How to create a diverse and inclusive workplace environment, with Park Hyatt Chicago’s Rike Erdbrink.



DEI, or Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, has been a top priority for hospitality organizations across the spectrum. But unless it’s backed by real action and cultural change, it can become an empty acronym. Rike Erdbrink, general manager of the Park Hyatt Chicago, joins host Robin Trimingham to talk about building a robust, equitable culture of inclusion in hospitality.






Highlights from Today’s Episode

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Episode Transcript

Rike Erdbrink: Women don’t talk about salary. Women don’t talk about how much someone should earn. Women don’t talk about when they were not treated well in the job environment. Women need to speak up. But where do you do that? Do you go to your male leader or do you go to a female colleague? And then I think it’s very important to differentiate between complaining or gossiping or having a meaningful conversation about how someone truly feels and how can we change that and how can we move forward and progress going out. 

Robin Trimingham: Welcome to the Innovative Hotelier podcast by Hotels magazine, with weekly thought provoking discussions with the world’s leading hotel and hospitality innovators. Welcome to the Innovative Hotelier podcast brought to you by Hotels magazine. I’m your host, Robin Trimingham. The hospitality field, perhaps more than any other, has long brought people from diverse backgrounds and cultures together from far flung places with the common goal of bringing joy and delight to those who travel. But mentoring a diverse team composed of people from all walks of life and different cultural and social backgrounds around a common goal can present its own set of challenges. So how then do you nurture team members to find their own voice as individuals and at the same time focus their energy around a common goal for the benefit of the brand and the guests they serve? My guest today, Rike Erdbrink, general manager of the Park Hyatt Chicago, is here today to share her thoughts. Join me now for my conversation with Rick. For the last 50 years, Groupe GM has been a leader in the luxury cosmetic amenities industry. The group proposes a 360 solution from manufacturing to distribution, with over 40 international brands in its worldwide distribution network group. Gm offers different shapes and sizes of eco friendly products in hotels all over the world. Discover more on That’s group with an E GM .com. Welcome, Rike. It’s great to get a chance to meet you. 

Rike Erdbrink: Very nice to be with you today and to hopefully answer some questions. 

Robin Trimingham: Well, I think that we are going to have a great conversation because you’re the perfect person to ask about today’s topic. If I’ve got this straight, you started off in Germany, then you went to France, then you went to Hong Kong, then you went to Beijing, and now you’re in America. Talk to us a little bit about that. What’s it like successfully navigating cultural and language barriers in the hospitality industry? 

Rike Erdbrink: Yes, Thank you for that question. I think I’ve been very fortunate in my career and I had great opportunities to really travel the world. I did start my career in Germany, as you rightly said, with Hyatt. It’s a company that I’ve always worked for for my entire career, which I’m very excited about, says a lot about them and I studied in the Netherlands at Hotelschool The Hague, and had a great opportunity for an internship in France during that time. And then, yes, I moved to Hong Kong, then I actually moved to the Middle East as well. I worked in Abu Dhabi, then back to Hong Kong from Hong Kong to a not so small island in the south of China called Hainan to Sanya in particular, and then, yes, Beijing, then back to Hong Kong. During that time, I also had the opportunity to support some properties in Thailand, in Indonesia, in Japan, and yes, really very different cultures before moving to the US about a year and five months. Now a year and five months time flies. So a lot of different cultures to get used to and work with throughout this period of time. I think the most important thing to remember is that you need to keep an open mind when you enter these different countries, different work environments. You got to figure out kind of the lay of the land, how do the teams work, how do people communicate? I mean, how do people dress? How do people like to be addressed? How do you know? What do people like to do for their breaks? How do the teams within the hotel talk to each other? How do they cooperate, how there’s so many hows and not so much the why in the beginning. 

Rike Erdbrink: It’s just really getting to understand the culture and the different teams to kind of navigate your way through it. It’s not always an easy task. Sometimes you learn the hard way and you think, Oh, I figured this out, and then you say something completely wrong and you feel like, Oh my God, how did I miss this? But people explain and people keep an open mind. The Asian culture in particular is very welcoming. People want to welcome you to their teams and once they trust you as a person and they see you know that you’re there to support and to help, they will go above and beyond, to work with you and to support you and to support the overall hotel goals. I think one big advantage that I had was that I joined Greenhithe Hong Kong right out of hotel school and a very junior position. So I really learned from a lower level to navigate through a different culture because that has really taught me how people think in an entry level position. It’s a better word to use entry level position. And these team members, they’re still my friends, they’re still people that I can call upon and ask silly questions like, How do I do this? How do I do that? But in general, the culture has taught me so much in all these different places. And then again, Japan is different compared to Thailand, and Thailand is different compared to the Middle East, and Beijing is different to Hong Kong. And obviously now Chicago is very different to the time in Asia and people have different goals, people have different mentalities, people have different priorities, they have different personal priorities. 

