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Transcript: Diversity in the Workplace: Talent Acquisition & Workplace Pipeline with Laura Fuentes

MR. SCOTT: Welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m Eugene Scott, a national political reporter here at The Washington Post, and this program is part of our Diversity in the Workplace Series. And my guest today is Laura Fuentes. She’s the Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Hilton.

Laura, welcome to the Washington Post Live.

MS. FUENTES: Thank you so much for having me, Eugene. So thrilled to be here with you today.

MR. SCOTT: Awesome. So let's start with the big picture. How has the pandemic changed recruitment and talent acquisition?

MS. FUENTES: Yeah, I think it's changed it in so many ways and if you think in particular of the hospitality and travel industry. If I could take you back for a minute, please indulge me, and we'll do a little bit of time travel. Those first months of 2020, at Hilton, we were coming off a record year of occupancy, growth. When we started to hear about the Coronavirus in our China market, we actually, from a culture perspective, had just been named the number one best place to work in the U.S. and had celebrated that. And then within weeks, in the U.S., we were facing frankly the unimaginable, which was to shut down and suspend operations at many of our hotels and, you know, facing heartbreaking restructuring decisions around furloughing and eventually laying off some of our team members.

So our recruitment engines completely changed in the face of that. The first sort of strategy we had to think differently about from a recruitment perspective was actually to drive a reverse recruitment engine for our enterprise. So on a typical year at Hilton, we will hire about 50,000 people into our ecosystem, and when that came to a grinding halt, we actually chose to leverage our recruitment team to help place our team members at other companies. And so we're seeing more transferability of some of our skills. And as heartbreaking as that was for us, imagining how we could support our team members and post jobs from the likes of Walmart, CVS, Amazon, to help our team members in this time of crisis, was really important.

And now fast forward, right, to 2021, where our industry at a minimum is hiring again, so are many others. The war for talent is fierce. The labor challenges are intense across industries.

And so I think the way in which recruitment has changed is multi-fold. Right? Companies are working harder to get their stories out there, and so having a really crisp and compelling value proposition--and inclusion is at the heart of that--is really important. You know, we are looking at a broader set of sources, and we're going deeper with those partnerships.

So I'll give you one example. You know, we had, pre-COVID and during the crisis, partnered with many colleges and universities, including HBCUs. But now as we get back into the market, we're deepening those relationships and driving them further upstream, helping these colleges and universities design their hospitality curricula, for example, to attract the new generation of talent that will be hungry for, demonstrating a commitment to youth, demonstrating a commitment to inclusion, starting those conversations really early in the process.

And then for us, you know, hiring again thousands of people, thousands of jobs around the world, looking at our recruitment process and auditing every step of that way, leveraging technology to drive a super-efficient and user-friendly process. So we've tried to shorten the application. We've made it more intuitive. And, we've really looked with great care at intention, at every requirement that we put out there for our candidates.

So, for example, not every one of our jobs requires a college degree. Many of them don't require a high school degree. We tend to focus on the reskilling and upskilling we'll do once team members join Hilton. We've also experimented with, you know, many careers fairs in our communities and same-day job offers, to have a conversation with the right people at the right spot and tell those team members we want them to join right away. And obviously, from an inclusion perspective, making sure that not only our pipeline of candidates is diverse but that then the interviewers they meet with also represent the diversity that Hilton represents.

So I think from a storytelling, process perspective, and then the experience of candidates, you know, making sure that you're really compelling, inclusive, and efficient, and then of course, once they join you, you know, that you deliver on the goods that you've sold throughout that process.

MR. SCOTT: Great. So let's go back to the beginning of the pandemic. We know that about 4 in 10 U.S. jobs was lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, which obviously is still ongoing, but those jobs were lost in the leisure and hospitality industry. And can you talk a bit about the direct impact that had on Hilton's workforce?

MS. FUENTES: Yeah. I mean, as I mentioned, you know, it was a truly, truly difficult and devastating time. Right? I mean, travel around the world came to a grinding halt. Our recruitment engine stopped. Our--many of our properties around the world suspended operations. Our corporate offices, like many others, went remote. And so during that time, we had to take a look at, you know, frankly, our survival through the crisis.

