Industry Leaders Discuss the Steps to a More Equitable Future for Hospitality


Moderated by Rosanna Caira

The death of American George Floyd at the hands of police fuelled outrage and sparked protests and demonstrations against anti-Black racism across North America and around the world, igniting a growing movement for a more equitable and just society.

While the foodservice-and-hospitality industry is home to a diverse workforce, barriers to equality continue to exist in restaurants and hotels alike.

In August, Kostuch Media Ltd., in partnership with the Easton’s Group of Hotels, broadcast a live roundtable discussion on what the industry needs to do to dismantle those barriers and ensure discrimination is eradicated, true equality is achieved and everyone is treated with the respect they deserve. The webcast was sponsored by Accor, LG Business Solutions, Chelsea Hotel Toronto and Telus Business.

Rosanna Caira: How have racism and inequality manifested themselves in the foodservice and hospitality industry?

Christina Veira: One thing that’s very important that a lot of us forget, is anything you would encounter in society will manifest itself in our workplaces. Hospitality often has this mentality that we’re a step removed, partly because we market escapism and luxury — or at least a break. So, a lot of times people treat racism as something that would be brought in with a rare customer on a rainy day and not something that can live in the structures in your spaces. And we see that, in a lot of ways — not only with how guests interact with each other, but how we interact with each other. In Canada, especially when we talk about racism, we should talk about racism in general — I don’t think we should only talk about anti-Black racism. [For example,] we should talk about anti-Indigenous racism, especially when you look at the demographics of certain cities — there aren’t a lot of Black people in some of the major cities [outside] Toronto, but there are a lot of Indigenous people who are represented on the lower rungs of hospitality [and] very much not represented in any of the upper echelons. That is to say, we have to look at how people interact with each other. [Some in our] society are so unused to the idea of Black women, or Indigenous men or Indian women, ever telling them what to do that — when it gets put into a hospitality context, which could just be a wine recommendation — [they] will have a very different reaction to what other people are used to.

Andrea Gunraj: The hospitality industry is not unique in that people of colour, racialized, Black or Indigenous people don’t get to the higher levels of authority and pay. [We should also] broaden it out to not just at the higher levels, but the entire industry, [which has], in many ways, relied historically on part-time, precarious work and precarious workers. We’ve been talking a lot about paid work, especially now, in a pandemic context, but not just paid work, good work. Precarious work — part time or piecemeal work — makes it difficult to live and you also don’t have access to health benefits, which impacts your ability to live a stable life. And, we know it’s racialized people, racialized women, newcomers and marginalized groups who are disproportionately represented in this kind of work, across all industries. We have to remember that over-reliance on precarious work really does go hand-in-hand with racism and the racist dynamics we see. We also have to remember there’s a gender dynamic playing out — these jobs tend to be seen as traditionally [being] women’s work and that gets devalued. It’s paid less, seen as less worthy of support [and] less worthy of acknowledgement, let alone respect.

Joshna Maharaj: We’re at a point where we’re going to have a conversation about first recognizing and acknowledging systemic racism and then figuring out a way to break it down. In Canada, we have to embrace what that entails. We’re doing ourselves a disservice if we imagine this is a binary white-black conversation, because it’s not. Yes, we’re in a time where there is, unfortunately, a sort of racism triage — we’re realizing the biggest bleed is coming from our Black community right now and there’s an urgency around addressing that specifically. But, if we’re going to attempt to have this conversation about what’s happening in our industry, we have to remember all the other pieces in between as well. This is one of the tensions that exist between Canada and the U.S., because their conversation is very binary. I’d really like to push for the idea that a Canadian version of this [conversation] is reflective of the full breadth of the population of people we have here — understanding different people get different hits at different times. We have to acknowledge when things are severe, which is why isolating a Black experience and an Indigenous experience is vital and makes a lot of sense right now, but we can’t imagine that everything else is okay.

RC: Are “diversity” and “inclusion” sufficient terms to cover off this important area? Do we need a different vocabulary in order to effectively address and eradicate the barriers that exist in this industry?

Don Cleary: Marriott’s always focused on inclusion — regardless of race, nationality, gender, gender preference, age or ability. I think the vocabulary is fine and we don’t really need another vocabulary, but I do think we need a better understanding [of it]. In getting ready for this webinar, somebody shared with me a quote I really liked and it said that ‘diversity is being invited to the dance; inclusion is being asked to dance; but belonging is dancing like no one’s watching.’ At Marriott, we want to ensure all of our employees and customers feel they belong, no matter what they look like, what their preferences are or where they come from. For us, it’s deeply rooted in our culture. Arnie Sorenson recently said our strength lies in the diversity of our workforce and the diversity of our community of customers. But, frankly, the unfortunate events that were triggered with the death of George Floyd have caused our company to do more reflection and [recognize] there’s more we need to do to double down on our efforts of inclusion and diversity.

