Hilton Hotels Corporation: Multicultural Workforce Management in the Hospitality Industry


Diversity in the workplace has been a hotbed of controversy ever since minority groups have gained a foothold in the workforce. Because minority groups have proven to be valuable assets to most companies in terms of talent as well as infusing fresh cultural perspectives in business, many companies have determined to make the workplace an environment conducive for productivity. It has been estimated that by 2010, Anglo American males will only make up 15% of the total new hires for the workforce in the US. The remaining will be made up of what are now minority groups, including African-American, Asian, Native American and female. (Yamashita 2004) It would therefore be to the advantage of managers and companies to place multicultural-aimed policies now in preparation. However, many managers have discovered the pitfalls and dangers of managing a multicultural workforce without proper diversity training and cultural sophistication.

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The hospitality industry is by its very nature an industry that has multicultural issues as a matter of course. Because it caters to all races and ethnicities, hotels, and hotel chains, in particular, may be said to be the Petri dish in which a study may be made of the effects of multicultural and diversity policies on the viability of the business. In other words, it is in the hotel business that failure to manage cultural diversity can be devastating.

However, what has not come to the fore as much are the policies concerning a multicultural workforce and the effects on the hotel business. This paper will attempt to justify existing multicultural employment policies enforced in the Hilton Hotels Corporation based on current research on effective workforce management.

Multiculturalism in the workforce

The term multiculturalism is unexpectedly difficult to define. It is currently referred to as the accommodation of all minority groups by the dominant group in a particular social or political setting. (Madood 2007) Much of the activism that is associated with the issue of multiculturalism is mostly due to a perceived de-ethnicization or marginalization of minority groups. There are those who believe that assimilation into a dominant group should not entail the loss of cultural identity. Advocates clamour for the treatment of minorities as equal and different as opposed to equal and the same, which is the nature of assimilation. This is why the accepted term today is “accommodation.”

Management of a multi-cultural workforce can be a complicated endeavour. Attempting to adjust policies to accommodate different cultures in one setting will require a highly trained individual indeed. One of the problems that many companies have encountered that may have designed and implemented diversity programs is enforcement. There are usually no measures for determining whether the policies are working or not, or even if it is being used at all.

In the hotel industry, the concept of diversity training is perhaps not such a big leap of faith because hotel managers and staff are already trained to be culturally correct toward their guests. However, for hotel chains with establishments in different countries where the dominant culture is different from that of the core hotels, corporate policies will indeed need to be extremely elastic.

Advantages of having a multicultural workforce

A multicultural workforce means the business is open to a larger pool of the labour force, and a more comprehensive choice for the best possible talents available for key positions in the industry. It also means there are more numerous sources of new ideas and innovations that may be culturally motivated that could have a significant impact on the performance and productivity of the company. In hotels, for instance, it is not unusual to want a Thai chef managed by a French kitchen manager who reports to an American General Manager in a hotel in Japan. Mixing cultures with known strengths that will complement each other based on function and position is a shrewd corporate strategy unique to the hospitality industry, but which can be adapted to fit other industries to some degree.

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Moreover, a multicultural workforce will have a greater chance of correctly assessing and supplying the needs and wants of an equally multicultural consumer market. Again, the hotel is a prime example of this characteristic of diversity. Having a culturally diverse hotel staff increases the chances that a guest will have come from the same country and will be made to feel more comfortable. As this is the hospitality industry, this is perhaps the most important in terms of customer satisfaction.

Overall, management of multiculturalism in the workplace which takes full advantage of the inherently diverse resource will enhance productivity, innovation and customer service.

Problems associated with a multicultural workforce

The advantages of having a multicultural staff are based on the differences among the workforce which can be used to increase productivity. However, this is also the basis for the many problems encountered in the workplace. The dilemmas facing many managers in the multicultural workforce are due to “cultural deprivation.” This is defined as having little contact with other cultures; this is a situation that is not traditionally handled in academic courses in human behaviour and management methods. This is much in evidence in the US, where the dominant white male culture persists. In fact, much of the literature typically used as a basis for employee motivation is based on a mostly white, male workforce. Needless to say, this will not be applicable today where more than half of the workforce is a woman or of different races, meaning non-white (Copeland, 2006).