And knowing that our culture and our team members were at the heart of our business, and always have been, we wanted to take deep care of them during this moment. And so establishing the resources that they would need, thinking very carefully about the necessary staffing levels that were required at our hotels, making sure that, you know, what started as a healthcare crisis, as we know, and then had deep impact on our travel industry, forcing us to restructure in very challenging ways, ultimately evolved into a financial crisis, a crisis of racial justice in many parts of the world, including the U.S. in particular, a healthcare/childcare crisis.

And so we wanted to make sure that we not only were supporting our team members, you know, no matter the impact to them, even if they were in the most extreme cases laid off or furloughed, but for those who were working with us that we provided an inclusive, safe space, a psychologically safe space, a healthy environment, eventually a flexible and supportive environment. And so we propped up programs and support and resources at every step of the way to help our team members.

And we solicited their feedback along the way. So we've always prided ourselves in being a culture that would ask our team members' input. And in fact, over our 100-year history and more recently, you know, the last 10 years, we've spent a lot of time honing our programs and, you know, our HR policies and the benefits that we offer based on the results of our team members' survey, based on our external benchmarking. And so during this time, we leaned in harder than ever and went from an annual survey to quarterly surveys. We asked our people around the world, how can we better support you?

And at a time where we might have given ourselves a pass on many things--that would have been the wrong answer--we leaned in and launched programs. You know, as a result of the tragic murder of George Floyd, we launched a Courageous Conversation series to help our team members cope and advance the conversations around racism and sexism and inclusion in the workplace. We shared our diversity and inclusion commitments, our representations statistics, and our multi-year goals because while our recruitment had stopped, we knew it would come back and we wanted to be very intentional in that recovery.

So we felt like this was a moment to lean into both our survival but what our future would look like and to try to do that with as much courage and vulnerability and authenticity as the moment required.

MR. SCOTT: So since you're talking about building back, can you talk a bit about what that looks like? We know that some hotel chains are having trouble attracting employees and retaining them considering that the pandemic is still ongoing. What are you doing to offer incentives to attract, you know, talent to Hilton in this moment?

MS. FUENTES: Yeah, it's a great question. And obviously, we're all reading about the labor shortages and the challenges, and we're not immune to that. And I think that those challenges actually transcend any one industry. We're seeing it in manufacturing, in retail, services, and certainly in hospitality.

We have always felt that the way to attract and retain the very best talent--and we compete with talent across all industries--is by a winning culture. And so we have spent years building the foundations of a culture that will support our team members at every step of their experience with us. During the COVID crisis and pandemic, we leaned into that culture.

And you know, I heard a quote early on during the crisis that said, you know, crisis doesn't necessarily build character; it reveals it. And so I think it revealed our culture to be one that is deeply focused on inclusion, healthy environment, on supporting the growth of our team members. And so we continue to feel like that's the way to win.

And building an environment where our team members feel welcomed, we know that then that pays it forward to our guests. A team member resource environment that supports them at every step of the way. Benefits that are competitive and compelling. The flexibility that they are asking for now. And, making sure that we are solving for both our hotel team members and our corporate team members. And, ensuring that flexibility, while it may look different, that we are offering, you know, that benefit and thinking very creatively and intentionally about what that means for all of our team members. At the end of the day, you know, we ask our team members and measure the data, and we try to cut the needs very specifically by region and demographic.

But ultimately, I think a lot of our team members are asking for the same thing, and the workers around the world. Right? They want an inclusive environment, a healthy environment. They want to achieve their potential and be in an environment that provides growth and learning, and ultimately feel connected to something bigger than themselves. So we lean into every aspect of that, with our teaching programs, our reskilling, and that connection to our broader purpose, which has been with us for over 100 years.

MR. SCOTT: We know one thing that workers are also asking for is a raise in wages. That's been a major part of the conversation over the past year or so regarding, you know, economic security and inequality. And have you all had those conversations, ways to make the cost of living and lifestyle just improve for hotel workers at Hilton?

MS. FUENTES: Yeah, absolutely. You know, we have these conversations continuously. We're constantly benchmarking and measuring where we stack up relative to not only our industry but, as I mentioned, employers around the world.

