Greg DeShields, Executive Director at Tourism Diversity Matters, opens up about why diversity is vital in tourism and his mission of inclusivity.
DeShields’ advice in this interview is immeasurable.
According to Chron.com, Hospitality and tourism present a unique opportunity to understand new cultural experiences for both employees and tourists. The personnel needs to understand and appreciate different cultures to enhance the nature of their interactions with tourists of different cultures, religions, races, creeds, colors, ages, genders, and sexual orientations.
For this reason, businesses plying their trade in this industry must endeavor to train their personnel to appreciate and accommodate people from diverse backgrounds around the world.
As such, workplace diversity facilitates easy understanding of different cultural, social, and economic perspectives and enhances the delivery of satisfactory services through communication and observation.
Greg DeShields Interview
Tell us about yourself?
I am passionate about the tourism and hospitality industry and a native Philadelphian. My mother, Delores, always aspired for the better part of life. She believed in achieving personal fulfillment and leaving this world with more than we entered. My father, James, or Preston was a boxer; I got that spirit of fight from him.
Boxers are very unusual individuals; their mental toughness makes them perform to the best of their ability regardless of obstacles, adversaries, and circumstances. No matter how hard they fall or how frequent, a boxer’s mental toughness is what makes them get back up. This is my philosophical approach to work.
I am the combination of both; I always want for the better and am willing to fight for it. My passion for the hospitality industry and diversity, equity, and inclusion is combined with my parents’ traits and my desire to be the best I can be.
Why Hospitality and Tourism?
That is a fascinating question because I only wanted to be a reporter; I loved to write. In high school, I went to a journalism class at KYW News Radio in Philadelphia. This was an educational program for budding writers.
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn about becoming a journalist. I was in a session when a guest speaker joined us; he was a black reporter advising us young 16-year-olds about career options.
I told him I wanted to become a reporter, and to my surprise, he recommended I consider another career. You probably should not think of journalism as a career choice as a young African American. There is slow career growth, a lack of appreciation for your talent, and limited income.
Wow, I was disappointed and later talked to my high school advisor Mr. Goldberg; he asked me if I was not writing, what else would I like to do? I said I didn’t know. He said, what do you want to do in your spare time?
The only thing that came to mind was I like to eat. He then told me about the hospitality industry, whether you’re in restaurants or hotels. He recommended I visit Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. It’s a relatively well-known hospitality school in the U.S.
I went there for a weekend tour and fell in love with the school, and that’s how I landed at Johnson & Wales (one visit). I majored in hotel and restaurant management for an associate degree, and then later I majored in Hospitality Management for my bachelor’s degree and just became crazy about hotels.
Over the years, I’ve evolved; however, I still love to write. I am currently a Freelance Writer for Meetings Today Magazine, a premier national meeting planner publication. While in college, I was the editor of our college newspaper, the editor of our college yearbook, and in just about every job I’ve had, I had some role in writing.
What are some of the gaps in the tourism industry from a diversity, equity, and inclusion perspective?
The Tourism Industry’s primary gap is the lack of diversity at the top of hospitality, travel, and tourism companies. Specifically, Black and Brown communities and Women. The tourism and hospitality industry must go beyond recognizing this fact and truly implement successful and impactful talent pipeline strategies that value diversity.
Failure to access and develop every potential source of management talent means, at a minimum, a missed chance to expand and enrich the industry’s human resources.
An additional gap is equitable pay; across nearly all hospitality categories and levels, the gender pay gap is still prevalent, with men considerably higher than women.
Another is the lack of knowledge by leadership regarding the value and fundamental understanding of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the benefits. For one, it’s not always exactly clear what it means when referring to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
Businesses often say that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are core company values not just because it’s the right thing to do but because leaders increasingly recognize that more Diversity and Inclusion workforces can give their companies a competitive edge.
However, a considerable gap often exists among leaders in understanding what’s necessary for creating a diverse and inclusive workplace and how to keep it that way.
What advice do you have for Black Tourism Entrepreneurs?
Owning a small business can be personally and financially rewarding. However, 90% of start-ups fail within the first three years. It’s essential to have an accurate vision of what being a Black business owner will look like before investing time and money into your idea. Still, if you’re a Black entrepreneur thinking of opening your own business, just start!
- Learn the Tourism Industry – Tourism does not have a single entity but combines different sectors, requiring primary and secondary suppliers. Tourism Management is a complex area involving a wide range of economic operations.
- Develop a thorough business plan that will target all the points you need. Make sure you’ve answered all your questions in your plan – What’s your target market? Who is your competition? What will your starting costs be? Then, string everything together for a foolproof and reliable business model.
- Build a strong team; no business or business owner can succeed without the right people ready to support them.
- Know your numbers, annual sales revenue, expense, gross profit margin, and most importantly, cash flow. Don’t rely on accountants or assistants to memorize your numbers.
Finally, be willing to leave your business to go to a meeting. Engage in organizations with committee and leadership roles so you can build a more robust network of influencers to grow your business.
Thank you, Greg. It was wonderful having you.
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