Marriott: Where everyone belongs

A description of how Marriott fostered inclusion by surfacing commonalities and differences.

The following story is an excerpt from the book, The five disciplines of inclusive leaders by Andrés Tapia and Alina Polonskaia. In this story we hear about fostering inclusion by surfacing commonalities and differences. To learn more about the profile of an inclusive leader and why they are so important in the journey to building a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization, click here.

Marriott International, the world’s largest hospitality company, has been putting people first since its earliest beginnings in 1927. “Take care of the associates (employees),” the company’s founder J. Willard Marriott would say, “and they will take care of the customers and the customers will return.” In fact, this idea of reciprocity—the idea of well cared-for associates taking good care of guests—has been the driving force behind Marriott’s extraordinary growth into a company now valued in excess of $20 billion. It is also the foundation of Marriott’s inclusive culture today.

Above this foundational people-first value, there are two broad themes currently shaping Marriott’s culture. One of these themes is based on commonalities—on the core longings that people have, despite their differences. The other theme is based on the differences, as Marriott celebrates the qualities and experiences that make each of its employees and guests unique.

Inclusion by surfacing commonalities

Marriott’s Executive Vice President and Global Chief Human Resources Officer, David Rodriguez, is also a PhD in industrial/organizational psychology. From his informed perspective, the key to inclusion is a culture of shared values. But as he explains: “It can’t be imposed on a company or defined retroactively. Debating the kind of culture you should have is likely the wrong discussion. The real discussion should be about how you champion your core values. The culture will follow.”

Rodriguez develops strategies based on his and the company’s belief that everyone wants community, purpose, and opportunity:


The holistic wellbeing program TakeCare, launched in 2010, is one way in which the company fosters a sense of community among the 730,000+ people worldwide who wear a Marriott badge of some kind. TakeCare comprises a broad spectrum of initiatives, including activities focused on stress management, exercise and fitness, nutrition and weight management, financial wellbeing, career advancement, engagement, team building and inclusion.

In 2019, Marriott “gamified” the program with TakeCare Level130, an app-based wellbeing challenge available for associates and guests. Players can partner up and compete to help build positive, rewarding behaviors like meditation, reading, and movement into a daily routine. Marriott also established a Healthy Hotel Certification program to publicly recognize hotels for creating a healthy work environment for their associates.


Marriott celebrates associates who go above and beyond to meet the needs of their guests and to serve the communities in which they operate. To provide access to opportunities to serve, Serve 360 was rolled out as a social impact platform addressing some of the world’s most pressing social, environmental, and economic issues. For example, Marriott International trained more than 600,000 hotel workers in human trafficking awareness and is on the forefront of multiple sustainability initiatives.


Marriott’s workforce data does not show any significant differences in job satisfaction based on race, ethnicity, age or gender. This highly unusual result—our own Korn Ferry D&I diagnostic almost always uncovers job satisfaction differences—may well reflect the fact that Marriott offers tens of thousands of opportunities, many with low barriers to entry, which can transform the trajectory of an individual’s life and their ability to provide for their families. Key initiatives include:

  • Emerging Leader Program – a signature inclusive leadership development program, which identifies high-performing associates at varying career points and puts them through a yearlong development and sponsorship program. Of the 1,500+ associates who have completed or are enrolled in the program, more than half are women and more than a third are minorities.
  • Women’s Leadership Development Initiative – launched more than 20 years ago to develop a strong pipeline of women leaders and provide networking and mentoring. More than 40% of the top 1,000 Marriott leaders are women (including 44% at C-suite level). Marriott aims to achieve parity in gender representation for global leadership by 2025.

Inclusion by surfacing differences

One of the most explicit ways in which Marriott has surfaced the beauty and power of differences is through its recognition of the breadth of its guests’ diversity.

#LoveTravels has been the cornerstone of Marriott’s purpose-driven marketing program since 2014. Launched with a message of acceptance through the telling of stories from diverse travelers, it is intended as a celebration of inclusion, equality, human rights, and peace.

Marriott says of the campaign, “When #LoveTravels, the world is a more inclusive and peaceful place.” This sentiment informs the work the company does because, as a hospitality company, it views providing a safe and comfortable environment for guests and associates—regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or ability—as a core responsibility.

The campaign broke more barriers than many realized at first glance, revealing a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of diversity, particularly with regard to intersectionality. For example, it showcased the full spectrum of the LGBTQ+ community: a couple getting married on one of Marriott’s properties; a Gen X lesbian couple; LGBTQ+ couples with and without kids; single gays and lesbians; older gay Baby Boomers; and so on.

Understanding of diversity within the traditional diversity labels was also apparent. There were stories of Blacks and Latinxs in different stages of life looking for a range of experiences—everything from adventure to glamour, from sports to pampering. In some instances, Latinxs were English dominant, while others were Spanish dominant or even Spanglish dominant. Marriott also zeroed in on long-standing and popular traditions in various demographics, including large family reunions and multigenerational travel.

This cultural sensibility continues to be reflected in a multitude of ways. For instance, Marriott has become known as a go-to place for Indian weddings in several regions, including the Washington DC–Baltimore area.

Marriott has also taken steps to address structural inclusion for guests, debuting brands with particular Millennial appeal (AC Hotels and Moxy) in 2013 and, in 2015, opening Courtyard Muncie in Indiana, which is the first teaching hotel in the United States for people with disabilities (20% of its 219 staffers have intellectual and/or developmental disabilities).

Evidence of the 5 Disciplines of Inclusive Leaders at Marriott

Through fieldwork and analysis of over 3 million leadership assessments, Korn Ferry has identified the five disciplines and five traits that define an inclusive leader. Marriott showed development in all five:

Builds interpersonal trust – Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson’s approachability and continual efforts to visit and engage with associates at properties around the world, whether it’s via morning run or thoughtful post, have gone a long way to perpetuating the Marriott family feel, which helps generate a great deal of trust. Sorenson has also given significantly more autonomy to leaders outside the company’s US base by creating four regions and empowering them to make their own growth decisions, anchored in meeting guests’ expectations.

Optimizes talent – the leadership focus on driving engagement, developing talent, and encouraging collaboration has meant that Marriott has consistently earned best-in-class category engagement scores for two decades, showing up on best employer lists time and again. As result of strong training and support for associates, visitors to Marriott’s 7,300+ properties around the world are consistently met by staff who are welcoming, helpful, and attentive.

Integrates diverse perspectives – Sorensen balances stakeholders through decentralization and has found a very effective way to manage the inevitable conflict that diversity brings.

Applies adaptive mindset – Marriot’s #LoveTravels campaign was the direct result of leaders cultivating innovation in a manner that was situationally adaptive.

Achieves transformation – Marriott has leveraged diversity and inclusion to achieve significant financial success and status as an employer of choice.

To learn about these disciplines and traits in detail, you can click here or download our whitepaper.

“At Marriott, we want everyone to feel that they belong, that they are family. It’s about a sense of unity that better enables us to love the unique qualities that make each of us special.” David Rodriguez, Executive Vice President and Global Chief Human Resources Officer, Marriott International”