And so we look at the totality of the rewards that we offer. Our wages need to be competitive. Our benefits need to be ahead of market. And, frankly, we don't necessarily wait for, you know, the government's regulations to tell us what the right thing to do for our team members, whether that be family and parental leave, flexibility, wages, education assistance, you know, a learning environment in Hilton University.

And then we also look at unique benefits to us. Right? So what are day-one benefits that we can offer our team members? You know, they all get 100 nights at a deeply discounted, you know, rate at our properties around the world because we believe in travel as part of their value proposition as well. So we look at this continuously. We're really proud of what we offer our team members.

And in fact, you know, as I think about where we are today, right, comparing to those early days of 2020, we've already restarted our hiring engines. We've hired over 26,000 people this year, and that pace is accelerating. We're actually seeing our processes move faster and people coming to us from all different industries.

So we always hope to be competitive. We keep benchmarking that continuously to make sure that we don't fall behind for our team members.

MR. SCOTT: You mentioned earlier how some jobs had changed. I think you said most of corporate had gone remote. And we've seen that, you know, so many hotel services have become digitized. You know, contactless room check-ins and other, you know, ways to travel and to be involved in a hotel experience. What makes certain jobs redundant in the long term? What changes are you seeing yourself having to make?

MS. FUENTES: That's a really question. You know, we are constantly looking to innovate how our jobs are done. Right? When you think of the future of work, making sure that our team members have the skills and tools, resources, basically not only to do their current job better but to do any job in the ecosystem, if you think about our call centers, automating, you know, some of the behind-the-scenes work that we do, and driving that with more efficiency and greater effectiveness, to ultimately serve our guests better.

So we're constantly looking at every aspect of our team members' jobs: how can we drive, you know, enhancements in our housekeepers, the staffing approach. How we communicate with them on property to make sure that they have the latest information relative to early check-outs, late check-ins. So, that communication, that effectiveness of their jobs.

And, making sure that our focus from a university perspective and a learning and teaching is not only on upskilling but on reskilling, and so thinking about the current jobs that they have and how those jobs might evolve and give them the tools to do any job in our ecosystem, any job at our properties.

And frankly, we also want to continue driving some of that movement between our hotels and our corporate offices, and we see many of the careers of our longest standing and longest tenured team members sort of transcend both spaces.

So that is our philosophy is essentially hire the very best people and, you know, rely more on the apprenticeship and the on-the-job learning model to help them do any of the jobs that we will evolve in the future. Hospitality is continuously changing and innovating. And right now, honestly, we're all seeing, right, the future of work. Testing things that might have been a trend pre-COVID are now becoming, you know, really prevalent across the workers of the world.

MR. SCOTT: You talked about longstanding employees, and it would just be interesting to hear your thoughts on some of the topics related to employee wellness. How do you work with employees to build allyship and understanding in the company?

MS. FUENTES: Yeah, you know, we do this in a couple of ways. Right? We certainly, from an HR perspective, launch programs that we think will help scale these conversations around inclusion, around mental wellness. And so we put in place things like our Courageous Conversation series, our team member resource groups that operate around the world. We had recently launched an internal site sharing our diversity and inclusion story and our multi-year commitments, publicly. We've also published a Mental Wellness Hub with really a one-stop shop for all of the resources, organized into categories. We've put out a wellness app for all of our team members. And so those are the things we do at scale for everyone, that we design within, you know, our--within our company as we push out to our hotels and corporate offices.

However, you know, I feel like the work of inclusion, of building a healthy culture, it's not something that a company can or should outsource to HR. Right? It's not like we magically flip a switch and build an inclusive and healthy culture. It's the work, I like to say, of many people and many lifetimes.

And so we have spent enormous amount of resources and tools and empowering our leaders to drive these conversations. And we ask them to do, you know, what we call the "honesty audit." You know, how inclusive are you? How diverse is your team? What are your knowledge gaps? Are you putting in place a healthy schedule and interaction model and practice for your team?

And then we encourage them to start a conversation around these topics. Right? And that takes courage, and it takes vulnerability, and it takes stepping out of your comfort zone at times and perhaps even admitting a mistake. But we encourage them in small, safe spaces within their team construct to really reach out and bridge the gap and normalize some of the conversations around inclusion, around race, around mental wellness.