Rike Erdbrink: They have a different view of their actual job. I think it’s depending on where you are and the people that you meet on what you get. But I think what I said, the becoming part of the team is the key because once you earn the trust and you know. They really become your friends, your colleagues, your biggest cheerleaders and biggest supporters. So having worked in the same hotel three times from an entry level position to a hotel manager in Grand Hyatt, Hong Kong, I’ve really had the opportunity to work with pretty much the same people throughout all three stints because people don’t necessarily leave Hong Kong. People stay there, they’re happy and there’s not a lot of turnover in in the hotel. So yeah, to really learn from them and with them and then ultimately supervising them, it’s not easy either, but it’s a way through that. And then I think in terms of the language, you also learn a lot throughout the time. You may not speak the language, but you can read body language, you can read, you can read the room, you can after a while, once you’ve been there, you know, you can hear the the way they speak and you’re like, something must be wrong. So you get very intuitive about what’s actually happening in your respective area in the hotel. And by asking the right question to the team, you can always be part of it. And again, if the team supports you and wants you to be within their circle, they switch to English. 

Robin Trimingham: I think you’re making a bunch of excellent points and I love what you said about when you first arrive. It’s more about understanding how other people are used to doing things than just sort of waltzing in like, I’m in charge and we’re going to do it my way. Because you’re absolutely right to build trust, you absolutely have to put yourself in the point of view, in the position of the people that you’re meeting, particularly when there’s cultural or language barriers at stake. Let me ask you, since the pandemic, the word inclusion has been a really hot topic in the regular corporate world. To what extent would you say this is the case in the hotel industry? Because I’m sort of on the fence on this one. I have a hotel’s background. And as you’ve just demonstrated, I mean, hotels have been really inclusive forever and ever. Did the pandemic really change things in this respect, or would you say it’s just sort of business as usual? 

Rike Erdbrink: I think the pandemic has taught us so much, and I think in some ways also how not to do things and not to forget about diversity, equity and inclusion, because we all kind of March 2020, I’m sure we all remember where we were and what we were doing, what position we were holding in respective industries. And the hospitality industry was hit very hard. And unfortunately in many parts of the world, people had to be let go because hotels just closed because there was no more business. I was fortunate enough that I worked in a hotel that had very supportive owners and we did not get furloughed or we didn’t fire any associates because that owner believed now is the time when we need to be there for our people. Now’s the time when we need to support every level of the hotel. So the leadership team took some voluntary no pay leave days to make sure that the entry level associates from cooks and stewarding housekeepers, waiters that we were able to support them and that we were able to ensure that they have a job because that’s the position that these are the positions that struggle the most. Right? People that really need the financial support and a steady income. 

Rike Erdbrink: So from that aspect, we were very fortunate. It’s one thing about Hyatt that I really liked during the pandemic. I mean, inclusion was always a subject. We’ve all had goals and we’ve all talked about it. So from a corporate level to a hotel level, I’m a perfect example for it in terms of inclusion and having had great opportunities. But Hyatt as a hospitality company launched a Change Starts Here commitment in 2020, which I think was a great way of integrating diversity, equity and inclusion. And we rolled this out throughout the company and in particular to the hotels. So it’s about who do we employ, develop, advance and promote and then who we support and who we buy from and work with. So inclusion can mean so many different things and it means something different to every individual. As a woman, I look at inclusion in different ways than maybe a a male person or a person of color or a minority. It’s a fields inclusion differently and wants to be seen and heard in different ways. But with this change, start your commitment. We really focused on these diversity, equity and inclusion, different chapters and to really find a way to include everyone in our daily lives. 

Rike Erdbrink: And as you said, it’s been there for many years, but it’s just that it’s being talked about so much more now than it has in the past. And many hospitality companies and amongst many other businesses set themselves goals. By this year, we want to promote X amount of female leaders. By this year, we want to have people of color and this many positions. I mean, there’s many different goals and strategies that that people have. Personally, I’ve. Never liked to be part of a number because I feel very strongly about it. Doesn’t matter if you’re male, female, gay, straight, your person of color shouldn’t matter. It’s about what you do, what you contribute to your job, how you support your team, how you present yourself on a day to day basis. And if you do all of that, it doesn’t matter. But it’s a mind change and it’s shifting this mentality and I hope one day we don’t need to talk about it as much anymore because then we’ve actually made it. The more we talk about it, the more it shows that there’s no progress or we’re not moving into the right direction. 

