion and well-being, Marriott employees operate within a family-like framework — a culture the founders sought to achieve more than 90 years ago.

Company origins

In 1927, John Willard Marriott and his wife, Alice, set up a small root-beer stand in Washington. That stand grew into a chain of restaurants, which eventually led the Marriott family to open their first hotel in Arlington, Va., in 1957. 

Today, more than 700,000 people worldwide wear a Marriott name badge. Collectively, they represent 30 different hotel brands across 127 countries and territories, including JW Marriott, the Ritz-Carlton, Sheraton,  Westin, Renaissance and Courtyard by Marriott.

In Canada, there are about 24,000 managed and franchised employees at 127 hotels.

Given the company’s global footprint, the desire for diversity stems not only from what is right but also what is necessary to thrive in the global hospitality industry.

Commitment to diversity

This means making a long-term investment in the expertise and well-being of the workforce.

Whether checking in guests at a remote locale or setting long-term strategy at corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Md., Marriott workers are steeped in a culture of learning from their first day on the job — a culture that focuses on diversity and inclusion.

A big factor in people’s well-being is feeling that they are part of something meaningful and optimistic about their future. This is especially true for Marriott’s workforce — including the women and working mothers in the company.

Several years ago, the company launched Marriott’s TakeCare well-being initiative to give associates easy, efficient ways to improve their on-the-job performance, enhance and balance their personal and professional relationships, and participate in programs that promote both physical and psychological well-being.

Training leaders

Identifying and training powerful talent within the company helps to leverage Marriott’s investment in staff at all levels of the organization.

For instance, Roz Winegrad started as a line cook and quickly progressed through many different roles on properties and at Marriott International’s corporate office, where she eventually joined the franchise business group. She is now a valuable vice-president-level leader, heading up the franchise and owner services group for Canada.

Creating a work environment that is family-focused also creates real opportunities for the workforce.

For example, as part of a social impact and sustainability platform, Serve 360, the company recently committed to a $5-million investment to increase and deepen programs and partnerships that develop hospitality skills and opportunity among youth, diverse populations, women, people with disabilities, veterans and refugees.

Nurturing culture

It also has a number of programs in place to empower employees to champion diversity and drive inclusion. For example, it has developed multicultural tools and resources that help managers further understand and build awareness about cultural differences.

In 2007, Canada became the first country in the Western world where women outnumbered men in the workforce. Despite this, few women actually reach the executive ranks and when they do, they are not paid equally to men.

Marriott is bucking this trend. In 1989, it was one of the first in the hospitality industry to establish a formal diversity and inclusion program.

In 1999, the chain formally launched a Women’s Leadership Development Initiative with four specific goals in mind: to increase the presence of women in the highest level of management and in other key decision-making positions; to improve the career development process at Marriott; to develop a role for senior management to play in ensuring women progress; and to capitalize on the talent pool of women leaders currently available to drive the success of the organization.

Marriott tackled this with three primary areas of focus — growth and retention of existing women associates, preparing the next generation of leaders, and providing internal benefits for women and mothers.

As a result, the representation of women at all levels of the company has increased. There has been consistent growth in the numbers of women in all leadership categories. Today in North America, women comprise 55 per cent of Marriott’s workforce and hold 59 per cent of manager positions. In Canada, the leadership team is 50 per cent female.

Recognizing that the company’s core strength lies in supporting diversity and inclusion by creating opportunities for all stakeholders is what makes Marriott globally successful.

The hotel chain welcomes guests from all over the world, and ultimately, its success is due to the diversity of a global team and inclusive culture.

Don Cleary is president of Canada for Marriott International in Bethesda, Md. For more information, visit

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