We asked Marisa Milton, senior vice president, global talent acquisition and inclusive opportunity, Marriott International, a series of questions about the company’s diversity, inclusion and equity efforts. Milton provided specific examples and advice for others in the industry.

Women Leading Travel & Hospitality: What are some specific programs Marriott has put in place to promote diversity, inclusion and equity?
Marisa Milton: Since Marriott’s founding in 1927, our core value of putting people first and our deep commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion have guided how we interact with people and how we do business every day. This is the foundation that sustains our “TakeCare culture” and business success.

Over 30 years ago, Marriott led the hospitality industry in creating a formal, holistic diversity, equity and inclusion program with pioneering initiatives, strategic partnerships and the highest level of accountability. This focus ensures that all of our key stakeholders — associates, customers, owners and suppliers — experience opportunity, community and purpose throughout their engagement with Marriott. We were also one of the first companies in any industry, nearly two decades ago, to establish a board of directors-level committee that monitors and reports our progress on the integration of diversity, equity and inclusion throughout all aspects of our business. The committee is led by a Marriott board of directors’ member and former CEO of BET Networks, and is comprised of other board members, our CEO and Marriott senior leaders. Annual goals are established for each dimension of diversity, and progress is monitored with a diversity excellence scorecard and metrics related to associates, customers, owners and suppliers.

Marisa Milton, Senior Vice President, Global Talent Acquisition and Inclusive Opportunity, Marriott International

We have a wide variety of programs — some in place for decades — but first and foremost it’s our longstanding cultural foundation that guides our deep commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Since our founding as a small root beer stand in 1927, we’ve stayed true to our core value of putting people first and a simple philosophy: if we take care of our associates, they will take care of our customers, and our customers will come back. Our culture guides how we interact with people, how we do business every day, and how we respond to global challenges. With this foundation and accountability at the highest levels of our company, we work to ensure that all of our key stakeholders experience opportunity, community and purpose throughout their engagement with Marriott.

Today, I’ll share three examples of specific programs that promote diversity, equity and inclusion: Women’s Leadership Development Initiative established more than 20 years ago, Emerging Leader Program launched in 2014, and TakeCare Community Talks initiated last year.

Women’s Leadership Development Initiative

We were the first in our industry to establish a Women’s Leadership Development Initiative with a focus on policies, programs and practices that help build a strong pipeline of women leaders; offering networking and mentoring; and supporting the ability to effectively manage work and life.

Women hold some of the most significant profit and loss (P&L) and policy-making positions across our company, including president of Marriott International, a role that Stephanie Linnartz was promoted to in 2021. Of our CEO’s direct reports, 57 percent are women; of all global executives, 44 percent are women. By 2025, our goal is to achieve gender parity for the company’s entire global leadership team.

Emerging Leader Program (ELP)

ELP is our signature 12-month leadership development program. The goal of ELP is to ensure the development of our bench strength talent — our high-performing front-line leaders, senior leaders, and other managers who have demonstrated the ability to excel to higher levels of responsibility. Since its inception, ELP has been instrumental in building and increasing the number of women and people of color in leadership roles. Currently, there are over 1,200 ELP participants, and 100 percent have been promoted and/or selected for strategic developmental roles at various levels of management and in P&L roles with the company. ELP provides participants with customized, cross-discipline and cross-brand leadership development experiences. It brings together emerging talent who have a broad range of tenure and are at different career stages. It offers a blended learning experience with access to executive leaders, customized development plans, and tools and resources that enable participants to learn, grow and excel personally and professionally.

TakeCare Community Talks

As our company faced the most incredible hardships and business challenges this past year due to COVID-19, we faced another crisis and knew that taking a stand to address racial injustice must also be a top priority. In the summer of 2020, our CEO and global chief human resources officer joined other senior leaders to kick off a series of virtual town halls called TakeCare Community Talks. The purpose of the Community Talks is to transparently share associate feedback and senior leader perspectives on our fight against racism, the advancement of equality and justice in society, and Marriott’s role in these efforts. To inspire ongoing dialogue and courageous conversations, we encouraged associates to share their ideas for how we as a Marriott family can build on our efforts to fight racism and create real change. Their feedback has helped inform our Community Talks agendas. Thousands of global associates have attended the talks and thousands more have accessed the archives. Community Talks continue to be held on a regular basis.

WLT&H: What long-term goals do you hope to achieve through these programs? What does success look like?
MM: Marriott’s global diversity, equity and inclusion objectives that will drive success are to:

  • Create an environment where all associates, customers, owners and suppliers feel welcomed and embraced with opportunity across all aspects of our business.
  • Establish a supportive and inclusive work environment where associates are brought together by a common desire to experience opportunity, community and purpose.
  • Increase the presence of women and people of color in the highest levels of management and other key decision-making positions, as well as among hotel owners.

WLT&H: How do you track if your efforts and initiatives are working?
MM: Metrics to track our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts have been in place at Marriott for many years. To strengthen our commitment — made nearly two decades ago — we established a board of directors-level committee focused on advancing inclusive opportunities, with accountability metrics at the highest levels that include diversity goals tied to compensation and bonuses. The committee establishes annual goals for each dimension of diversity and monitors progress with a diversity excellence scorecard and metrics related to associates, customers, owners and suppliers. This scorecard is regularly reviewed and discussed at the highest levels of our company, including CEO staff meetings, board of directors’ meetings, and senior-level regional meetings.

