Time to deliver on ethnic diversity

A new Footprint Intelligence report shows signs of progress among hospitality businesses on ethnic diversity and inclusion but true employee equity remains a long way off. Nick Hughes reports. 

May 25th will mark the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Floyd’s murder led to worldwide protests and brought global attention to the Black Lives Matter movement which seeks to highlight racism, discrimination and inequality experienced by black people.

It also provoked a period of introspection among many business leaders over the adequacy of their own efforts to tackle the racism and racial bias that many people from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority backgrounds believe they face in their day-to-day personal and professional lives.

Published last week, a new Footprint Intelligence report – Ethnicity and Hospitality: Time to deliver on diversity – explores the racial inequality that still exists within the sector and considers how businesses can begin to deliver on their ethnic diversity and inclusion ambitions.

Based on interviews with industry representatives, sector employees and expert opinion leaders, it found an unquestionable appetite for businesses to become more diverse, inclusive places to work, but ongoing challenges with making the structural and cultural shifts needed to get there.

Racial bias

The launch of Footprint’s report coincided with the latest survey from not-for-profit Be Inclusive Hospitality. Despite respondents overall feeling very positive about the sector, the research found evidence of racism in the hospitality workplace and a lack of equal opportunity in career progression for people from Black, Asian and Mixed Ethnic backgrounds.

The survey of over 1,000 employees and entrepreneurs from all backgrounds and career levels found that 28% of Asian, 37% of Black and 39% of Mixed Ethnic respondents have experienced or witnessed racism in their current place of work compared with 22% of White respondents.

Amongst those that have witnessed or experienced racism, just 23% of Asian, 16% of Black and 12% of Mixed Ethnic respondents have been offered wellbeing support, including mental health or otherwise.

A significant proportion of respondents feel their ethnicity has impacted their career progression opportunities: Black respondents, at 43%, are most likely to believe that ethnicity has hindered their career progress with 37% of Asian (37%) and 28% of Mixed Ethnic professionals feeling the same. In contrast, just 7% of White respondents believe this to be the case.

The survey also pointed to a lack of preventative or remedial action being taken by employers to clamp down on racism and racial discrimination. Only one in five of all respondents say they have attended a workshop or course about anti-racism, race or language, despite 52% having a strong appetite to do so.

Encouraging signs

So are businesses doing enough to promote and progress the ethnic diversity and inclusion agenda?

Footprint’s own report found plenty of encouraging signs including the development of new diversity strategies and commitments. Yet an ongoing lack of ethnic diversity in senior positions within pub, restaurant, hotel, contract catering and other hospitality businesses suggests that efforts to improve diversity and inclusion of people from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority backgrounds have yet to bear fruit. Indeed, within the sector as a whole representation of employees from these backgrounds is clustered in the lowest paid positions.

We asked a number of sector professionals from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority backgrounds whether they had experienced overt or covert racial discrimination during their time in the hospitality sector. Many said they had and gave examples ranging from the use of racist language by colleagues to times when they had been passed over for promotion in favour of lesser-qualified White colleagues.

Some businesses admitted to placing a greater historical focus on gender diversity, albeit there was a clear sense that ethnicity is now firmly on the boardroom agenda.

Start with a strategy

The starting point for many companies has been to sign up to industry wide initiatives and commitments like Business in the Community’s race at work charter.

More and more companies are taking the next step and establishing their own formal diversity and inclusion strategies, including ethnicity.

Progress is also being made with collection of ethnicity data on metrics such as senior level representation, pay and staff retention. Companies are starting to become more transparent with their data including, in the case of Sodexo, voluntarily publishing an ethnicity pay gap.

Pressure has been growing on the UK government to mandate ethnicity pay gap reporting. In February, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee called on the government to introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting by April 2023 for all organisations that currently report for gender. The Conservative government under Theresa May previously consulted on the idea but there remains no formal requirement for businesses to report on ethnic representation and pay gaps.

That hasn’t stopped major sector employers like Whitbread and Starbucks setting their own targets for senior level representation of people from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority backgrounds.

Yet generating data and setting targets are just two elements of what experts told Footprint must be a holistic approach to improving ethnic diversity and inclusion.

Initiatives like mentoring and sponsoring, employee education, and leadership training are considered important but Lorraine Copes, founder of Be Inclusive Hospitality, said the problem of racial inequity is “far too complex and deep rooted […] to attempt to address [it] with standalone initiatives”. She added that companies must focus on removing the structural barriers that exist as part of a broader diversity and inclusion strategy.

The report presents an incontrovertible moral case for greater ethnic diversity and inclusion in the hospitality sector, but it also highlights a powerful commercial rationale. Research suggests that ethnically diverse companies are likely to have higher financial returns; and those that aren’t risk missing out on future growth and access to talent.

If hospitality business leaders were in any doubt, the time to deliver on ethnic diversity really has arrived.

The Footprint Intelligence report Ethnicity and Hospitality: Time to deliver on diversity can be downloaded for free here.

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