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Seema Jain Makes Cultural Understanding Good for Business

How a first-generation Indian-American with a finance background helps teach Marriott International staff how to take care of global guests.

MeetingsNet’s annual Changemaker list recognizes 20 outstanding meetings professionals for their efforts to move their organizations and the industry forward in unique and positive ways. Find all the profiles here.


Seema Jain

Director, Multicultural Affairs
Marriott International

For promoting tolerance and providing training in cultural understanding



Making Change
I developed Marriott’s first Culture Day program in 2014, and it was designed to make sure our staff knew how to take care of multicultural guests and how they want to be treated. Marriott began with education for our salespeople so that they understood the mindset for Indian weddings, and we have now expanded the training for the event and culinary teams. Since then we have created programs for 13 cultures—we follow the market and create programs based on who will be staying with us. For example, when a Japanese incentive group last year came to the Marriott Marquis in New York, we did an additional in-house training to properly welcome them. We are very proud of this baby at our company!

What’s Next?
The main thing I would love to see in the next year is reaching deeper into the roughly 730,000 people who wear a Marriott name badge around the world to give everyone the opportunity to learn. I have created videos on our intranet so that people can at least learn that way if they can’t come to a live presentation. So far, we have LGBTQ, Jewish, and Indian videos and a Muslim guest webinar. I try to add a new video every year.

Managing Change
I learned the three As from my father: Accept a situation, Adjust to it, Appreciate it. Change is a positive thing! 

Both my parents are from India and came here in the 1960s, so they know how to adapt. My father was a professor of finance, accounting, and statistics and then bought two hotels. I’m working on his autobiography with him and I am amazed at how much he has accomplished as an immigrant.

Another way I promote and manage change is to use my finance background to show case studies that demonstrate how small things, like offering miso soup or understanding Shabbat, make a difference to the bottom line. Cultural competence helps us evolve as the industry changes. 

Best Advice
Deserve before you desire—my husband said that. You need to work at things; you can’t just get a promotion because you want one. Also, I really believe that success is never final—I tell my teams, “When you think you’ve mastered the Indian wedding market, come back to me and we’ll keep growing.” You can never be satisfied.

Thinking Differently
I am a first-generation Indian American, and as a teen, I struggled between the two cultures. When you are an immigrant child, you learn to be more accepting and appreciate different expectations.

Role Model
There are so many wonderful people, but Steve Jobs inspired me with his presentation style. Fewer words, more visuals, and speak to the audience. If I want them to read everything, then they don’t need me!

What Advice Do You Give?
I try to encourage people to go for it; what’s the worst that can happen? Someone might say no. Also, quite often people ask me for vegetarian recipes. If I can inspire someone to change their life, that’s great. I am always happy to share anything that will help someone feel better.

Got a Spare Hour?
Yoga! In today’s fast-paced world, you have to take a moment to slow down. It is a luxury to escape and focus on yourself. I do everything from hot yoga to vinyasa.

BACK TO THE FULL LIST OF 2019 CHANGEMAKERS

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