Howard University’s Leadership Program Aspires To  Diversify C-suites In The Hospitality Industry
Photo Credit: Gustavo Fring

Howard University’s Leadership Program Aspires To Diversify C-suites In The Hospitality Industry

Josh Rodgers

Josh Rodgers.
Oct 17, 2022.

Sponsored article co-written by PwC


An experiential learning program designed to build pathways, prepare students for future executive-level positions and improve diversity in the hospitality industry.

Howard University, a prominent Historically Black College and University (HBCU), prides itself as one of the world’s leading institutions for professionals in business, health, science, engineering, the arts, law and education. For more than 150 years, the university has a history of advocating for social justice and architecting social change. Howard University’s mission is forthright: “prepare scholars to learn, lead and embody excellence in truth and service.”

With goals and a mission such as those, The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation (The Marriott Foundation) knew Howard was the right place to carry on the legacy of its late CEO, Arne Sorenson, after his passing in 2021. Arne was passionate about improving diversity in the hospitality industry — especially in leadership positions. 

To put action behind that passion, the foundation presented Howard University with a $20 million endowment to create the Marriott-Sorenson Center for Hospitality Leadership in the School of Business. The center’s objective is to provide students with leadership skills and experience to help build a pipeline to diversity in the C-suite levels of the hospitality industry.

C-suites Should Be Representative Of The Country

Howard University and the Marriott Foundation are helping to shine a light on the underrepresentation and challenges faced within the hospitality industry. According to Castell Project’s report on Black Representation in Hospitality Leadership, Black employees currently hold less than 2% of executive leadership positions, though they represent 13.6% of hospitality industry employment. 

“The need for US C-suites to be more diverse is urgent and necessary, and we are in the position to help hold the industry accountable,” said Dr. Anthony D. Wilbon, Dean of the Howard University School of Business.

The institutions set out to find a professional consultant with experience in the industry to advise them on establishing and launching a hospitality leadership program. The goal: to answer questions about current gaps and challenges that can hinder executive-level growth for Black employees.

Why PwC?

PwC proposed an innovative method to execute the project, which brought in the firm’s hospitality subject matter specialists and its collaborative ways of working across business, experience and technology (BXT). The firm was selected based on its human-led approach to helping the team blueprint a purpose-driven pipeline from the ground up.

PwC has a long-standing relationship with Howard University. From its previous pro bono activities to its current internship and entry-level role recruiting, PwC understands that the university stands for excellence, leadership, service and truth and shares its commitment to equity. PwC also felt that in order to be successful, the solution should start with the people who would be most impacted by the center.

Perspective Is Critical When Designing A Program for Change

Working with Howard University and The Marriott Foundation, PwC organized and led a virtual design workshop, hosting over 85 hospitality industry C-suite executives and entrepreneurs who shared their thoughts, experiences and hopes for what the center could become. Additionally, Howard’s president, provost, dean of the business school, faculty, administration and business students joined to listen and provide inspiration for creating a differentiated program.

The workshop opened with honest discussions on how to effect change in executive suite diversity, how to acknowledge and address Black history related to the industry and how to put an active spotlight on racial equity. The dialogue helped create trust within the group, providing an emotionally safe space for candid conversations to help address a critical industry issue and opportunity. The energy and response from attendees demonstrated the center’s likelihood to succeed.

“The gathering of some of the industry’s ‘who’s who’ was a response to Arne’s call but also a recognition that Howard University was in a great position to hold the hospitality industry accountable on inclusion and diversity,” said PwC Partner, Lawrence Ballard.

Howard University Is Driving Innovation Around How Students Learn

The workshop’s findings gave the university and foundation a basis to build the leadership program. PwC helped categorize these findings to create the vision, structure, implementation plans and growth goals. 

The center won’t serve as a new degree-granting program. Instead, it will be a space to train students outside of a formal major. Each year, the leadership program will identify a cohort of business school students to become immersed in the hospitality industry. These students are expected to participate in extracurricular activities, internships and externships to learn the practices associated with hospitality leadership onsite to supplement classroom learning experiences.

To create an executive-level pipeline, training students solely within hotel management simply isn’t enough. With the input of Howard University, The Marriott Foundation and key industry leaders, PwC helped design the leadership program to focus on three main immersion pillars: 1) investment lending and asset management, 2) data and tech, and 3) entrepreneurship and innovation. These can allow students to learn about the layers of the industry, including how data and analytics drive hotel occupancy and real estate decisions, or how the global economy is shaping hotel owners’ and operators’ investments and strategic partnerships. 

Howard University and The Marriott Foundation desire to provide students a better view of the aspects and inner workings of a multi-billion dollar industry, spanning not just hotels, but food and beverage, travel, tourism, real estate and enterprises as well. By design, the program aims to, “set students up with the proper skill sets and experiences to pursue elevated career paths in a variety of professions,” said Lawrence Ballard whether that be in hospitality management, finance or entrepreneurship.

The Center For Hospitality Serves As A Model For Academic Development

The first business school cohort is set to start its leadership program in the fall of 2022. The center has already received positive feedback, student participation requests and offers to help it expand.

Throughout history, there has been a negative connotation associated with Black servitude in the US which extends into the hospitality industry. At the onset of this program’s development, the tension around service and servitude showed. Dr. Wilbon shared that when speaking with Howard University students or hearing about their conversations at home on what they wanted to pursue in life, hospitality wasn’t among the top choices.

Program leaders have made it their mission to inspire students, change their view of what a career in hospitality could be, raise awareness of the many different businesses that fall into the industry and get students excited about future C-suite opportunities.

Using BXT co-creation and collaboration techniques, stakeholders across Howard University, The Marriott Foundation and PwC led the initial blueprint in designing a program built for purpose. It serves as a starting point for conscious change. These future leaders can help bring diversity of thought, perspective and approach to executive discussions across the industry — a proven way to help make businesses more successful.

PwC’s community of solvers untangles some of the world’s most complex problems. See what happens when unique perspectives lead to unexpected ways to thrive.