5 Challenges to Recruiting Diverse Leadership at DMOs

August 12, 2021

Travelers of all walks of life want to see themselves reflected in the destinations they visit. Part of achieving the inclusivity we all strive for is making sure we are embracing it within leadership roles at DMOs.

Finding the right person for a job while also bringing in diverse voices is nothing entirely new, but some destinations still aren’t having the right conversations about the process. It’s a delicate subject, and a constant challenge for an industry that has not traditionally made diversity a priority. Fortunately, now that’s changing.

The transition to doing better and being more inclusive will continue to be a bumpy one, but we must remain positive that it’s happening and grow with each other at our own pace. To that end, there are some challenges that DMOs will be facing, no matter the destination, to recruiting more diverse leadership.

1. Communication with hiring committees

First and foremost, getting the conversation started about hiring more diverse leadership is the first domino that needs to fall. It’s not always an easy push.

Kellie Henderson, Senior Vice President at SearchWide Global, says that having someone come in from the outside to point out places where DMOs can improve is a strategy that can lead to more diverse candidates for open roles. Some search committees don’t even realize that they are lacking diverse representation in the first place.

DMOs need to secure external guidance to review their practices and evaluate them. The initial report card may not earn high marks, but it’s better to know where there are opportunities to improve than to continue making the same oversights.

2. Diversify board rooms

While telling committees where they can improve is a powerful step, DMOs need to look at their board of directors in the first place and ask if they are representative of the destination.

“If you don’t have a board of directors, what are the odds that this next CEO is going to be female or an ethnically diverse person?” Henderson said.

This sort of internal audit is daunting, but necessary to acknowledge inherent issues that may create a less than inclusive environment. Embracing diversity doesn’t mean creating quotas and ticking boxes, but if the board room is all white, heterosexual men of a certain age, a red flag should wave.

3. Diversify diversity

While many women have stepped up into CEO roles recently, DMOs have not yet embraced the true spectrum of diversity in leadership roles. The traditional well of largely male, white, sales-oriented individuals is deep as ever, but slowly destinations aren’t drawing from it as much.

“Diverse means a lot of different things in different places,” said Maura Gast, Executive Directing of Irving CVB. She’s been in the industry for years and has seen the evolution as a female, acknowledging the struggles and stereotypes that she had to overcome.

Diversity goes beyond race and gender. DMOs need to recognize that individuals bring different backgrounds, experiences, educations, and abilities that contribute to diversity. By no means undercutting the need for more gender and racial diversity in leadership roles, recruitment needs to go beyond these categories.

“The better we get at acknowledging and empowering diversity the more we realize that diversity is a really big topic. We’re not yet having a conversation about why there aren’t more LGBTQ+ in CVB leadership roles, for example,” Gast said.

4. Overcome our own obstacles

For all of the good work a DMO and search committee can do to foster inclusivity, there is another challenge. Future leaders need to be able to get past their own misconceptions and insecurities to step into these leadership roles.

Henderson sees this when recruiting new talent. “The biggest obstacle is the one that people put in front of themselves,” she said.

It’s on all of us to build up tomorrow’s leaders and help them realize that they can step into any role if they have put in the work, if they are capable and, most importantly, if they are competent. Recruitment is a two-way street and no matter how smooth recruiters pave the path, it’s useless
if new talent lacks the confidence to walk down it.

5. Diversity evolution

Perhaps the most ever-present challenge to attracting diverse leadership is that diversity itself is not a constant. In an industry that likes metrics and clear KPIs, it’s difficult to quantify diversity.

Today it’s about increasing the number of underrepresented racial groups. Tomorrow it may be about bringing in more LGBTQ+ leaders. After that it may be about attracting talent that comes from a less traditional sales background. The needs and expectations of diverse leadership evolves as society evolves.

It keeps us on our toes, and our challenge is to keep moving along with all of it. It’ll never be perfect, but we can always do better to be more inclusive. As more diverse leaders step into CEO and other high-level roles, it’s essential to remember that the work is never done, but that doesn’t mean we can celebrate the progress and pull up the ladder behind us.

With so many great new leaders rising up, it doesn’t seem like that will be the case!

Expressing diversity is different for each destination, and there’s no copy and paste formula for how to be inclusive. At DCI, we’ve been helping destinations find the right balance in talent attraction and marketing for the past 60 years. Get in touch with Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected] if you want to talk more about your strategy to see what works and what could work better.