In times of challenge, empathy lights the path forward

Hyatt’s leadership commits to change from the inside-out

Very few other industries have been hit quite as hard by COVID as travel and tourism. In a sector where layoffs are common and nearly a quarter of the industry is suddenly unemployed, we might expect a hotel brand’s corporate leadership to simply put their heads down and wait for things to blow over and bounce back. But refreshingly, that’s not how Hyatt is approaching the global pandemic, now compounded by calls for social justice and an end to systemic racism in all of our institutions.

In a recent feature and podcast in Forbes, Hyatt Hotels CEO Mark Hoplamazian, was asked: “How do you lead with empathy when your business is falling apart?” To his great credit, Hoplamazian had no pat response. With the company’s reservations down a stunning 94% year over year in April, the hotel leader makes a clarion call for empathy as the only way forward. Demonstrating his own humanity, Hoplamazian described layoffs of 35% of Hyatt’s workforce as “the most difficult and challenging time that I’ve ever experienced as a person.”

On racism he was equally transparent and unequivocal: “My own personal journey in this has been now – and I’m embarrassed to say this – to really understand, probably for the first time, how deep systemic racism is and also how much of an ecosystem it requires in order to rectify.” While Hoplamazian models how the first step toward leading with empathy is transparency and truth, what it takes for real change to take root is concrete actions and ongoing commitment.

To operationalize empathy at Hyatt, the hotel brand took the following actions, among others:

  • Delivered layoff decisions promptly with no uncertainty;
  • Set up a care fund to enhance the financial safety of laid-off employees;
  • Created a platform for people to keep in touch when they no longer had access to company email;
  • Audited hiring and promotion practices – immediately and ongoing – to hold themselves accountable for diversity in their workforce; and
  • Committed $1 million – despite economic downturn – in investment youth opportunity through their RiseHY program.

The takeaway for financial services: Tap into your own humanity in this moment and commit to concrete ways to make change within your own organization – for all the people you serve. Start today.

To learn more about how your bank or credit union can address the current social moment, email: