Founded in 1989 at Cornell University, the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality (NSMH) is a force driving diversity and inclusion in our industry. If you’re not already familiar with the organization’s work and membership opportunities, now is a perfect time to learn more about NSMH.
The organization has nearly 90 chapters across the U.S. and approximately 1,200 student members. NSMH also hosts an annual national conference and career fair in addition to multiple regional conferences throughout the year where its student members meet potential hospitality employers.
At these four-day and two-day events respectively, students can not only learn about career opportunities but they also have access to professional development that includes workshops, keynote speakers, and breakout sessions as well as mock interviews and resume reviewing. Of course, the conference also includes ample networking opportunities so that students members have still greater exposure to hospitality recruiting partners.
By joining a local chapter for $25, undergraduate students also have access to leadership opportunities in terms of becoming a national board member of NSMH, joining the organization’s national committees, or the local chapters’ board of directors. These boards are required to follow reporting guidelines, have their own social media channels that are member-managed, and also commit to at least two service opportunities during the year in order to give back to their local communities. Alumni memberships are also available.
Here, NSMH’s Executive Director Nicole Singleton tells Hcareers about how the organization and the hospitality industry are responding to the current Black Lives Matter movement and the effects that the movement is having on the hospitality workforce now and in the future.
What does “diversity and inclusion in the hospitality industry” mean to your members?
The organization was founded to encourage diversity in the industry. It was founded by four minority students with the aim of providing opportunities for students of color that may not be aware of the hospitality industry as a viable option or a viable career for them to pursue. We hope to give students at smaller schools where the student bodies are primarily black or Latino the opportunity to have exposure to many of the hospitality partners that may not come to their schools or seek out their programs because can often have more ROI and reach a greater number of students at predominantly white, larger institutions when they visit college campuses to interview and recruit potential new hires.
Our hospitality partners come to our annual conference where they have access to diverse students who are extremely passionate about this industry and have hands-on experience in the business because many of our students work full time in the hospitality industry while going to school.
Also, most of our chapters have a service component. So some chapters may have dining nights where they open a restaurant-like format to the community and family and friends as fundraisers. Some of our chapters run food pantries and food carts and things of that nature as fundraisers too. So they’re getting more hands-on industry experience while attending school
Most of our industry partners are long-term partners who support diversity and inclusion. It isn’t just that they want diverse candidates, but inclusion is important to them as well. They want to create environments that everyone feels a part of. Diversity and inclusion are often thought of interchangeably and they’re not. Diversity is about factors like gender and race, but inclusion is about people feeling like they belong and that they’re valued. Inclusion is key because it’s truly about making sure our employees are embraced and have the support and services they need to be successful.
How has the current Black Lives Matter movement and the events that preceded it changed the hospitality industry from NSMH’s perspective?
I would say that just by the very nature of the hospitality industry, it is one that is more inclusive than others. If we’re going to be honest much of the frontline service talent is heavily represented by minorities. However, the industry and its culture have always been somewhat inclusive. I believe that the Black Lives Matter movement and consideration of people’s color has companies evaluating their talent and maybe questioning internally if they’re providing an environment where people are able to grow and move up in the organization. Are we providing the proper training and proper support to ensure that? There’s a strong emphasis on that and inclusion. Also with regards to talent management, there’s more of a conscious effort to review existing talent and ask if we are fair in our promotions. As we look at promoting individuals in the organization, are we taking the steps necessary to ensure that people of color are being considered fairly for these positions? Even though hospitality has been hit hard by the pandemic, I still see and hear from industry partners that careful consideration and review of their talent is taking place right now.
Also, more and more you hear legislators and people in the industry asking what does management look like? Yes, there is diversity in the frontlines and in customer service, and throughout our wait staff and front desk. But is it continuing through to the management level? That’s where we lack the representation of people of color. But what I would say is that it’s showing the light and making us question where do we stand on our policies and are we doing what we’re saying we’re committed to.
What are the issues that matter most to NSMH’s members as far as bringing more diversity and inclusion to the industry?
That’s tough because it depends on who you ask and where they are in their careers. I could argue –especially as the executive director of a student-run organization—that our focus needs to be on creating a pipeline very early on. So if we’re creating a workforce pipeline and informing people of color that you too can pursue management careers in hospitality, that will have an impact on future generations of our workforce. So it’s important that we start very early on. I hear students say at our conferences that they didn’t know about the hospitality industry or that they didn’t know hospitality school was an option until they were sophomores in college. Whether it’s through career fairs, mentorship programs, or scholarships, we can reach kids early on. But it really depends on where you are early in your career.
