IHG wanted to break the historic cycle of female under-representation in senior leadership positions. So, in 2017, the hospitality giant launched the RISE mentorship program.
In an exclusive UNLEASH interview, Karin Sheppard, managing director of Europe at IHG, shares how proud she is of RISE.
She shares that hospitality as a sector “has been traditionally male dominated, because of its historically inflexible hours and demanding nature”, but IHG “wanted to create a future where aspiring female general managers are able to rise up and succeed in achieving their ambition”.
Over the past six years, 130 female leaders have participated in RISE, and 100 have graduated; third of those have been promoted as a result of the program.
One particular success story comes from Mareke Watson, general manager of Holiday Inn Express, Munich West – she now serves as a next generation member of IHG’s global DEIB board.
Sheppard shares that she often crosses paths with RISE alumnae; “Hearing their experiences and stories firsthand further convinces me of the real-life career benefits of this fantastic initiative.”
For the $3.9 billion company, RISE is a huge win. “It also positively benefits the company as a whole: by having a broad range of perspectives, we’re able to solve problems in different ways and cater better for a wider range of guests”, shares Sheppard.
Secrets to DEIB success at IHG
Given IHG’s laser focus on creating career paths for everyone, and particularly historically under-represented groups, it is no surprise that diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) is top of mind for IHG.
Sheppard sees her role as European MD as “removing barriers” to enable employees, and the organization as a whole, to flourish. The key to this is listening to feedback, taking action and applying learnings in the DEIB space.
“It is not just an open-ear approach that ensures our success; it is also about actively supporting people from under-represented backgrounds to leadership positions and providing them with the tools they need to get there”, notes Sheppard.
Sheppard leads by example here, but IHG as an organization has been, and continues to, work hard to ensure its leadership team buys into the importance of DEIB, and is itself diverse, and represents the employee base, as well as IHG customers.
Partnerships like The Network of Networks, and Women in Hospital and Leisure (WiHTL) are essential here.
However, while leadership has a role to play, for Sheppard and IHG, everyone has the “responsibility and power” to drive forward with an inclusive culture – this explains why IHG has rolled out its conscious inclusion training beyond managers, and to all staff in corporate and the frontline.
Plus, IHG has leaned heavily into employee resource groups (ERGs). These are central to all conversations at IHG around DIEB – across 24 groups, there are 1,300 members and allies worldwide. This remains a very small proportion (0.4%) of IHG’s 350,000 workforce, unfortunately, but IHG is working on getting them adapted into the hotels; “we cannot learn to improve without the crucial work that they do”, notes Sheppard.
For Sheppard, the ERGs are “going from strength to strength, connecting and supporting our corporate colleagues”, and “where it makes sense, colleagues are encouraged to create new ERGs” – for instance, IHG recently launched HYPE for early careers.
The future of DEIB at IHG
IHG has had huge success to date; its 2022 listening survey found that nine in ten employees felt like IHG has an inclusive culture.
In terms of the ‘E’ in DEIB, IHG has received a 100% score on the Human Right Campaign’s Equality index for the eighth year in a row.
But IHG is not resting on its laurels. The employer is always testing out new initiatives and programs across Europe, and further afield.
For instance, prayer and meditation rooms in UK hotels, British sign language courses, and training under-privileged women in France to become chefs.
Sheppard concludes: “To continue to grow as a business, it is key we are attracting and retaining the very best people – and we know that they are searching for diverse and inclusive workplaces”.
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