“Diversity and Inclusion” – What to Keep in Mind While Walking the Walk

August 13, 2021

Photo courtesy of Business to Community

Many national chains have made commitments to implementing diversity and inclusion. Sometimes this has taken the form of tying executive compensation to reaching diversity goals, while other times it has required creating and hiring entirely new positions, such as chief diversity and equity officers. Whatever the form, the restaurant industry has embarked on a journey of transitioning supportive words into effective action. This being said, deeper insight into how small-scale, single-entity businesses should make sure their diversity and inclusion goals are met are often overlooked for newsworthy chain developments. Now is a time to revamp efforts across the board, from mom and pop shops to corporate chains, to get the restaurant industry where it needs to be. 

According to Andre Howell, the vice president of the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance, restaurant operators (but also everyone else) should keep in mind that “diversity changes have to be sustainable; they cannot come across as a one-time program or flavor of the month. This is something that’s embedded into the culture of an organization. It’s how you do business.” On this foundation, restaurants will be able to affect meaningful change by permeating diversity into every pore of the business, paying specific attention to the roles and responsibilities of leadership, and acknowledging that there is no fast-track to implementing substantial diversity and inclusion measures. 

Permeate Diversity Into Every Pore 

According to Howell, “rather than having meetings about diversity and inclusion, corporations should instead imbue diversity considerations into all meetings. That way, inclusion can seep its way into the company culture, rather than just be a special event.” This is an important first step – increasing diversity is not a one-time occurrence, nor will continually speaking about it without any tangible subsequent action actually do anything. Several restaurant businesses have taken steps in the right direction. Popeyes has developed a diversity and inclusion scorecard which essentially does a deep dive into the demographics of its marketing and advertising spending. Given the brand’s diverse customer base and history, having equally diverse advertisements, including the team who creates them, is a necessity. Popeyes found very useful results from the scorecard: less than 33% of Popeyes customers are Black, the percentage of its Black on-air talent is around 46%, it’s influencer partners are almost exactly33% Black, and Black agencies only represent 8% of its marketing spend. In the words of the global head of brand marketing Ryan Robertson, “the difference in walking the walk is, ‘What are the actions coming out of that talk? This scorecard is really our starting point.” 

Noodles & Company also took tangible action by implementing a gender-neutral bathroom policy for all of its stores. The reason: “We have a lot of team members that identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, so how do we advocate for them? [The gender-neutral bathrooms] are a part of our inclusive culture,” according to inclusion and diversity manager Alicia Williams. Not only has Noodles & Company kept the policy in place in the face of mass conversative backlash, but it also put the policy into place thanks to employee input from its company-wide listening forums; these forums reportedly “encourage ideas from employees that can help change the company culture so that it better aligns with their values,” according to Williams. Lastly, the company additionally took a step in the right direction by signing the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge. This pledge, now hosting almost 2000 CEOs, is a commitment to create diversity and inclusion plans and education material, amongst other things. 

Make Targeted Changes to Leadership

Many physical changes will help address lacking diversity and inclusion, however cultural changes need to be made as well – and the best place to instigate cultural shifts is in changing leadership. The first step will, and always has been, promoting more women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ community members to leadership positions. Aside from the usual diversity goals, such as aiming to fill 50% of corporate positions with individuals from diverse backgrounds, companies need to get more hands-on. Shake Shack, for example, has established an 18-week leadership development program called Shift Up. This program helps shift managers develop and strengthen the necessary skills to get promoted. According to the director of diversity, equity, inclusion and culture at Shake Shack Idris Stover, “Shift Up is allowing us to create that internal pipeline. And it’s actually us saying we want our people to grow. We assessed where the gaps were and we built this program to help close those gaps.” In addition, Shake Shack has implemented employee resource groups based on specific demographics for added support. 

No Fast-track Exists

Lastly, the industry needs to recognize just how far it still has to go. Changes have been in the works for years, however it is no secret that last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and its various implications gave the world a “it’s now or never mindset.” Unfortunately, that mindset is neither sustainable nor accurate. Implementing substantial, effective diversity and inclusion policies and changes is a process that is never fully complete. Right now, perhaps one of the biggest issues is that C-suites in the industry are largely occupied by white, male leaders. Individuals in the industry have known this well before last summers’ protests arose, however it takes time for individual companies to make the necessary changes. The executive vice president of inclusion, diversity, and people at Noodles & Company Sue Petersen admits that “if you looked at our executives or board six years ago, you would probably see a very homogenous-looking team. But we’ve grown; we have women and people of color sitting in those seats, but it didn’t happen overnight.” 

The process is threefold: realize, educate, then implement. Coming to terms with, and then educating yourself further, on the reality of the industry’s diversity and inclusion must happen before tangible changes are made. From then on, many effective policies are at your disposal, especially with the help and input of the very employees they will affect.

Founded by attorneys Andreas Koutsoudakis and Michael Iakovou, KI Legal focuses on guiding companies and businesses throughout the entire legal spectrum as it relates to their business including day-to-day operations and compliance, litigation and transactional matters.

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