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Become More Dedicated to Diversity, Avoid Complacency

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, April 2011 Intelligence

Summary: Hyatt's Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Salvador Mendoza talks about why a staff person dedicated to D&I keeps organizations from becoming complacent. (Titled "From taboo to too comfortable" in the print edition.)

When Salvador Mendoza joined Hyatt more than 13 years ago, he had to work to make leaders and staff comfortable with diversity and inclusion, so they could feel like the topic wasn't taboo.

Today, he runs into a new challenge as Hyatt's vice president of diversity and inclusion: Sometimes people get too comfortable, to the point that they get complacent.

"The challenge often times is contentment," Mendoza says, "that we feel that we have been successful, that we feel that the recognition we have gotten from organizations, from magazines, and from different media is the end all. Unfortunately, that feeling of contentment starts creeping in."

And while Hyatt is a worldwide corporation with more than 70,000 employees, Mendoza says the same danger of complacency applies at any organization—large or small, for profit or nonprofit—and it's the biggest reason in his mind for dedicated staff to oversee diversity and inclusion organizationwide.

"Never in their wildest dreams will a company say, 'We are so successful in generating revenue … that we don't need a vice president of sales anymore or that we don't need a vice president of marketing or we don't need a vice president of human resources,'" he says. "Well, I'm a big believer that the same principle applies to diversity and inclusion. … You're always going to need that person that is pushing the envelope, that is looking at different ways of doing things, that is holding not only him or herself accountable but holds the company and others accountable as well."

Mendoza serves in that role for Hyatt, and he recommends associations build that staff role as well, whether via a full-time position or by simply building it into at least one staff member's job description. For Hyatt, it means Mendoza ensures diversity and inclusion is part of everyone's thinking process.

"Everything that we do as a company has to be inclusive," he says. "As an example, we don't have a 'minority' coaching program. … But rather, we have a coaching program, and, as part of our commitment to diversity and inclusion at Hyatt, we have to be vigilant that our coaching program—and the way that we recruit and the way that we implement that program—is inclusive, meaning we make sure that we have a fair and balanced representation of minorities and women, as well."

Online Extra: More Q&A With Salvador Mendoza

Associations Now: Many organizations focus on specifically minority-aimed programs to bring them into leadership or just to development them overall. Is there a specific reason Hyatt has chosen to go with an approach where you don't necessarily focus on one area, but you focus on making sure everything's inclusive?

Salvador Mendoza: As you learn the culture of the company, you know what works and you know what doesn't in relation to that. … Depending on the culture of the company, you can certainly create target goals.

For Hyatt, one of the things in which we have been very successful is that we have set internal benchmarks to say, "This is where we are, and this is where we want to be," and though you may not publicly say, "We want to go from 10 percent doing business with minority women to 23 percent in ten years," these internal goals have to reflect your company's culture and commitment to the effort.

A lot of the times the benchmarks that we put in place, it is to say, how do we do better next year? And what do we do to change the culture of the company and the way that we view this issue so that we create long sustainable change? … We don't spend much time just looking at the target; rather, we spend our time looking at what are the things that we can do to change the culture and the way that we do things.

What kind of challenges does a big company like Hyatt or one that's in the hospitality industry face in this kind of work?

I started working with a not-for-profit organization for about three and a half years, right out of college, and then I worked with the colleges and the universities. … So I understand the challenges that some of the associations have.

The challenges that I see in any industry, any association, or any market is the same. It's often times the challenge of commitment to a dedicated resource, and by that I mean a dedicated budget or dedicated person working in diversity and inclusion that can be the driving force behind the effort, because it doesn't matter how big or how small an organization is.

We can talk about "dedicated" in several ways. We can say somebody is doing it full time. Other people are doing it part time. Or is it the case that it is somebody's responsibility and they are being held accountable, regardless if it is a quarter of time, half of the time, or full time? As long as there is accountability, there will be results and that's what I'm talking about: a dedicated champion….

You have small associations that—it would be easy for them to say, "Well, you know, we don't need to have a dedicated person to diversity," …and then bigger associations may say, "Because we are so big and we believe that diversity and inclusion should be ingrained, it should be everybody's responsibility to make it happen."

In theory, that sounds beautiful to say that it's everybody's responsibility, and I agree with that. I think that everybody has a responsibility to that, in theory. In practice, it's a little bit more complicated. Because if nobody's being accountable for making things happen, then guess what? Nothing is going to happen.

So that is a challenge that a lot of companies may have. Now, for us, I think we have matured. I've been doing this at Hyatt for almost 14 years … and now, as we have matured on our programs and initiatives, as we have had successes, and we have created partnerships such as the one that we have with ASAE … now, for us, the challenge often times is contentment, that we feel that we have been successful, that we feel that the recognition we have gotten from organizations, from magazines, and from different media is the end all. Unfortunately, that feeling of contentment starts creeping in.

… And I think that often times it is a challenge for many companies that have mature diversity and inclusion programs. That's why having a dedicated resource to keep driving your efforts, to keep the focus on those initiatives, is essential to a successful diversity and inclusion department.

So that dedicated resource will help the company prevent itself from becoming complacent.

Yeah. I had a little transformation in the way that I think about that because, if you would have asked me even five years ago, "Sal, where do you see Hyatt in five years," I would have told you, without hesitation because I believed it fully, "You know, in five years, I wish that I didn't have a job with Hyatt. I wish that we didn't need a head of diversity and inclusion at Hyatt, because I want everything to be incorporated into everything that we do as a company."

And so now, the transformation is not because I still want to be employed, but rather the transformation comes from this angle: "Never in their wildest dreams will a company say, 'We are so successful in generating revenue … that we don't need a vice president of sales anymore or that we don't need a vice president of marketing or we don't need a vice president of human resources,'" he says. "Well, I'm a big believer that the same principle applies to diversity and inclusion. … You're always going to need that person that is pushing the envelope, that is looking at different way of doing things, that is holding not only him or herself accountable but holds the company and others accountable as well.

Hyatt has a partnership with ASAE to help support the Diversity Executive Leadership Program. I'm curious how partnerships like this play into Hyatt's overall diversity and inclusion efforts.

When people ask me, "What is the business case for diversity and inclusion?" I summarize it in three ways.

The first one is it's a given that it is the right thing to do. So anything that you do as it relates to the community and employees and prospective employees as well, I think is the right thing to do.

So working on that premise, I always say that there are two other [reasons] from a business case. One is the bottom-line dollars. After all, we're a business, and in a business, we have to show that value from a business perspective. So it's bottom-line dollars.

But the other one that I always believe is equally important, is building brand equity in the communities in which we do business. How do we build brand equity in these communities? … By being authentic in the way that we create and nurture our relationships and partnerships in the community. If we do this, these organizations, these relationships, these partnerships, they will see and feel how authentic we are.

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