Robin Trimingham: Yeah, I completely agree with you. I think it’s much more important to just focus on the skills that a person brings to the table as opposed to anything relating to gender or how they look or where they’re from or anything like that. One of your experiences taught you about the value of embracing the input and ideas of others in your travels. 

Rike Erdbrink: Yeah, I mean, I really had to learn to listen and trust other people because certain markets, you just have no idea of what is actually happening and how things work. I mean, you go on a sales call and Thailand is very different to going on a sales call in Japan or in Hong Kong or in Chicago. So things that I’ve been used to doing and you walk in and you’re like, okay, right? So this is how we’re going to do it. No, in our culture, we actually would not go to the office, so we would bring people over and host them in the hotel. We see where you’re coming from. But, you know, people really take time to explain what the advantages are based on the location that you’re at, and you really have to learn how to embrace that. You might have a more senior title than someone else, but people, you know that from a particular culture and live in a certain city, they have a lot more experience and they know what people are like and then you find a balance in that. So as I mentioned, empathy before and to really be part of the team, that’s all part of that too, because if you don’t learn how to listen to your team and to actually take their ideas into consideration, it’s not a teamwork. And that’s one big thing in the hospitality industry. We all have different backgrounds. We all grew up differently. We have different areas of expertise. I mean, if you think about a hotel, we have finance with human resources, we have sales and marketing, we have operations, we have culinary, we have revenue engineering. I’m not an engineer. So if my director of engineering comes to me and proposes ideas and it’s like, look, I think if we get this particular pump, we can reduce our water expenses by X amount. And I think we really beneficial for the overall operations. I’m like, Great, let’s do it. So it’s also supporting your team and believing in their ideas and empowering them to really make a difference. 

Robin Trimingham: But did you know that offering top cosmetic brands is a delight for your guests? For the last 50 years, Groupe GM has been a leader in the luxury amenity industry. The group proposes a 360 solution for manufacturing to distribution on cosmetic amenities and dry accessories, with over 40 international brands such as Guerlain Nukes, Atelier Cologne. The group offers different shapes and sizes of eco friendly products in hotels all over the world. This is possible thanks to its worldwide distribution network. Thanks to their Care about the Earth Program, you can offer your guests top cosmetic products with a reduced environmental impact. Discover more on That’s group with an E I love what you said earlier about as a woman not really wanting to be viewed as a statistic, particularly when it comes to things like hiring and promotion. I couldn’t agree with you more, but I would also submit that women bring a certain, I’m going to say, natural skill set to the table. Why, in your opinion, are women natural, empathetic leaders ideally suited to the hospitality field? 

Rike Erdbrink: Let’s say I agree 80% of the statement because yes, women in general, they’re expected to be calmer. They’re expected to be more nurturing or not. Everyone is a mom. But to have that instinct of taking care of people and to really embrace every individual and to to really take care of people. So, for instance, Hyatt’s purpose is we care for people so that they can be their best. We just say that women could be more suitable in this nurturing environment. How did so many male leaders in the past survive and actually set up this kind of the hospitality industry? Right. How did they set up this culture of care? I think for women not being in leadership positions just yet, they kind of stop somewhere in the middle and they kind of get stuck in taking care of people. And that’s something that in the hospitality industry or us as female leaders, we have to break through that. We’re not carry this expectations of, yes, they just take care of the team and it’s always harder to provide feedback that is negative as a woman compared to a man, because women are again naturally seen as not being negative or not criticizing things or not putting people on to a different path. So that’s it’s a stereotype, unfortunately, that we’re still challenged with. 

Robin Trimingham: I absolutely understand your point of view, and you’re right to a certain degree, I’ve experienced that myself. I also think, though, that one of the reasons women can excel is because they are able to dig deep down inside themselves. And I don’t think that this needs to become a discussion of whether women are better than men or men are better than women. I simply think that there’s a case to be made that women embrace what’s in front of them, and that can be a reason that you need to be empathetic. That can be a reason that you need to swallow hard and deliver. But I think women have an awful lot to offer. And I think that we’re very fortunate that the world has opened up and that more and more cultures are realizing that they’ve been missing out by over focusing on one part of the demographic. And we’ll leave it there. Yeah, so many younger workers, I’m told, are focusing very much on whether a company has a reputation of promoting issues like diversity and inclusion, and they’re looking at the company and judging whether or not they think they’ll be able to have a good career. You yourself were fortunate to find a great career path from a very early age. What sort of advice can you offer to young hotel workers regarding all of this? 

