Words by Caitlin Allwood

How to Create Inclusive and Diverse Teams

The conversation on the importance of diversity and inclusivity in hospitality is not a new one, and most people agree that there’s room for improvement and are even positive about the idea of change. However, there’s still a huge gap between rhetoric and action. You only need to look at some of these statistics to know we’re not quite where we should be; 

Even if you don’t recognise that as an employer it’s your responsibility to create a balanced team within your organisation, from a business perspective it makes perfect sense – being an employer that welcomes everyone can surely only have a positive impact on your reputation. However, it’s not just about how you’ll be perceived externally, look online and you’ll find a stream of recent interesting articles and research that tell us the positive impact on team morale, productivity and staff turnover when teams are more diverse and inclusive. 

Last year during Joe Biden’s primary debate for the presidency, he pledged that if he won, he’d select a woman to be his Vice President. It would be only the third time a major party had selected a woman for the post. When considering the right candidate for Vice President, he recognised his blind spot and actively recruited a woman, teeing her up to potentially be the next president of the United States. 

Biden knew it didn’t make sense for him to have another white man, with a similar background to him by his side. He recognised that his team would be stronger with someone who wasn’t just like him; someone who’d be looking at things from a different vantage point to him. Biden set an example to everyone; that it was time to make change happen.  

So why when most of us aren’t consciously discriminating, did Biden take such unprecedented action? Why are some large hospitality operators such as Nando’s implementing hiring quotas? In a nutshell, because of unconscious bias. Not everyone wants to face up to their unconscious bias, after all, it’s a pretty uncomfortable thing to admit to yourself; that you unconsciously discriminate against those who don’t look like you. However, if you don’t recognise that you naturally empathise more with people like yourself then you could end up unwittingly giving a candidate a job simply because you empathise with them. 

I spoke to Sean Wheeler who runs his own People and Culture Consultancy business. He’s racked up experience in leading People and Culture roles with companies such as The Dorchester Collection, Malmaison, and Kimpton Hotels to name a few. I wanted to know his thoughts on the benefits of the sector building diverse and inclusive teams and where to start. 

We start by discussing the barriers for hospitality “In some parts of the industry, there is still a need to educate operators that the world is a changing place and everyone is welcome to work in hospitality and enjoy it as a guest” he says. I can relate to this, for every person I talk to about the importance of D&I and understands it, there’s many more who don’t and are resistant to implementing change. The current staffing shortage means many businesses simply don’t have the luxury of being choosy at the moment, so the idea of building a more diverse team and creating an inclusive working environment might be pretty low down in the list of priorities right now. It’s a fair point, however, by creating an inclusive business and aiming to build a diverse team you are opening up opportunities to everyone thus attracting a mix of people of different backgrounds and abilities. It’s about getting a wider demographic of people applying to work for you. 

Making everyone feel included is just as important as diversity, so I ask Sean what operators can do to make everyone feel wanted, listened to and accommodated “As the world continues to evolve people’s individuality needs to be embraced and simple adjustments made in the workplace to ensure they feel included and part of the team”. He raises an important point because hiring a specific demographic will fail if you don’t have the right working environment. For example, how many hospitality employers out there have pregnant people working for them right now? Or have part-time parents working for them in senior roles? The sector is notorious for its long or antisocial hours, and the work is often considered very demanding or stressful. That only really suits a certain demographic and not most people hence why many people leave hospitality when they start a family. Sean emphasises this need for businesses to be more accommodating “Operators need to be more flexible about tasks and roles, open up opportunities to those who have different work needs and those with disabilities by making simple adjustments to the tasks and or the workplace”. 

I spoke to Samira Effa, a Chef who has worked at Michelin starred restaurants 21212, Bohemia, Idle Rocks and Alimentum. I asked for her thoughts on the talent hospitality excludes by not creating senior part-time opportunities and she told me “ This is something I always think about when taking a senior role. I think employers need to start breaking the back of what the industry has previously been. This will mean we will start seeing longevity in staff. Wouldn’t it be better to have a part-time senior member of the team that knows the business through and through but wants to have time for family as well as time for work? I feel certain aspects are certainly changing slowly in quite a few establishments, better working hours and pay, closure days etc… still a long way to go though!!”. 

I think that many people want to make positive changes so they attract a wider demographic, but they simply don’t know where to start. I ask Sean what people can do “Make simple adjustments in the workplace – toilets, uniforms, changing facilities, work stations and use the right terminology, respect what individuals like to be known by and tackle any lack of D&I in the workplace”. Also, there are now organisations offering unconscious bias training with your team. When writing adverts keep them gender-neutral and consider using blind CVs. It’s also worth reviewing the ethos and values of your business, ensuring your team lives and breathes those values every day.

I ask Sean where businesses can get help “there are a number of organisations in the LGBTQ & Disability communities to name a few that will come in and assess where organisations are with their Diversity and Inclusivity then advise them on what steps they can take. All companies should regularly review their people policies and any marketing used internally and externally to ensure the language and tone of voice used is inclusive. Seek out those operators that are doing D&I well and visit them, speak to them to see how they have embraced a more inclusive culture. Set out a plan of change and involve the team so they buy-in and they make it happen”.

The simple way of looking at it would be to ask yourself who you need to add to your business when hiring rather than asking who will fit. Consider the blind spots within your business and set realistic targets, make adjustments, create senior part-time opportunities, think about the language you use internally, and in job adverts. This way your business will become more attractive to a wider range of candidates.

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