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Diversity in Hospitality, Travel & Leisure: Q&A with Tea Colaianni

Posted on 21 March 2023



"The hospitality sector crosses borders and cultures, and its people are at the very heart of its success.

By investing in their people and ensuring employees feel they belong while freely being themselves, organisations

guarantee advantageous outcomes for all."

- Tea Colaianni

Tea Colaianni is a highly respected leader in the hospitality and travel industries, with a wealth of experience advocating for diversity and inclusion in these sectors. Over the course of her 30-year career, she has held executive roles with world-renowned hotels.


Tea Photo - October 2021 3
Tea's passion for promoting diversity led her to become the Founder and Chair of WiHTL - Diversity in Hospitality, Travel, and Leisure, an organisation promoting diversity and inclusion in the hospitality, travel, and leisure industries, regardless of gender or background. The organisation offers a range of initiatives, programs, and events designed to support women's professional development and advancement, and welcomes the participation and support of men in these efforts. WiHTL collaborates with leading companies and industry bodies to drive progress in areas such as gender pay equality and female representation in leadership roles. Ultimately, WiHTL's goal is to build a more inclusive and diverse industry that offers equal opportunities for all individuals.


Through her extensive experience and expertise, Tea has become a sought-after voice for issues related to diversity and inclusion in hospitality and travel, and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with her.



How does WiHTL help hotel owners and hospitality venues create more equitable workplace policies?


WiHTL's Advisory Board is made up of some of the most influential leaders within the hospitality sector from businesses such as IHG, Hilton, Compass and Bourne Leisure. Such invaluable insights sourced directly from within the industry, ignite robust conversation, innovation and a clear focus on how to course-correct if needed. These discussions help form a framework for WiHTL’s initiatives which, in turn, are fed back into the Community.


To deep dive into creating and adapting policies for a more equitable workplace, WiHTL has launched five committees: R&E, ENG, Data & Insights, HR Leaders and Accessibility. These committees meet regularly to fine-tune ideas and share best practices and problem-solving. While larger members have in-house resources such as data and insights teams and can produce engagement surveys and other internal initiatives to capture the broader picture around employee demographics to advance policy-making, smaller members do not. Everybody benefits from sharing and learning from each other.


Being part of the WiHTL Community provides access to a multitude of resources that are available through our online platform and helps bridge any potential knowledge and resource gaps in order to facilitate policy-making.


How has WiHTL successfully bridged the gap between hospitality employers and diverse employees?


WiHTL is unique in bringing together organisations within the hospitality sector whose shared mission is to create a diverse and inclusive work environment and to positively impact employees working in this dynamic sector. Having started with a handful of Founding Members in 2016, WiHTL has grown to 76 members, reaching over 2.6 million employees, and continues to grow. Hospitality Members include hotel chains, catering companies, and pubs and restaurants within the UK but also large multinationals.


After five years of rapidly evolving, WiHTL has expanded from being gender focused to covering a broad range of DE&I topic areas. Research, reports, webinars and events cover aspects of gender, race and ethnicity, LGBTQ+ and ability, but also look into more nuanced topics such as imposter syndrome, mental well-being, menopause and allyship. Ideas for content and resources come directly from the Community – we listen and then we act.


WiHTL Member LogosBy creating a Collaboration Community, WiHTL has facilitated communication and knowledge-sharing within the hospitality sector and provides a safe space for open and direct discussion about DE&I issues which has led to the Community developing solutions together. The power of this Community should not be underestimated. Members regularly share their successes in improving the representation of underrepresented groups, on new inclusion initiatives and how they have raised the profiles of their team members who have upskilled directly with WiHTL via our groundbreaking leadership development programmes. 


WiHTL has designed leadership development programmes aimed at different seniority levels so that the trickle-down effect reaches as many employees as possible. The Ethnic Future Leaders Programme targets those preparing to take on increasing levels of responsibility and greater challenges as they move into more senior leadership/management roles. The Global Women Leaders Programme is a unique, comprehensive, cross-industry programme designed to provide a series of experiences and learning opportunities to support career progression for high-potential female leaders in the HTL industry. The Ethnic Senior Leaders Programme supports and prepares ethnic senior leaders for promotion to the Executive Board level, and the Women NED Programme is specifically designed to prepare women C-suite leaders for non-executive director (NED) roles within the hospitality sector and support them in understanding the skills required.


Each programme brings together employees from different member organisations as well as their line managers, and senior executives who act as sponsors and cross-industry mentors thereby creating new professional networks, mentors and access to senior leadership for career guidance and advice. By engaging in these programmes and getting involved with our different committees, diverse individuals are helping shape the culture of their organisations and contributing to the creation of an inclusive industry that welcomes and gives opportunities to grow and progress for all. 


What strategies can hoteliers and hospitality venues adopt to drive greater diversity in their workforce?


Great strides have been taken in recent years to create awareness around diversity and with noted success. However, the story does not end there. Improved data collection and reporting on diverse employees have ticked boxes but are only the first step. Moving the dial to increase the numbers of diverse employees will soon falter if it is not supported by the three essential pillars in an organisation’s people strategy: inclusion, equity and belonging


The baseline is having a thorough understanding of the diversity of talent already working for an organisation and this falls to collecting employee data. It is evident that “what gets measured, gets done” and by having the facts to hand, leaders can make informed decisions based on solid data. WiHTL’s Data & Insight Committee meets regularly to discuss how this can be approached most effectively.


Shining the spotlight on role models from underrepresented diverse backgrounds is a profound and highly effective way in which to encourage and inspire colleagues from these groups to reach for their career goals without burden or impediment. WiHTL produces an annual Women to Watch & Roles Models for Inclusion in HTL Index profiling women who have succeeded in their ambitions and who show, quite simply, that it can be done. The Index is a compilation of interviews revealing their personal journeys and challenges and is a great guideline for those at earlier stages of their career. The Role Models for Inclusion are celebrated as individuals who have advocated for positive change within their organisations towards a diverse and equitable workplace.


Investing in people through training and development programmes reaps rewards in many ways and is the most effective way of embedding DE&I strategy into an organisation’s culture. New-found confidence and self-belief gained by employees who complete such programmes are often diffused throughout their organisation upon completion of the programme. As an example, former delegates on WiHTL’s leadership programmes have instigated their own DE&I initiatives within their organisations, some have been promoted, and many return to support WiHTL initiatives and events as panel speakers or role models, amplifying the message still further within the membership community.


Finally, keep up with frequently evolving changes in the DE&I sphere. HR/DE&I Leaders benefit enormously from the support of an expert partner such as WiHTL who can provide support at any stage of an organisation’s DE&I journey.


How do you envision the future of WiHTL over the coming years?


As highlighted in our 2022 Annual Report, WiHTL’s key strength is its reach within the hospitality sector and therefore its ability to make a meaningful industry-wide impact. We have an incredible pipeline of initiatives and programmes that will continue to contribute to the acceleration of industry-wide progress both in terms of representation and inclusion. The WiHTL Community continues to grow and so will our ability to positively impact those working within our industry. 


WiHTL’s mission of reaching 5 million employees in the hospitality sector by 2025 was born from a passion for this vibrant and multi-faceted industry in which employees from all walks of life can create enduring and fulfilling careers. The hospitality sector crosses borders and cultures, and its people are at the very heart of its success. By investing in their people and ensuring employees feel they belong while freely being themselves, organisations guarantee advantageous outcomes for all.


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