An Honest Discussion on Race, Culture and Meetings

By Marc Boisclair, October 2, 2017

What challenges remain for people of color in meetings and hospitality?

Wilson: Like most of us who have “made it,” we’ve had to claw and fight our way to the top. There are no strides given; we simply don’t give up. Challenges? Respect for the value of a job well done—not well done for a woman or a person of color or another nationality, but for a professional who knows his or her job and worth.

race culture and meetingsDe Rozario: The meetings industry still has a lack of representation of Asian and Hispanic, Latino/Latina populations, both on the planning side and among suppliers. One reason is that these populations in the U.S. are in large part recent immigrants, so both cultural and communication challenges can create a glass ceiling. Additionally, a blossoming career in hospitality may not be an immediately conceivable choice due to lack of role models in the industry. Again, optics has a profound effect on people, so if someone doesn’t see someone else like them in a particular career, they might not think they could be successful in that way.

Lewis: I do see a slightly increased number of people of color in upper-level positions, but it’s still disproportionate compared to the number of Caucasian men in upper management. Equal opportunity for women in senior management remains a work in progress.

Williams: There’s a great divide in terms of pure numbers of minorities holding and not holding leadership positions. As someone who’s had a hand in hiring for many years, I know that often the pool of candidates for even midmanagement-level positions is not diverse. It mostly boils down to the need for greater recruitment and retention. I don’t mean recruitment of high-ranking executives from other industries to fulfill vacant leadership roles in ours. I mean brass tacks recruitment at the lowest level—in high school and college—to ultimately grow them into leadership positions after many years of service to the industry.

Diversity in America both shapes and is reflected in diversity in the meetings world. How do you view the efforts by civic, political, religious and social leaders to promote and improve diversity in America?

De Rozario: Anyone who has a platform to be heard by others has a tremendous responsibility because of the impact and influence they can have upon others.

Wilson: Efforts move in waves. Great civic, political, religious and social leaders these days come and go. Most are beaten down by the lack of or slow progress in improving diversity in America. Until we all view ourselves as worthy and engage all people celebrating their worth through their differences, no efforts are going to be successful in improving diversity.

Williams: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work for leaders who understand the importance of creating teams with a breadth of perspectives. For example, our mayor’s office recently appointed Stephen Francis, the city’s first chief diversity officer, to ensure Columbus stays at the forefront of diversity inclusion efforts.

Rutherford: In the not-too-distant future, you’ll see a person of color leading a major hotel chain. The hotel company that makes the decision will make a significant connection with its customers and that, in turn, will drive value for stockholders. It will show the company’s employees that their diversity is appreciated and valued, and that they have the opportunity to rise to the top of the organization.

race culture and meetingsHow does traditional media define diversity in America?

Williams: It’s much more common [now] to see people of all backgrounds in all types of magazines, movies and on television. This type of media is at the forefront of everyday life, and these images greatly influence the way people think about and accept others with diverse backgrounds.

Lewis: For many, it’s the only source of exposure to diverse people and attitudes, whether the portrayal is accurate, exaggerated or stereotyped.

Rutherford: Often traditional media reinforces stereotypes as opposed to dispelling them. We see this regularly in movies and on television and the news. However, I can see some progress. When you watch TV news, you can see diversity on the air, but we have to look behind the camera at who’s making the decisions on what stories will be covered and how they’ll be presented. Images and content presented to viewers affects their perception, for good or bad. After all, perception is reality.

Wilson: The better question would be: What role should the traditional American media play? My answer to this question changes day to day. Reporting versus entertainment has blurred over the years. Ratings are more important than facts and dignity. If the media handled their responsibilities better with their audience, who knows what the definition of diversity in America would look like.

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