Rike Erdbrink: One of the biggest challenges right now is that people have way too many options. When I started my career in hospitality, I was looking for something. Where can I connect with people? Where can I travel? Where can I experience different cultures? That’s how I kind of ended up in the hospitality industry, right? I was fortunate enough I joined Hyatt, I did an apprenticeship, and then I studied. I still went to school, but it was always like I was very clear from an early age what I wanted to be and I wanted to become a general manager. I think it’s a gift to have that kind of vision because if I look at my family members, my nieces, nephews, people that are 18 years old right now, they’re like, I don’t know what to do. There’s too many options. I can’t figure out what I’m good at because people just grew up in a very different way, whereas we kind of picked something. And yes, people change careers, but it’s still about the passion. You need to be 100% passionate about what you do. You need to be you need to be able to wake up in the morning and say like, okay, great, I’m off to work and it’s going to be a good day. And yes, we are going to have days where, you know, it’s long or it’s been a demanding day, it’s been a challenging day or ups and downs. But at the end of the day, you still go home and you feel satisfied with what you do and you feel accomplished. 

Rike Erdbrink: So for younger people now, that’s the hardest part. So how do you start also with focus on diversity, equity and inclusion as well as, you know, empowering people, the focus on well-being, work life balance, people being taught to ask for things that they would like. People are able to express themselves a lot more than. What we’ve done ten, 15 years ago also has a big impact because what we see a lot in the hospitality industry is that people would like to start and become a manager tomorrow. That’s great and I would love for anyone to do that. But there needs to be a certain level of experience, right? People need to understand the nature of a job. People need to see different circumstances, experience different situations. They need to be able to really go through the ups and downs. And that’s how you learn. I mean, no day is the same, right? I could wake up on Monday and have a plan for the day. I could leave on Monday and haven’t done anything because something came up that involved an associate or that involved a guest or a small crisis. I mean, you just never know. No day is the same. And when you describe that to people, we do a lot of interviews and we get the question of, I would love to become this and this in two years time, it’s like, okay, we can help you to get on that track, but we cannot guarantee you to be in this position in such a short period of time. 

Rike Erdbrink: And once you start, you will see why. Because in this industry you become better. The more you experience right, you become just a person that is more well rounded because you just go through so many different things. One of the thing is you need to be patient. To some of the colleagues that we hire on a junior position or entry level position, after 2 or 3 months, they come and say like, okay, I’m up for promotion now. It’s just to look at a path and be realistic about it. If you want to become a lawyer or a doctor or a pilot, you go through processes, right? We’re not lawyers, pilots and doctors, but in a way we are, because the different things that you to hear on a day to day basis touch base with all of it. But it takes some time to get to the finish line and to get to where you need to go. And the last thing I think for young people, what is important is they need to have mentors. You need to have people that help you to understand why you can’t start as a manager tomorrow and why you need to be patient. So if you have people that really explain that to you and walk you through this, then I think it’s much easier. 

Robin Trimingham: I think you’re absolutely right. Particularly in the hotel industry, you have to have such a broad based knowledge base if you’re going to go down the management path. I remember when I was hired by one of the major chains for a management level job, and they sat me down and said to me on my very first day, Now you need to understand you’re never going to finish. Yeah, I kind of looked at them like, What do you mean by that? You know, doesn’t matter what you have planned for today, tomorrow, next week, you’re never going to finish. Because as you said, things keep coming up continuously. I love the point you make about the fact that the hotel industry is really a career of lifelong learning because technologies change, traveler preferences change, procedures change, physical plants change, everything changes. And it’s not a kind of job that you’re going to master in three months and think that a lot of people really don’t get that in the beginning because the entry level jobs, what you’re working on the front desk, you’re serving in the restaurant, you’re an assistant chef in the kitchen, perhaps, But there’s just so much more that goes into it the further that you go. 

Rike Erdbrink: Yeah. And as you said, people don’t see that. And I remember when I first started, when I graduated from school and I joined I did Germany has a little bit of a different system. You can do an apprenticeship and you go to a vocational school for like eight weeks, twice a year. So it’s like a combined learning. But you go through every department of the hotel to learn, and Germany has these apprenticeships in many different industries. So you can do an apprenticeship as a nurse or as a lawyer’s office or in a bank or in a travel agency. So you can just kind of understand what these jobs are about. And it helps a lot, I think, to shape your future because you’re either going to go in and you say like, Oh my God, I love this, or you say, not for me. When I go to school and when I go to college, I’m going to go for into a different direction. Because what I’ve learned was great, but I don’t see myself in this for the rest of my life. And I think that helps a lot to kind of shape the direction that you’re going into. 

