In response to the ongoing
coronavirus outbreak and its unprecedented impact to business and employers,
i4cp holds a weekly series of standing calls to help Diversity & Inclusion leaders navigate this unpredictable
The July 7th weekly i4cp Diversity & Inclusion Action
Call welcomed special guest Corinne Abramson of Choice Hotels International.
Abramson serves as the organization’s National Inclusion Director and Senior
Director of Culture, Inclusion & Engagement.
Call leader and i4cp Chief Diversity Officer Board Chair
Jacqui Robertson opened her interview of Abramson by asking about Choice
Hotels, one of the world’s largest franchisors. The organization’s properties
include about 7,000 hotels across 40 countries worldwide, with about 6,000 of
those located in the U.S. Choice Hotels International brands range from economy
to upscale hotels and include such recognizable names as Clarion, Comfort,
Quality Inn, Rodeway Inn, Ascend, and Cambria.
While franchisees’ employees staff the various hotel
properties, Choice Hotels’ corporate associates (employees) number about 1,400
people, primarily located near the company’s headquarters in Rockville, MD, and
Phoenix, AZ. Abramson leads initiatives centered on culture, inclusion and
engagement for those associates and is part of the talent and HR team at Choice
Key Ideas Shared Today:
acknowledged that safety and cleanliness of hotel facilities are key
considerations for travelers during the COVID-19 health crisis.
Underscoring the value of external partnerships, she explained that Choice
Hotels is participating in a hospitality industry consortium to develop
best practices. At the same time, the organization is taking additional
actions on its own to ensure that its brand standards are adhered to.
Helping ensure execution of that goal, brand captains at each hotel
property provide support and guidance to employees as they work to deliver
top levels of safety and cleanliness while also adjusting to a changed
work world and shifting consumer expectations.
- Resource groups continue the momentum of established
inclusion practices. “We
take inclusion seriously,” says Abramson, noting that the commitment was
instituted by Choice Hotels’ founder and has been part of the
organization’s DNA for eight decades. Eleven core employee resource
groups (called Choice Resource Groups, or CRGs) support themes of culture,
talent, and business impact. Group chairs work together to coordinate and
perpetuate best practices.
At the onset of the pandemic, Abramson
says, those group leaders collaborated on ways to engage members virtually, and
demonstrated agility and flexibility in crafting strategies to offer support to
employees who were alone, had well-being issues, were challenged with children
at home, or had other needs. Group leaders looked at how to leverage and adapt
programs and practices already in place to better support those with particular
needs while also considering the broader organization as well.
strategies prove popular. A coffee klatch that connects people across the
organization, an Executive Story Hour to help working parents provide
diversions and entertainment for their kids, and mental well-being
programs that include breathing breaks and meditation and yoga sessions,
proved popular interventions that enhanced relationships company-wide (and
beyond to employees’ families) while also providing much-needed support.
“Our Working Parents group actually
stood itself up during this time because they saw the needs of those employees
grow so quickly,” Abramson says, adding that the new group became the first to
sponsor a virtual event. In addition, it has brought together parents of
same-aged children to share their own best practices as a means of peer
interaction and support.
Choice Hotels’ Young Professionals
group sent out a note on day one of the shift to virtual work, communicating
about best practices to combat loneliness and stay engaged, recommending
resources, offering positive quotes, and more. “They have put out one of those
newsletters every day since March 13th,” Abramson reports. Such
responses to the health crisis have been a strength for the organization, she
and compassion are watchwords. When considering the unique needs of working parents,
HR encouraged Choice Hotels leaders from the outset to recognize that
resources formerly in place to help those parents had suddenly fallen
away. Schools and daycare facilities closed, nannies and childcare
personnel were unavailable, and even grandparents were not accessible as
Says Abramson, “We were learning
how to navigate this pandemic. We weren’t necessarily looking for balance, but
just trying to find a flow – allowing people to be creative. We encouraged
associates to talk with their managers and communicate their situations with an
eye toward working more flexibly. People were able to give themselves grace and
express their needs, then work with their leaders to create solutions.”
those Executive Story Hours... Abramson and a colleague host the Executive Story
Hours which children of employees attend with their family member. The
kids are greeted by name at each session. Kicked off by the Chief HR
Officer, participation has included readings by the leader of upscale
brands, the Chief Legal Counsel, Chief Financial Officer, a Board member,
the chairman’s wife, and others.
Abramson says the participating executives
and other readers really enjoy their roles and each puts his or her own
signature on the experience. “They read with drama and alliteration. Our CHRO
chose a story about his personal family heritage to share, and we’ve had some
moments of real emotion.”
Also on today’s Action Call:
about the support provided for leaders of ERGs/BRGs to ensure they are not
overburdened by the demands of leadership found that teamwork and support
from HR and others at Choice Hotels helps groups carry out strategies to
meet members’ needs without placing undue pressure on leaders.
health support for Choice Hotels employees includes an EAP program, and
the number of available counseling sessions has been increased to address
added needs driven by the pandemic. Expanded marketing of counseling
availability was done through the CRGs’ SharePoint sites (each group has
its own dedicated site) to enhance communication and awareness.
Hotels also instituted well-being days which afford time off for employees
in need of a break to regenerate. Requests are handled by employees’
poll during the Action Call asked about organizations’ responses to
resurgence of COVID-19 cases and found 46% of respondents reporting that
government dictates directed their actions, while 39% said they were
slowing return-to-workplace plans, and 20% were increasing their COVID-19
i4cp survey results to a question about companies’ methods of ensuring
greater diversity in succession planning (in light of social unrest
related to racial inequities) noted top strategies of reviewing job
requirements and qualifications for bias and including development of
diverse talent in managers’ performance expectations. Considering ERG/BRG
leadership as a factor in succession selection was called out as a next
practice of high-performance organizations.
In addition to this recording, please see these resources: