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Bold conversations to drive bold actions: Laura Fuentes, EVP and CHRO at Hilton

March 15, 2021 - 8 min read

A conversation with Laura Fuentes, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Hilton

Picture of Laura Fuentes

This past year has been one of the most difficult times in Hilton’s 100-plus years. Nevertheless, the company has remained true to its commitment to creating an inclusive workplace and has launched bold global conversations that are moving society forward.   

Laura Fuentes, EVP and CHRO of Hilton, shares with us how Hilton is staying dedicated to creating an inclusive workplace for all even and especially during difficult times. During our live conversation with Laura, our team and viewers were inspired by her vulnerability and the courageous action she and her team chose to take in a time of crisis. Her battle cry for accountability shows how she continually challenges herself and inspires others to be warriors for justice, equity, inclusion and real change. 

The time to act is now and your words matter. 

When is the time to step in and take action? According to Laura, it’s now. You can’t put this on hold. Even in a time where travel came to a standstill and they were having to shut down their hotels, Hilton didn’t ignore the deep impact this was having on its Team Members and pressed forward to continue doing the work of justice, equity, and inclusion.

“Even if we think COVID, as a virus, doesn't discriminate, it still travels in a society that is unjust and hits people disproportionately. Racial injustice is exacerbated by these pandemics and so we have to lean into supporting our team members who are suffering.” 

But while many leaders recognize it is time to act, some don’t know how to go about taking action. Laura shared her process for knowing when and how to speak up. First, we must audit ourselves and be honest about where we are at in our understanding and knowledge on the topic, perhaps taking some time to learn about where we have gaps. Then, and not a moment later, we must act. 

The most important step in this process is the practice. Laura compares being a leader and an ally to being an athlete: You need to train, you need to work out, and you need to change your lifestyle and mindset. This is where Hilton’s partnership with BetterUp comes in. "You don’t become an ally with intent alone,” Laura shared. "Instead, it requires a track record of performance, impact, and action that only comes through practice and reflection.” 

Inclusive cultures need brave leadership and courageous conversations. 

It’s impossible to separate work from what is happening outside in the real world. That’s why Hilton’s leadership is passionate about convening bold conversations that can often be considered off-limits in much of corporate America. This summer, the company launched a courageous conversation series to talk openly about race and gender inequities, mental health, and other topics that are often considered taboo to talk about at work. 

The first session was a conversation between Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta, and the CEO of Great Place to Work Institute, Michael Bush. Michael shared his experience as a Black man, including how it feels when a person responds to Black Lives Matter by saying all lives matter. This created a powerful moment for their company, both for those hearing it live and for the thousands who later listened to the recording. But the discussion didn’t stop there. The real work comes in the reflection these conversations spark with leaders and their teams and often their BetterUp coaches, and ignite change. As Laura noted, the goal isn’t to shame or isolate people; rather, it’s to help people grow into the inclusive leaders that our world needs. 

“Don't call people out, call people in.”

To build a culture at scale, Hilton is having conversations, inspiring people and reassuring them that, by providing the resources and support, Hilton will meet them where they are as a whole person, right now. The company has built an ecosystem of programs and resource groups so that, regardless of title or background, employees feel like they are part of a family that embodies their values. 

Hilton is determined to infuse diversity and inclusion at every level of its organization. From recruitment to promotions and through training initiatives, Hilton’s HR team is working to audit biases at every step and making sure that people are advancing by holding people accountable and having tough conversations. This begins with asking questions. Where does inequity exist? What is the most effective way to address it? How can Hilton’s team members be good citizens of the world?

Vulnerability is a strength

Laura emphasizes that change is a process that requires the willingness to accept mistakes, apologizing, and committing to doing better. George Floyd’s murder happened during an intense period of recovery planning at Hilton. She recalls being so focused on her work that she failed to think about how much her team could be hurting at that moment, especially a Black leader on her team. With humility, she acknowledged her mistake to her team and then created space for an open conversation about what was taking place in our society. With us, she shared how it was a deep learning moment for her as a leader and a reminder that we will make mistakes along the way but it is our responsibility to allow them to change us for the better. 

Vulnerability, she says, is not a moment of weakness but instead a moment of strength and courage. As leaders, we have to lean into those moments with ourselves and with our teams, especially when it is hard. That is what strong leaders do. They create safe places and model what it looks like to support one another in a real and authentic way. Leaders set the standard for how to treat one another and how open we can be with each other at work. Vulnerability builds strong relationships and allows people to see each other and show up as who they really are, in all of their power and strength. 

Ready to take your leaders to the next level? Try a demo of BetterUp.



Published March 15, 2021

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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