And then by doing that, hopefully, we can all scale and leverage the resources and drive real change. Right? Because bold and courageous change requires the sort of honesty and soul-searching work of realizing where our gaps are, the willingness to rewire ourselves, unlearn bad habits, relearn new ones, to have an honest and safe conservation, and then to bring that forward at scale.

So we're trying to do both of those pieces of work, both within our organizational HR team and then helping our leaders really advance the work throughout our organization.

MR. SCOTT: I want to talk for a moment about multi-generational workforces. We know in America there's been increased interest in making sure that work environments do have people from different aspects of life. We know different generations tend to value different aspects about work culture and even the social values of the company that they work for. So can you talk a bit about how Hilton is considering these values and expectations of an age-diverse workplace?

MS. FUENTES: Yeah. You know, it's really--it's actually very cool. We do have five generations in the workplace right now. And in fact, at many of our hotels and corporate offices, we have multiple generations sometimes with the same family working on the Hilton team. And so we really honor this and celebrate it and respect that.

You know, as I mentioned, we look at our entire workforce and define diversity quite broadly, and we measure it quite broadly. So we're constantly looking at our demographic data, what are the generations, backgrounds, ethnicities, age groups that work at our properties and offices. We look at the attitudinal data, right, from our surveys. And we look at the behavioral data and how are people moving about, who are we hiring, who are we promoting, how are team members growing within our ecosystem.

And while we certainly look at this internally and externally, and notice certain unique trends amongst population, we also look at certain things that transcend all of our team members. And we've noticed increasingly that certain core needs and sort of core callings are common across geographies, across generations, and those are the need for inclusion, for health, growth, and a connection to a broader purpose.

So while there's, I think, a big emphasis being placed now on the belief-driven, the employee-driven generation, those things have been true for us since our founding. You know, Conrad Hilton, our founder over 100 years ago, you know, he believed that we could achieve world peace through travel, and I think that is so true today. Right? Our vision is fill the Earth with the light and warmth of hospitality, and it has been for over 100 years.

You know, 10-plus years ago, we put in place our values, and those guide every aspect of our recruitment, of our talent development, of who we promote, of who we celebrate, of the stories we tell. So we believe that purpose has actually been, and in particular over the last year and a half, two years in this COVID crisis, it has been the thing that has grounded us, unified us and helped us carry through, and I think actually has transcended every generation that works at our properties and our corporate offices. And I hear this when I connect with our team members around the world, that that has felt like our secret sauce. And it is as true for the millennials as it is for the baby boomers and everything and everyone in between.

MR. SCOTT: I want to turn to an audience question right now. We have Joan Eisenstadt from Washington D.C. She asks, how are you considering people with disabilities and those over 50 in your recruitment efforts?

MS. FUENTES: Yeah, what a great question. Thank you, Joan. We have long held the belief that, you know, our goal is to bring the very best people and diverse perspectives to our teams so that we may serve better the needs of our guests. Right? The business case for us in diversity is super clear. When our team members of all walks of life feel welcomed, heard, respected, and taken care of, that is how they will make our guests feel.

And so in particular and relevant to your question, we have partnered with the NOD over many years. We have an abilities team member resource group that helps us think about how to welcome people over 50, welcome people with disabilities and different abilities into our ecosystem, make sure that our recruitment processes are as inclusive as possible, and make sure therefore that the experience that we deliver for our guests and that our products are as inclusive as possible. So we look at those populations like any others, a source of richness and perspective and insight and strength, ultimately, for us, and a source of talent that can reach their fullest potential at Hilton.

So we have adapted our recruitment process as necessary, and we leverage those team members like we would any other group to serve our guests in the best possible way and help us innovate as well.

MR. SCOTT: I want to talk a bit about diversity in the workplace. That's been a topic you mentioned earlier. And there's been increased attention to the absence of diversity among business executives in a lot of companies here in the U.S. Seventy-two percent of business executives in the U.S. are White, and companies are trying to, you know, hire diversity officers to fix that. I would love to hear some of the key ways in which you all are ensuring that the boardrooms are diverse, C-suites are diverse, that there's diversity at the highest levels at Hilton.

