HomeCase StudiesHow IHG Hotels & Resorts is making room for ERGs

How IHG Hotels & Resorts is making room for ERGs

by HRD Connect | Case Studies

IHG Hotels & Resorts has over 6,000 hotels across the globe. Creating an equitable workspace for both hotel colleagues, and corporate team, and ensuring mobility between the two, is an ongoing priority. Based on results from an engagement survey filled out by over 100,000 employees, IHG has been ranked as a top employer for 2022 by KinCentric. Its employee resource groups (ERGs) have played a crucial role in driving employee equity, and as a result, engagement.

Joanna Kurowska, Managing Director UK & Ireland at IHG Hotels & Resorts, is a long-standing ally for its ERGs and shared how the hotel chain’s ERGs are helping to create a widespread culture of belonging across its hotels and corporate offices.

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IHG has often been vocal about its core values and commitments. In its own words, it aims to give employees “the room to be yourself” and “the room to grow.” Moreover, its mission statement references “True Hospitality for Good.” This is underpinned by the ethos that happy, fulfilled team members are the ones that go the extra mile to ensure guests have the best possible experience It is creating a company, culture, and environment where everyone feels like they belong.

ERGs were part of the natural progression as IHG looked to improve a feeling of belonging amongst its team in 2021. They offer diverse groups a place to meet, share experiences, and work on creating a more equitable work environment.

“We made the space and encouraged them to emerge. But it’s not a top-down, corporate initiative. They started as groups of people, with similar ideas and discussion points, and were very informal. We recognized there is value in cherishing and giving space and time to our colleagues. It’s quite an important difference between us making a corporate decision versus it being an organic movement.”

Five ERGs have sprung up in the UK, originally as standalone groups. However, over time, the groups have begun to overlap and work in partnership. For example, in August 2022, multiple groups came together to celebrate the lesser-known Black Pride that followed Pride Month in June 2022.


Leadership-level learnings

IHG has worked hard to turn learnings from each of the ERGs into practical and measurable changes for employees. Alongside these specific learnings from ERGs, Kurowska reflected on the need to make ERGs a part of organizational culture by protecting the time and resources they need to meet.

“As leaders of the organization, we have a unique relationship with the ERGs. We must create time for them. There’s no other way to do it. That also means giving our employees the time to join the groups and recognizing it as a vital part of their workday.”

“The change starts when culture is being driven by the leaders’ behavior. I think of myself as a leader who has a responsibility because my behavior impacts the organization and people who are in need. Finding and making time and space for the groups, and listening to their feedback, is a vital part of my job description.

Moreover, as the groups have begun to overlap, IHG intersectionality has emerged as an important consideration for ERG success. Business leaders have a responsibility to improve ties between ERGs. Their roles inherently give them scope to a much wider team and view of the business.

Lastly, IHG has learned to position its ERGs as think tanks to add value and counsel to the existing business agenda, and indeed help shape it.

“They’re like a think tank. They can be our sounding board, raise awareness, ask the right questions, challenge the business, and rally the troops when an initiative needs attention and support. They’re not here to do the job of HR. Finding the right balance is vital to any ERG-organization partnership and making sure we’re learning the most we can from our teams.”


Out & Open

Out & Open is IHG’s ERG for LGBTQ+ employees and allies. It was one of IGH’s first groups in the UK and Europe to form. It exists for all its people who wish to discuss LGBTQ+ community issues, topics, thoughts, ideas, and feedback, in a safe environment. Kurowska shares some of the fantastic work this ERG has completed so far.

“We joined Pride in London in June last year for its 50th anniversary. We worked with Out & Open who led the participation and initiative. They expressed an interest in taking part and asked us what we could do to make it happen. We also attended Black Pride two months later.”

“But it’s not only about the symbolic events. They’re massively important because they set the tone, but they are also quite singular and happen once a year. Culture is constant. There have been so many initiatives that the ERGs have helped us with. We’ve issued our pronouns guide to everyone including the head office, and in our hotels back in the UK & Ireland people can include their pronouns on their name badge. It makes everyone aware of how to deal with pronouns and how to ask the right questions. Language can be very hurtful, but also very powerful.”

