Marriott: Honoring the MLK Dream of Inclusion

Originally Published on LinkedIn.

By Arne Sorenson, CEO, Marriott International

I’m reflecting on the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today and his eloquent, prophetic, and courageous words about a time when all Americans would have an opportunity for advancement.

As we celebrate what would have been Dr. King’s 90th birthday, I am struck both by how far we have come as a nation and also by the fact that, incredibly, the inclusive world he believed in is something the country is still striving toward 50 years after his passing.


Marriott International is 91 years old. And while we didn’t use words like diversity and inclusion when we started back in 1927, we have long believed in welcoming all.

Early on, we established a corporate creed: Take care of your associates and they will take care of your guests and your guests will keep coming back.

What we meant by that was: build careers for your people. Let them activate their potential, no matter where they come from.The company will thrive as a result.

That is our cultural heritage and it’s a powerful one that we will always protect and preserve.

When I started at the company in 1996, the stories I heard in the board room were about associates who rose from entry-level, hourly jobs to become executives. We celebrate those success stories.

At Marriott, no matter where you start or who you are, you have the opportunity to move and grow in your career. The culture feeds inclusiveness. Everyone has a chance.

Of course, we are still a work in progress. In my six years as chief executive officer, I have learned some valuable lessons.

First, if you want your company to reflect diversity and inclusiveness, it’s imperative to set a board-level priority. Chief executives have to set the tone and the expectations at the top of the organization because that’s where change starts.

On our board of directors almost half of our directors are diverse, but even more importantly, more than 15 years ago, we established a Board-level committee to advance our progress in this space.

Our Committee for Excellence, chaired by Debra Lee, former chairman and chief executive officer of BET Networks and a Marriott director, monitors our progress and evaluates our efforts to promote an increasingly diverse workforce and owner, customer and supplier community.

Next, set goals and make them stretch goals.

In our system, we have more than 1,300 diverse and women-owned hotels, for example, and our goal is to reach 1,500 by 2020. We have a goal of gender parity by 2025 among our vice presidents and above. And we aim to reach $1 billion in purchasing from diverse suppliers annually by 2020. In 2017, we spent $656 million with women, minority, veteran, LGBT, and disability-owned businesses across the globe.

We are also working hard to grow cultural competence among our associates. That means working closely with our associates in the 130 countries and territories around the world where we operate and ensuring that they are educated in different cultural norms and protocols.

Finally, with ambitious goals in place, walk the talk. Nothing will change if you don’t hold people accountable, design executable strategies and act. Develop a robust talent pipeline, insist on diverse slates when hiring and grow your talent.

I chair Marriott’s Executive Global Diversity and Inclusion Council, which creates organizational accountability where leaders “own” the achievement of diversity and inclusion outcomes.

We were the first hospitality company to establish a formal diversity and inclusion program 30 years ago. There will always be more we can do. But we are pushing forward.

Dr. King dreamed of a day when everyone would feel a sense of belonging. In this disturbing time, when there is so much strife and discord, building a sense of togetherness could not be more important.

Thank you, Dr. King, and happy birthday.

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