When it comes to hiring diverse talent, HVMG seems to have it down pat. 50% of the HVMG’s executive leadership team are women. 45% of their general managers are women. And HVMG received a surge of BIPOC associates since the beginning of 2020, particularly in exempt level roles across the company.
We sat down with Sunny Larkin-Woody, Director of Talent Excellence at Hospitality Ventures Management Group, who shared that these successes were somewhat unintentional. She credits a focus on candidate skill set, on partnering with local BIPOC and fringe communities, on cultivating a collaborative culture, and on establishing consistent recruiting processes for the significant increases in diverse talent across all levels at HVMG.
Sunny shares how their holistic and “unintentional” approach led to such impactful results.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: So Sunny, tell us a little bit about your current diversity hiring goals and initiatives. What has been the focus and who’s involved in the effort?
Sunny: When I look at a recruiting plan or what goals we’re trying to fill, I like to be completely inclusive, and so while diversity and inclusion is important, that is already part of what I’m looking at.
So for example, we have our BIPOC recruiting, we have a great partnership here in Atlanta with Agnes Scott College, with Spellman, and actually they’re all connected. They have one career development center, which is really cool. And so we’ve gotten really well connected with them.
But when you think about what diversity means on an inherent level, it’s the things that make us different and, so when I look at recruiting and when we are getting suggestions to our general managers to recruit, I have them look at the people that no one else is.
One of the things that I am most proud of is we started really thinking about those who are not eligible for any kind of unemployment or government stimulus. Where are those fringe communities?
The fringe community is a lot bigger than we think it is. We have kids coming into independent living situations that are transitioning out of the foster care system. They do have to have a job, they’re not eligible for any of these benefits because they’ve never worked before. So we have one of our hotels really partnering with the Department of Social Services in their local community to provide that.
We are partnering with refugee centers in multiple locations, because again these individuals are looking for jobs, they’re not eligible for these unemployment benefits. Because we’re applying that now more broadly, and as we ramp out of whatever phase of the pandemic we find ourselves, we’ve been really looking at the fringe communities that you may not think to target.
I think the other thing to note too, when it comes to diversity and inclusion and what we’re hoping for, it’s really improved because we wanted to highlight the right person for the job, and we have focused on skill.
I think it was the University of Michigan and MIT and a handful of universities, they started this program called STRIDE (Strategies and Tactics for Recruiting to Improve Diversity and
Excellence), and it is the science behind recruiting and how it’s impact and focusing on the skillset actually makes your hiring more diverse in those initiatives.
It’s been a really interesting experience to see such noticeable impacts. My CRHO, Sue, she was the first woman on our executive team ten years ago, now we’re split 50/50, and even in my time with HVMG, I started in January 2020; we went from 35% female GMs to 45% GMs, and in probably three days it’s going to be 55%, because we’re getting ready to make some offers.
SUNNY LARKIN-WOODY, DIRECTOR OF TALENT EXCELLENCE
Q: Has that approach always been ingrained at HVMG and been expanded upon now since 2020?
Sunny: What’s changed for us since 2020 is that now we have a centralized function that can communicate and collaborate. So we went through this strategic initiative for sourcing, and my team put together a list of vocational schools, high school programs that train kids for the workforce post high schools, because they’re not college bound for whatever reason, such as these organizations that support victims of domestic violence. Again, kind of in that halfway house situation, they have to have employment.
So I would say that there have been thoughts of this, but having this centralized focus and communication has elevated it in a way that we have not done before. So I think that has probably been the most critical part, but I would certainly say it’s always been ingrained with who HVMG is.
Q: What are some lessons and advice you would share to other employers who are now launching or even expanding upon their diversity efforts?
Sunny: I would say first and foremost, really understand where your own biases lie. Take time… we all have them. It’s about being really honest with yourself. If you always start with yourself when you’re approaching a situation, and it’s not going the way that you want it to, usually there’s a reason, and it’s better to look internally first than externally and really seek to understand.
I would say the other thing is, no idea’s a bad idea. I’ve had my fair share of wild ideas, some of them were terrible: they were a great idea, horrible on execution. But we were able to transition it into something that was more beneficial and more lucrative than I ever could have imagined. But it was because we failed forward that we were able to get there, and it made the victory that much better.
When it comes to focusing on diversity pieces, definitely stay up to date with what’s going on in the local community, on the national level. There are going to be times when we will offend each other, but again, being honest about your own shortcomings, and not letting your ego get in the way of that will help bridge the gap.
Be open to the fact that there are times when you’re going to have the capacity to teach someone how to do a job, and you might have a young woman with Downs Syndrome, and she loves to clean the lobby and she does it extremely well. Is she going to be the most outgoing? She may not, but she might.
But there are so many people that just need someone to take a chance on them and just need a little bit of coaching and training, and I’ve found those to be the most lucrative and they just bring the best out in everyone, because you’re not only taking care of the business, you’re taking care of another person that others have not given a chance to, for whatever reason. And you can’t really put a price on that.