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  • Mary Bailey

At Marriott International, Diversity and Inclusion Means Family

David Rodriguez, Executive Vice President & Global Chief HR Officer, Shares theMarriott Family Legacy

When J.W. and Alice S. Marriott began building their business 90 years ago, they chose to establish their foundation on family values that embrace growth and empowerment for all – employees, partners, suppliers, and guests. It’s the cornerstone of their rise from a single root beer stand, to a multinational hospitality company that manages and franchises a global portfolio of more than 6,100 hotels. “Diversity and Inclusion is the number 1 factor of success in our 90 years,” says David Rodriguez, Executive Vice President & Global Chief HR Officer for Marriott International. “It started in 1927 as a family business, and with the notion of taking care of each other. They treated their employees like family, which included hiring doctors on the payroll to take care of their employees.” This extraordinary level of commitment remains deeply embedded in Marriott’s corporate DNA, and has expanded as the faces of diversity and inclusion continue to evolve.

As the torch passed to son J.W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr., and then to current CEO, Arne Sorenson, Marriott has held firm to its core values to “Put People First, Pursue Excellence, Embrace Change, Act with Integrity, and Serve the World.” Rodriguez emphasizes that, “Employees are happier when they feel like family and that they’re a part of an enterprise with a noble purpose. We create a sense of family by starting with what we have in common, and addressing the well-being of individuals first.” To further enrich this aspect of the culture, Marriott launched the TakeCare Well-being Program in 2010. TakeCare offers a spectrum of enrichment programs including stress management, exercising and fitness, nutrition and weight management, smoking cessation, and financial well-being. “It is built on our core value of ‘Putting People First,’. TakeCare started out with a focus on physical fitness, and now it encompasses the whole person - physical, emotional, and financial. It provides positive employee engagement. The company takes care of its employees, the employees take care of the guests, and the guests come back again and again. This culture has been instrumental in keeping the performance of the company strong, and it shows in our customer ratings.” It has also resulted in Marriott receiving numerous honors and awards over the years for exceeding standards in business ethics, diversity and inclusion. Marriott has, in fact, been a primary architect and set the standards for the hospitality industry globally.

Another noteworthy innovation at Marriott is their Talent Network Teams initiative. It’s an online platform for employees to notify a senior project leader that they want to be a part of particular projects that help solve business challenges. “If you work in finance and the opportunity you’re interested in is in marketing, you can request to be a part of that Talent Network Team,” says Rodriguez. “This kind of program creates opportunity and a sense of community.”

When asked what guidance he could offer other companies, Rodriguez references a passage from author and activist Jane Jacobs’ book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. “She describes a neighborhood as being like a sidewalk ballet with dancers all playing different roles, lots of intricate movements and activities taking place, but somehow it all works together to create that neighborhood. Leaders need to understand that the inclusive environment is like a ballet, and that leading is orchestrating. Inclusion is a mutual responsibility, and it means everyone participates.” Rodriguez went on to say that, “Management must establish core values and then release them to the employees, allowing them to express the values in a way that makes sense to them. Have the courage to let people bring their whole selves to work. Ask, ‘Can anyone walk into my company and feel respected and valued? Are their certain groups that tend to feel differently about their future and opportunity? Where are the people of color, the differently abled, and the women?’ Everyone has something to offer. And there’s so much research saying that companies that are more gender balanced outperform other companies. Companies may have reasons for not being more diverse, but never an excuse for not being inclusive.”

Marriott’s generous sense of social responsibility has transformed the lives of numerous individuals. But one Dallas employee, who received The J. W. Marriott Award of Excellence, holds a special place in the hearts of Rodriguez and the Marriott family. The employee suffered atrocious inhumanities as a prisoner of war while in Cambodia and Vietnam, leaving him permanently disabled and unable to speak, suffering from post-traumatic stress, and without the family that he had started while stationed overseas. When he finally made it back to America, he ended up in Dallas at the hotel where he still works and lives. “Through acceptance and inclusion, this man rebuilt his life and he has never stopped sharing his reborn joy of life. He’s now 79 years old, and customers come to the hotel because he’s there. The employees regard him as everyone’s father. They love him, and he talks about the customers and employees as his family. When we flew to Dallas to present him with his award, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. At the end of the evening, I was so moved when he put my name on his prayer list that he keeps in his Bible.”

To jobseekers, Rodriguez says, “Everyone is welcome at Marriott. We expect the same from everyone: Be a good employee, and a good neighbor in the workplace. And the most powerful thing we can offer to employees is our support, which makes all of us stronger.”

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