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Reframing Diversity to Drive Equity and Inclusion

Written By Kayla Douglas

With the official launch of SmartFlyer’s sister nonprofit, EQTR, we co-hosted a conversation led by Dr. Derrick Gay around the tenets of diversity and inclusion.

Conceptualized this past year, EQTR–pronounced equator–is a mentorship program formed to create pathways to entrepreneurship and leadership in the luxury travel industry for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) college-age talent. EQTR’s mission is to achieve equity in representation from BIPOC communities within the luxury travel space. Parool Shah, Marriott’s VP, Global Brand Public Relations and EQTR’s Advisory Board member shares, “EQTR’s mission resonates with me as a first-generation American-Indian, who’s been fortunate to have a flourishing career in luxury hospitality. My success is a result of and shaped by so many diverse individuals.”

EQTR Launch Event with Dr. Derrick Gay on March 25

In an effort to create a safe space for conversations around these themes to unfold across the travel sector, we invited Diversity and Inclusion Strategist Dr. Derrick Gay to lead a Masterclass titled  “Reframing Diversity to Drive Equity and Inclusion” which was created around Dr. Gay’s  TEDx Talk of the same moniker. His approach is rooted in an examination of how language, culture, and identity shape our varied understandings of what diversity means. Further, Dr. Gay focuses on creating moments of introspection that ask us to question our own personal roles in advancing inclusion within our industry. All of this in service of our ultimate goal to attract and retain top talent, achieve and sustain deeper employee engagement, deepen our impact and ultimately enhance profitability in doing so.

On the Masterclass, Simon Mayle, International Luxury Travel Market’s Events Director and EQTR’s Advisory Board Member commented, “Diversity is relevant to everyone. It is everyone. With that in mind, we need to stop thinking about treating everyone the same but actually treating people differently; that’s the key to success in terms of diversity.”

The death of George Floyd served as a watershed moment for the United States and the world around issues of diversity and inclusion. Shortly thereafter, companies began to examine their organizations to better understand perceptions of sense of belonging among employees and reflect on ways to integrate inclusion–particularly racial inclusion–into their business practices. But what does this mean for luxury travel? Luckily, we are not alone in answering these questions. EQTR was formed by the industry, for the industry, and at present with mentors and board members committed from across various verticals with notable representation from AFAR, Internova Travel Group, Quintessentially, TAA Public Relations, J Public Relations, One&Only Hotels & Resorts, JetBlue Airways, Marriott International, ILTM Events and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. With attendees from across the globe tuning in for this live launch conversation, we checked in with a few for their biggest takeaways.

Renah Kang-Casas, Director, Global Luxury Sales – Northeast, U.S. at Hilton Luxury Brands

“Diversity literally means everybody. Everybody includes everyone outside of your own gender, race, age, generation, abilities, cultures, and differences – which so many times we forget all these different facets which make up diversity as a whole. Also, how empathy is such a huge part of inclusivity–it’s so easy to get stuck within your feelings and thoughts on issues in diversity, but so important to step back to see and feel how others live their lives and view themselves in this world. Travel gives us already half a foot in the door to understanding inclusivity and opportunities to put ourselves in different conversations and situations; it’s now up to us to push that door open and purposefully invite more colleagues and partners alike to work hand-in-hand with us, listen intently with an open mind, at a permanent seat at the table.”

Wazha Dube, Manager at Index Select – Africa Collection

“The individuals participating in the masterclass, both BIPOC, and allies, are actively looking to improve diversity within the industry universally. We will continue to do what we’ve been doing! Not only be making a point to speak out for more equity and inclusion within the industry while also collaborating with our own partners as well as industry allies and organizations that stand by the causes feel promote true equity in the industry.”

Jonathan Epstein, Chief Executive Officer at Celebrated Experiences

“Our industry has an opportunity to leverage this unique moment to become a force for inclusion and connection. I hope there will be more classes and more opportunities for lessons on how we can all move forward together. I will continue to listen to the wise diversity of voices of our team and clients. As a company, we will strive to include more diverse voices as we hire our next wave of talent. Our goal is to assemble a dream team of kind, talented people with different experiences, points of view, backgrounds, skills, and identities who then collaborate to become so much greater than the sum of their parts. That type of inclusion is how we get to 2+2=5.”

Merygrei Montilla, Account Director, Travel Industry Sales at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

“My biggest takeaway is that we need to be more mindful and intentional in the way we look at our spheres of influence. As a proud Venezuelan woman, the concept of ‘just because it doesn’t happen to you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen’ was a standout soundbite. Four Seasons has actively been practicing Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging work for quite a while now, as they are key components of our core values. However, this idea that everyone understands diversity in a very different way suggests that we need to dig even deeper. To drive even greater equity and inclusion in our organization and teams, we need really need to sit and do more empathetic listening that will allow us to understand how everyone feels, and whether they feel supported or not. Until we all have a common understanding of diversity and inclusion, we will be able to achieve this.”

So, we’ll leave you with the strategic inclusion questions Dr. Gay challenged us to ask ourselves…

  1. Where are you sourcing talent?
  2. How are you evaluating your candidates? Are you looking to hire yourself?
  3. How are you integrating different perspectives into your product offerings and services?
  4. What are your clients from various backgrounds telling you? Have you asked?
  5. What markets are you missing out on?
  6. How can you partner with communities and organizations to attract, recruit, hire, develop, mentor, and sponsor the next generation?

Thank you to all who took the time to join the EQTR’s launch masterclass and those who have supported @weareeqtr on social in the months leading up to this conversation. But, this is really just the beginning. Applications are officially open for our Fall 2021 program with a deadline of May 15th for submissions. If you’re a rising Junior or Senior with an interest in working in travel and hospitality, or you know someone that would be a good fit, we look forward to hearing from you.

To learn more about EQTR, head to eqtr.org

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