Robin Trimingham: I agree with you. You mentioned mentoring briefly a couple of minutes ago, and I just want to touch on that. In the general corporate world, some women work so hard to advance their own careers that, believe it or not, they have a tendency to not want to mentor other women because they view them as competitors. Now, this is crazy. Talk to me. What’s your perspective on that? 

Rike Erdbrink: I believe that women need to be there and support each other, lift each other up and work as closely as possible, change whatever, whatever people think about female leadership or for women in any kind of industry I have had. Male mentors in my career, which they’ve taught me many great things. But we talked about women being more natural leaders. That’s like one part that I kind of missed in my career. I would have loved to have a female leader because the way I was taught by my male leaders wasn’t a very different way because they just didn’t know better. Right? I remember when I was a hotel manager and I was talking to one of my colleagues and I was like, Well, you’re the first female hotel manager in this hotel. Like, wow, yeah, that’s true. And people just kind of like, Huh, what do we do? Like, how do we approach this? But I got there naturally. It wasn’t being like, okay, we got to change numbers and we got to increase something. So that’s something I’m very proud of. But again, going back to supporting other women. So within Hyatt and any other hospitality company, we have small communities that we form within our organization and one of them is called Women at Hyatt. It’s an internal networking opportunity. I was part of the founding team in Hong Kong when I worked over there, and I am a really strong believer that when you do these kind of chapters and bring women together, not only women, I mean, we also invite men to our women at Hyatt because if you really want to have a diverse set of opinions, you also need the input of male colleagues and see how they feel about certain things, because I think that shows you’re more inclusive of whoever is part of that. 

Rike Erdbrink: But when we first started this and we listened to other female colleagues and the feedback that they give, you don’t even think about it because certain things have just always been like that. And it’s simple things like, why do I need to wear high heels when I need to do a two hour site inspection? Absolutely right. You can absolutely wear flat shoes. But to change that mindset that people had and that kind of still stereotype, I am wearing black today, but you have to dress a certain way, no colors. And we changed all of that. No dangly earrings, no red nail polish. But there’s like small things that have to change. And especially in Asia to change that culture was very difficult. But listening to these other women and making small changes has opened up so many opportunities. But then I also feel women don’t talk about salary. Women don’t talk about how much someone should earn. Women don’t talk about when they were not treated well in the job environment. Women need to speak up. But where do you do that? Do you go to your male leader or do you go to a female colleague? And then I think it’s very important to differentiate between complaining or gossiping or having a meaningful conversation about how someone truly feels and how can we change that and how can we move forward and progress. That’s super important. And as I said, I’ve had mainly male mentors, but now I’m lucky that I found some female mentors that I can talk to and also peers, other female GM’s that I’ve met along the way. And we can bounce ideas off each other and discuss things that we’re not necessarily comfortable to talk about with male leaders. 

Robin Trimingham: Yeah, I think having the ability to get a variety of perspectives is actually a very valuable thing. So I think you can only help yourself by seeking out mentors who are completely different from for one reason or another. We’ve got just a minute or two left here to close out our discussion today. Can you offer our hotel listeners one piece of advice for embracing diversity and building inclusion in an authentic way? 

Rike Erdbrink: I think the most important thing for anyone in this industry is to ask themselves, how do you want to be treated? Because when you know how you want to be treated, that’s exactly how you should treat others, include others, take care of others. And to really incorporate all these different opinions and to really embrace this diversity and to be able to build inclusions. If you can’t even explain how you want to be seen or heard or treated, it’s very hard to care for others, too. We’re in the hospitality industry is all about care. It’s about creating experiences. It’s about making guests feel welcome. And we welcome people from all sorts of life. And that same principle applies to our colleagues. And there are so many different viewpoints. But again, it starts with yourself. So if you know how you want to be treated, then you will also know how to take care of others. 

Robin Trimingham: That’s great advice for anyone who’s listening. Rike, thank you so much for your time today. You’ve been listening to the Innovative Hotelier podcast. Join us again soon for up to the minute insights and advice specifically for the hotel and hospitality industry. You’ve been listening to the Innovative Hotelier podcast by Hotels magazine. Join us again soon for more conversations with hospitality industry thought leaders. 

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