Communication also matters when giving ERGs a voice in an organization the size and scale of IHG. As well as raising awareness by celebrating events and initiatives throughout the year, IHG’s intersectional community of ERGs has found newsletters to be the best way to communicate the work and initiatives that each ERG is covering.

“To make sure communications aren’t lost, everything comes out from the ERGs themselves. This is where recognizing intersectionality matters. They align the messages themselves in one newsletter rather than having three newsletters in the same week. But the leaders also have a responsibility to live the culture and find the time to communicate resources ERGs are putting into place with their teams.”


Measuring ERG impact

IHG is deliberate about not setting specific performance goals for the ERGs themselves. Removing the pressure of corporate targets prevents IHG’s groups from feeling like their time is being managed. However, it does measure how its culture is shifting at an organization-wide level.

“We want them to celebrate their events and resources and to continue volunteering for these groups. But we do need to measure the impact on our company culture. This could be easily measurable metrics like gender diversity in our leadership team. But it might also be less quantifiable changes like the sense of belonging across our people.”

“We do this by conducting surveys with our people in the corporate team and at the managed hotels. We have an annual engagement survey which is key to colleague listening. We also have new starter and leaver surveys, and in 2021 introduced a new Inclusion Index within the annual engagement survey. Over 100,000 people participate in the survey, and responses are anonymous, so employees can provide honest and open feedback. It’s also a chance for our hotel managers to log action plans and look at what other hotels are doing.”

Beyond the ERGs

IHG’s ERGs are truly driving positive, inclusive, and equitable change at the corporate and hotel level. But beyond its ERGs, the hotel chain is also pushing a huge range of practices to improve equity and inclusion. From sign language training to its ‘RISE’ program to increase female leadership, the following initiatives have seen IHG ranked as a top employer for 2022 by KinCentric.

In hotels

  • BSL British Sign Language Training. Kimpton Clocktower in Manchester invested in British Sign Language (BSL) lessons to invite colleagues to learn how communicate with deaf colleagues and guests, with other properties in the UK following suit.
  • Only a Pavement Away. IHG’s managed hotels in the UK have partnered with the charity ‘Only a Pavement Away’. The charity aims to connect forward thinking employers in the hospitality industry and charities working with people facing or experiencing homelessness, prison leavers and veterans, to help place them into long term, stable employment.

Hotel and corporate office

  • RISE. This IHG program is a 12-month female-focused mentoring initiative where aspiring female General Managers RISE up and succeed in delivering their ambition. The hotel industry has traditionally been male-dominated. It is designed to inspire confidence and ambition, broaden networks, develop and drive career progression.
  • Mentoring. IHG’s peer-to-peer mentoring scheme helps employees share their goals and ambitions and gives them the support and training they need to realize them.

Corporate office

  • Change 100 internships. IHG works in partnership with the Leonard Cheshire Foundation on its Change 100 scheme. This foundation helps young people graduating from schools or colleagues and looking for employment and feeling the barriers of their disability that might be standing in their way. The foundation helps these young people find paid internships in organizations like IHG, which welcomed 11 interns into their UK corporate office in 2022.
  • Conscious inclusion training. This short virtual workshop makes employees aware of their biases and the impact of their language. It is mandatory for colleagues in corporate offices and hotels.

What next for IHG’s ERGs?

IHG is planning to extend the reach of its ERGs like Out & Open beyond its head offices, and into regional offices in Frankfurt and Paris. Creating relationships between these offices through employee resource groups will help make more purposeful strides toward its cultural goals.

“As leaders, we don’t feel we are ever satisfied with our culture. We know that we’re on a journey. Whilst we’re making lots of thoughtful changes, we’re not finished yet. The word I use is ‘embrace.’ We want our people, especially our leaders, not just to listen to our ERGs, but to embrace the resources they are putting together.”

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