MS. FUENTES: Yeah, what a great question. That's one where we spend a ton of time. Right? We know that at Hilton we're diverse by nature; we need to be inclusive by choice. Right? And, make sure that we're seeing that representation at every level of the organization. That starts at the top. Our board is actually very, very focused and intentional about this work, and we see that trickle down from our CEO and board, all the way down.

As I mentioned, we recently, actually, pushed out our multi-year commitments in this space, and that is to achieve at our senior leadership levels, gender parity and‑‑globally, and within the U.S. a 25 percent ethnic diversity at our leadership levels within the next 5 years. And hopefully, we will exceed those targets.

The way that we get there I think is by being very intentional and deliberate about every step of the talent life cycle, from a broader and more intentional recruitment process to, you know, similar goals at every step of our leadership development journey, to conversations with our team member resource groups and managers around how to create an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive, and also like to driving bolder actions around promotions, hiring decisions, stretch assignments, mentoring assignments.

And so we're doing this now with a lot of discipline, and we're constantly benchmarking ourselves. We've been on this journey for now, you know, over 7, 10 years, looking at partnerships with Diversity, Inc., with Great Place to Work, these external auditors, if you will, that will tell us where are you falling short, how do you compare to other companies. We don't like to only look at ourselves relative to hospitality. These organizations help us look across the talent marketplace to make sure that we're faring well and driving the progress and the commitment that we'd like to see.

So we've got a long ways to go, and the work is never done. Right? I like to think this is the work of many lifetimes and many people. But I think we're making progress, and we've got the right discipline and focus on it now to help achieve that. And by making our goals public, we've actually shared with our team members internally, and hopefully those future team members that will join us, that our commitment is real, our progress is steadfast, and our focus is relentless. Now we need to be patient with how that occurs, but I think also disruptive in the process and courageous in how we do that.

So the work is laid out for us. You know, we're incredibly proud of some of the progress we've made this year. You know, Diversity, Inc. named us the number one company on their list, and it's an incredibly rigorous process and very data-driven. But we don't want to rest on our laurels, and we know that in spite of that there is still much work to be done. So we're counting that forward with that intensive focus on our talent life cycle.

MR. SCOTT: You've obviously shared a lot about how Hilton is responding to this current moment and making the workplace as positive of an environment as possible. But you know, when you think about progress on all the issues over the last few years, what are some other American companies, Hilton excluded, that you think are getting right and maybe even some that you might think could improve quite significantly on these issues?

MS. FUENTES: Yeah. You know, it's interesting. I mean, I think the level of discourse has been raised. Right? The war for talent is real, and it is probably more intense than it ever has been.

And I find actually a lot of inspiration and learning from what other companies are doing. I think, you know, we're all out there trying to do our best and, in fact in many instances, collaborating with one another. And when I see the very best of corporate America and the corporate and private sector, it is, you know, whether we are sharing learnings, sharing best practices, collaborating in times of deep crisis like I mentioned earlier.

And so those companies that sort of are willing to open-source their approach to building a better world, frankly, are the ones that have my admiration and that I tend to seek out, you know, thought partnership with. And we partner with many of them, you know, in the products that we offer and the support that we offer our team members

Now, you know, I also think it's not for me to say who's getting it right and who's getting wrong. I think there's many players out there that are doing both things. And frankly, if you're pushing yourself, you're probably going to get some things right and some things wrong along the journey. And I think being vulnerable enough and honest enough with that along the way, what has worked, what hasn't worked, even though we all compete for talent, but being able to share that along the journey is incredibly powerful as well.

So I look across sectors. I look across industries, from tech to financial services. I worked in different sectors and were part of many different consortiums where those learnings are shared and we learn from one another. So I'm very encouraged by my peers in this space, in human resources, as every aspect of our work is really being upended and challenged right now.

MR. SCOTT: Well, I really appreciate you taking time to come speak with us and to share so much about what Hilton is doing and planning to do in the future, and I hope to have you back in the future.

MS. FUENTES: Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure, Eugene. Thank you for your work and for having me here.

MR. SCOTT: Awesome. We are out of town, and so we--out of time. So we'll have to leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us.

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I’m Eugene Scott. Thank you for watching.