Some problems common to managers of a multicultural workforce are stereotypes, cultural differences, membership and unwritten rules. The problem with stereotypes is that it assumes characteristics in individuals that are not necessarily true. It limits how one relates to that person because of a stereotype i.e. women are emotional. Cultural differences determine the values and motivations of the employees with respect to job satisfaction, worker relations and organization role perceptions. Membership is the establishment of relationships within a group where like tends to like i.e. when men are the dominant group, male employees tend to be given automatic membership. The unwritten rules involve the implicit rules and standards that reflect the culture and orientation of the controlling group. Often this is ambiguous and informal, most in the controlling group subscribing to it actually acknowledging its presence. It disadvantages those who are subject to such rules in a negative manner i.e. double standards.

These concerns are often difficult to address in company policies. It is mainly a middle management problem where the people on-site can have a proactive attitude that will reflect and modify existing company policies. This is especially relevant in the hotel industry, in which employees have direct contact with the end-users, who may both be culturally diverse.

To illustrate the case for the hotel and hospitality industry, an overview of the policies implemented in the Hilton Hotels Corporation with regard to its corporate-wide diversity management and training of the workforce will be described and analyzed based on accepted multicultural practices that promote diversity.

The Hilton Hotels Corporation

Founder Conrad Hilton bought his first hotel in 1919 in Cisco, Texas called The Mobley, but it was in 1925 that the first “The Hilton” was built in Dallas. Expansion began with the purchase of The Roosevelt and The Plaza in 1943. (Milestones & innovations 2007) Hilton’s philosophy from the start was that “It has been, and continues to be, our responsibility to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality.” Today, he seems to have succeeded. The Hilton Hotels Corporation is a family of hotels with more than 2,800 hotels scattered over 80 countries. Most of these hotels are owned and managed or franchised from North America and are under any of the following hotel brands: “Hilton (497 hotels), Hilton Grand Vacations (34), Hilton Garden Inn (184), Conrad (17), Coral by Hilton (, Doubletree (173), Embassy Suites Hotels (180), Hampton Inn and Hampton Inn & Suites (1,380), Homewood Suites by Hilton (190), Scandic and The Waldorf=Astoria Collection (4)”. (Hilton Hotels Corp. appoints new senior sales manager for Hilton Baltimore, 2004)

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Diversity Initiatives

Because Hilton Hotels are found all over the world, multiculturalism is of significant concern for its management. In response, the hotel group launched its “Diversity Works” Diversity Initiatives for its employees and suppliers in 1999 under the stewardship of President and CEO Stephen Bollenbach. It is a top-down diversity management strategy that employed the experience and knowledge of the corporation’s top management people to come up with a long-term, proactive action plan to develop and achieve the goals of the Initiatives.

Specifically, the initiatives provided for: “Formal Supplier Diversity Mission Statement and Program Implementation; Diversity Programs Advertising Campaign; Franchise Development Diversity Outreach Program; Diversity Training Programs; Mentoring Program; Hotel Management Diversity Performance Measurements; Corporate Management Diversity Performance Measurements; Annual Week-long Cultural Diversity Festival; Charitable Giving Programs”. (“Hilton Hotels Corporation Books Diversity as a Priority; Top-Down Commitment is Bottom-Line Focus at Company”, 2003).

According to the hotel family’s Diversity Committee, the results have been positive. In terms of human resources and training, the following describes the effectiveness of the various initiatives above:

  1. 350 affirmative action plans are currently in place
  2. Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) letters of compliance received
  3. 60% workforce is from minority groups; half of the workforce is female.
  4. At the management level, 40% are female and 30% are from minority groups
  5. Diversity training was provided across the board, including a module for General Managers
  6. Mentoring programs were set up with upper management as mentors
  7. Established the Hilton Hotels Management Program which ensures the promotion of eligible staff from diverse backgrounds.
  8. To ensure compliance with the established standards the Diversity Committee implemented the measurement of goals in diversity performance and management. These performance goal scores were included in the calculation of bonuses and other incentive packages and were applicable to hotel and corporate management staff.

In acknowledgement of these efforts, the Hilton Hotels Corporation had been included three years in a row among the “50 Best Companies for Minorities” and CEO Stephen Bollenbach has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hospitality Industry Diversity Institute. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners, both major minority advocacy groups have both acknowledged Hilton Hotel Corporation with the Corporate Award and the Exhibitors Award respectively in 2000. Saludos Hispanos magazine observed that the Hilton Hotels have been “taking a leadership role in providing opportunities for success among the Hispanic community” and awarded the hotels family with the 2002 Gold Medal Achievement Award.