The existence of this committee has resulted in a significant positive impact on our performance and evolution of diversity, equity and inclusion among our stakeholder groups, such as the following:

  • over 50 percent of Marriott’s board of directors and senior global leadership are diverse;
  • over 50 percent of our top U.S. leadership is diverse;
  • purpose-driven marketing showcasing our commitment to diversity, inclusion and social good;
  • 1,556 hotels are women- and diverse-owned; and
  • $6 billion-plus spent with diverse-owned suppliers over the past 10 years.

We’re also honored to be recognized externally for our diversity, equity and inclusion leadership, including becoming the first hospitality company to be inducted into the prestigious DiversityInc Hall of Fame in 2021.

WLT&H: What options for providing feedback do employees have? How do you encourage their involvement?
MM: Numerous avenues are open for Marriott associates to provide feedback on our diversity, equity and inclusion progress and initiatives, as well as other work environment efforts. Across our company, hotels have a variety of options for involvement in advisory teams, culture groups, daily stand-up meetings, general manager chat sessions, and much more. Globally, associate feedback is encouraged through our annual Associate Engagement survey with hands-on involvement in feedback sessions and action planning. Talent Network Teams (TNTs) also bring associates together to discuss and contribute ideas to solve business challenges and enhance Marriott’s culture of inclusion. And across our company, more than 12,000 TakeCare Champions, who have a passion for holistic well-being and a desire to inspire associate involvement, help promote initiatives that drive Marriott’s people-first culture.

Specifically related to diversity, equity and inclusion feedback, as mentioned earlier, our senior leaders offer a regular series of virtual town halls, TakeCare Community Talks. Associates are encouraged to share their perspectives, which Marriott senior leaders then share openly in the Community Talks.

WLT&H: In what ways do you ensure efforts are companywide, and not just a focus for HR?
MM: Marriott’s senior leaders have been outspoken advocates for equality and inclusion for decades, long before social pressures caused a swell in response. Our leaders’ willingness to voice perspectives and advocate strengthens Marriott’s long-standing reputation as a place of opportunity, community and purpose.

Leadership commitment is paramount. When the highest level of the organization is involved and treats diversity and inclusion as a strategic business imperative, it means that they understand the bottom-line benefits when the company is inclusive. It also sends a resounding signal to all stakeholders that this is important and critical to the success of the business.

Leadership engagement drives change. Thus, the tone from the top of the organization sets the course for adopting, maintaining and strengthening an environment of inclusion and opportunity. Along with establishing women and diverse leadership as a strategic priority, organizations must cascade leadership accountability so everyone is informed of the expectations. This requires establishing a strategy, goals and objectives, and programs to develop and accelerate talent within the organization. At Marriott, we operate in a culture of what gets measured gets done. The commitment from the top sets the tone for the rest of the organization.

Most recently, in response to the fight for racial justice and equity, we created a global, holistic strategy — Culture, Talent & Organization — to define company actions to increase cultural engagement, inclusive opportunity and talent development for all. We worked diligently to ensure all global associates had easy access to the many resources already in place to support this strategy, and to communicate new materials and talking points via town halls, Stay-in-Touch newsletters, intranet postings, videos and workplace briefings. These are in addition to our TakeCare Community Hub, which contains resources dedicated to promoting respect and kindness, mutual appreciation, and an uplifting sense of welcome and belonging among associates; global diversity training; unconscious bias resources; Culture Days to enhance awareness of diverse cultures; and more. While we have a long history as a diversity champion, we know there’s more we can — and must — accomplish to contribute to a society where everyone experiences equity, justice and inclusion.

WLT&H: What advice do you have for other travel and hospitality professionals? Why are these initiatives important for the industry?
MM: Creating a welcoming environment where everyone — associates and guests — feels they belong is critical for business success, especially in the hospitality and tourism industry. It’s equally important to have courageous and civic-minded leaders who respect and value individuals for their unique contributions and who influence and drive ownership and accountability.

Our advice to other travel and hospitality professional includes the following:

  • Leverage your associates, inspiring them to amplify your core values.
  • Provide associates with easily accessible and meaningful programs, tools and resources that will enable them to grow and develop.
  • Create a culture offering opportunity, community and purpose that supports the recruitment, retention and advancement of all associates.

Marisa Milton is senior vice president, global talent acquisition and inclusive opportunity for Marriott International. She has responsibility for global strategy, policies, processes, and performance of Marriott’s recruiting as well as for associate diversity and inclusion, HR compliance, temporary staffing and relocation.  

Since joining Marriott in 2011, Marisa has held progressively senior leadership positions in HR. Most recently, she was the regional vice president, human resources for Marriott Hotels of Canada, where she led all HR execution and strategy for all managed hotels in Canada. Marisa’s previous roles with Marriott were vice president of talent management for The Americas and vice president, HR policy, strategy and compliance.  

Prior to joining Marriott, Marisa was a partner at the law firm McGuiness & Yager in Washington, D.C., where she served as vice president of health care policy and government relations for the HR Policy Association. The Association represents chief human resource officers of more than 300 Fortune 500 companies. Earlier in her career, Marisa worked on Capitol Hill as a policy advisor to U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes and U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler. 

 Marisa earned her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. and graduated with a B.A. in psychology and sociology from Towson State University in Maryland. She resides in Washington, D.C. with her husband and son.