Mid-level managers need a mentor or an advocate or a sponsor who is going to bat for them and who is helping them in their career in order to seek out C-level positions and to map out what they need to do to get there. At the entry-level, students and young job candidates are excited to get a job and just want to start their careers. But they have to consider: “where do I want to be in 20, 30, 40 years from now after I enter this industry?” They need to have that conversation with an experienced industry professional in order to discuss their short- and long-term career goals. So the answer to that question really depends on where people are.
What matters most to our college-aged members is making sure that there are equitable environments where students and recent graduates have a fair opportunity to pursue positions and that they’re going into environments where they can contribute and make a difference. I had a student tell me this week that they just want a chance to prove themselves and that speaks to wanting to be valued in an organization where they can make a contribution to its overall success.
From the organization’s perspective, what has the hospitality industry done well to bring more diversity and inclusion to the business?
I would say that a considerable number of hospitality companies or hospitality-related companies have had diversity and inclusion at first and some have also created departments and divisions that are focused on diversity and inclusion management where they have defined programs and that are different from other industries. I would say that the hospitality industry is one of the leaders that‘s front and center in promoting diversity and inclusion. As a result, they’re very intentional in partnering with organizations like NSMH and seeking new talent. They’re investing in the industry not only through recruitment, but they are also hands-on involved, whether that’s by offering scholarships or resume review services. Many of our hospitality partners come to our conference and conduct mock interviews and of course, our conference also includes a career fair. Now our partners are working with us to offer webinars and hosting virtual open houses and virtual property tours. We’ve seen our industry become more committed and more involved with our students to make sure they have opportunities in the hospitality industry. They also want to create greater awareness of the opportunities existing in the industry.
Our students have also participated in focus groups to help our partners understand the professional interests of the next generations entering the workforce and these focus groups have provided partners with strong insight.
Where and how does the industry still need to do more work?
I would say this is no different than most industries. As an industry, we need to make sure that we are providing the access and the tools necessary to see representation of people of color in both management and at the C-Suite level.
How is NSMH working to bring more diversity and inclusion to the industry?
We have our annual conference and career fair and webinars, which create an intimate, hands-on environment for the industry to get to know our students. Our industry partners don’t just show up at our conference and have a booth at our career fair. Their interaction with our memberships happens throughout the year and they engage with our members constantly.
Hotel companies will often talk about the importance of diversity and inclusion as a means of better connecting with guests who often mirror that diversity and also as a means of building a stronger business where insights and feedback come from a range of different voices. As the next generation of hoteliers, how important are these points to the future of the industry?
When you bring a diverse group together there may initially be challenges because people tend to naturally migrate to people who look like them. This generation—probably more so than any other generation—is committed to being connected and they are committed to diversity and inclusion. They are very sensitive to the needs of others and we see that. Just the social stance that so many of our youth are taking shows that they’re very aware. The Internet and the news and the information available to them has made them so much more aware than other people and other cultures. As a result, it translates to them being concerned for the good of all. Our students are attuned to others.
Also, productivity and bottom-line numbers show increases when diversity increases.
The hospitality industry is responding to this generation, but it’s hard not to. The composition of this country is changing and it’s changing quickly. In 2050, 50 percent of our population will be made up of those communities that are currently underrepresented. These changes are happening so quickly that it’s difficult not to have a diverse workforce. So it’s not just about having diverse representation in front of the customer, but throughout all areas of an organization. If our customer base is changing, we need executives in marketing and communications departments that have a working knowledge and understanding of who our customers are. It’s the same with tech. We need to know who our customers are and how to best communicate with them and touch them. We need to ask ourselves what technology we need to meet the needs of our constituents and our customers. America’s composition is changing. It’s not just our neighborhoods that are changing. We see decade after decade of population numbers becoming modified.
Is there anything you would like to add?
It’s important our hospitality partners really connect. It’s about being open to having those conversations, whether with our association leadership or our association’s members in order to determine what their needs are. From what I see, this generation is extremely passionate about serving and they’re committed to hospitality. This generation wants to contribute and wants to have what they bring to the table be valued. They want to work hard to prove themselves. I see that every day with our student members. I see this commitment more so than in any other industry.
It’s really in the hospitality industry that you see diversity and you see it worldwide. Where else do you go and team members have name badges that indicate where their home is? Hospitality prides itself on bringing diverse representation to the table. So yes, I do believe that’s this industry is a great model for other industries.