The Hilton Hotel Corporation has also forged relationships with various organizations focused on promoting diversity in the industry including the “National Society for Minorities in Hospitality, the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, the Native American Scholarship Program and many others”. (“Hilton Hotels Corporation Books Diversity as a Priority; Top-Down Commitment is Bottom-Line Focus at Company”, 2003).

It seems unquestionable that the efforts of the Hilton Hotels Corporation in promoting diversity within the ranks has been comprehensive as well as extensive and appears to have been effective as verified by outside agencies.

Analysis of the Hilton Hotels’ Diversity Initiatives

The criteria set for effective management of a culturally diverse staff fulfilled by Hilton’s Diversity Initiatives include adoption of a top-down diversity management strategy, use of mentoring strategies to facilitate diversity training and emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge and cultural competencies. The Diversity Committee which developed the initiatives was a mix of the most experienced, culturally sophisticated members of both corporate and hotel top management. The Initiatives took full advantage of this experience to construct a trickle-down effect in the pursuit of acculturation and diversity training through mentoring programs.

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But perhaps the most interesting from the point of view of effectiveness is the goal-oriented system of performance ratings for hotel and corporate management. This is a proactive strategy for ensuring the implementation and enforcement of policies, which is the main problem for many diversity management programs. And because incentives and bonuses are tied to performance ratings, this has enhanced overall motivation to embody the methods and training aimed at promoting the multiculturalism of the workforce, and even extending beyond to suppliers and third parties.

Summary and Conclusion

Multiculturalism is not a subject that can be taken lightly, especially in today’s globalized economy. Inevitably, the mix in all sectors whether in industry or society will become increasingly dominated by minority groups and sheer numbers have made them a force to reckon with. In an industry in general, this dominance has become evident in the workforce, where more often than not a full quarter of employees are from diverse cultural backgrounds which may or may not have a presence in management. Diversity policies and training have resulted due to the acknowledgement of the value of this multicultural identity. However, the paradigm shift from a predominantly white male workforce to a multicultural one has been problematic for some companies despite the best of intentions.

Some strategies had been identified as being effective in managing a culturally diverse workforce which is applicable for most industries. These include formulating management policies that originate from top management, maintaining respect for cultural differences and learning more about aspects of cultural diversity for a better grasp of effective management and motivational techniques.

The hotel and hospitality industry, specifically, has had a head start in cultural diversity training because the nature of the business demands elasticity in policies pertaining to dealing with many cultures. However, it has still been necessary to implement extensive and stringent measures to implement a viable diversity program to extend this cross-cultural ideology from customer-focused to workforce- and supplier-focused.

As an example of these measures, the Hilton Hotels Corporation has been held up for scrutiny. Being a public company with more than 2,800 hotels in 80 countries, it was deemed the ideal sample of a hotel with complex diversity issues. An analysis of the methods and strategies employed has indicated that the hotel family has complied with many of the recommendations of research and studies geared towards improving diversity in the workplace. This has been independently verified by recognition and acknowledgement from advocacy groups as well as government bodies.

In conclusion, the Hilton Hotels Corporation has succeeded in planning and executing viable programs that comprise the Diversity Initiatives. Further study on how the committee was conducted, the actual methods used to formulate the initiatives as well as the various training modules would be of great interest for those in the hospitality industry. The use of performance goal measurements associated incentives is also an innovation that would facilitate the documentation of the effectiveness of a particular diversity management program and should be implemented in diversity management techniques not only in the hotel and hospitality industry but in other industries as well.


  1. ‘Managing a multicultural workforce,’ 2001. Black Enterprise.
  2. Bollenbach, S, 2007, A note from our CEO. 
  3. Copeland, L 2006, Managing a multicultural workforce.
  4. How Diversity Works at Hilton Hotels Corporation 2007.
  5. Human resources/training 2007.
  6. Marketing and sales 2007.
  7. North, R & Hort, L 2002, ‘Cross-cultural influences on employee commitment in the hotel industry: some preliminary thoughts,’ Research and Practice in Human Resource Management, vol. 4, 1, pp. 22-34.
  8. Top-down commitment and accountability 2007.
  9. Yamashita, K 2004, Importance of developing multicultural diversity training program in hotel industry in Minneapolis area.
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