Sara Glenn: At the end of the day, diversity and inclusivity are just words, so I’m not sure we need a different vocabulary. What will be critical, as we move forward, is different action. We can use whatever words we feel are most appropriate or resonate best with us, but action is to make the difference. I’ll just give you two examples that I’ve looked at. [First is] reverse mentoring. As a senior leader within the North and Central America region, I’ve reached out to someone within our region, someone of colour, to mentor me — someone who knows more and has a better understanding. If I was to use my lens or my words, I wouldn’t get to the point that I can navigate better, lead better or make better decisions.

The other thing that’s important, specifically for parents of colour in general, is “the talk” — especially with their sons. But, what about the discussion white parents need to be having with their children? I have two young sons, 11 and 12, and I want to build in them the capacity to have the right words to be able to have the conversation, because, at the end of the day, regardless of the words, silence is the killer. It’s really about having the conversation. We’re not always going to get the words right, but if we don’t have the conversation, we’re going to be at a significant disadvantage.

Chandran Fernando: Those two words are just words and to take it deeper, I find those two words actually divisive in the sense there are several meanings and interpretations and some individuals of our society — the default part of society, white males — feel they’re not included in this term ‘diversity.’ When we start looking at language and how it connects to our behaviour patterns, that’s where we need to shift the conversation.

When we talk about racism and anti-racism, what I’ve noticed, especially in the last few months, is we’re forgetting this thing called racism is a behaviour pattern that stems from human interaction and human behaviour. So, if we are to truly address this particular cancer, as I call it, we need to start pausing for a second to unlearn what’s actually happening around us. Where did these behaviour patterns come from? Where have these perceptions and stereotypes come from? Then it’s moving to the state of belonging, so whether we’re focused on our teams or departments, entire company framework or society in general, we need to move to that mindset. And, finally, what are those behaviour patterns we’re trying to evolve from and eradicate as well? And, why are we still fixated on this? It’s not just about Black and people of colour. We have to start educating young white males and young white females about what they have inherited as entitlements that [have] put them in a state of privilege in regard to how we all interact. That’s how we must start the conversation — it’s about changing behaviours and changing patterns of how we think and act.

Reetu Gupta: It’s great when you have companies like Marriott really standing up for this because that’s what’s going to trigger change in the world. I’m seeing people now looking at their boards and at their company and saying, ‘okay, well, we’re not diverse. So, let’s hire more women. Let’s hire more people that are ethnic.’ But, then I feel you’re losing the whole point of diversity and inclusion. You also want to make sure you have diverse thinking on your team — you’re not just making a hire because the person is Brown or Asian or Black, but you’re making sure you’re including people because they deserve to be there.

RC: When you look at the school system, you see vastly different populations in hospitality schools/programs and the frontlines are very diverse. But that same diversity isn’t reflected in senior management roles. What’s broken in that talent pipeline? What are the structural barriers that are really hindering diversity from across all levels in the industry?

Julie Denton: At Recipe, we have more than 1,300 locations, 22 banners and more than 60,000 associates. As one of the largest full-service restaurant companies, we feel a sense of responsibility around cultivating the next generation of leaders. Our responsibility starts by making this an attractive industry and, for people to want to come into this industry, they need to see it as an industry that’s not just about part-time work, but one with career potential — whether [that’s through] a culinary track or as a director of Operations or getting into marketing or training. If we think about the ability to attract talent and really get them engaged in our industry, it starts there.

JM: Being a Brown woman in this world is a solid challenge and I’d like to return to the idea of schools and considering structural barriers that exist to hinder diversity and equity. I really believe the culinary and hospitality curriculum, as it exists, with its deep roots in the French brigade system, is in fact an instrument of colonization. It’s important for us to recognize that racism is the air that colonization breathes, so we can’t talk about one without talking about the other. My focus is institutions — I pay a lot of attention to values in institutions — and the one thing I know is that institutions are built to do one thing one way. So, if we want to make change, every little element of the institution also needs to be ready to make that change. It’s not like we can just say ‘here is our new diversity curriculum.’ We have to think about all of the things that exist in that context.

Juanita Dickson: It’s important to be having this discussion and if there’s any kind of silver lining in the events that have happened over the last few months, it’s that we are now having the conversations. Being a women-led company and a women-owned company, we’ve always prided ourselves on being part of that conversation, but realized we’re at the point where we need to bring it to the next level.

One of the barriers is that we haven’t been doing as much listening as we need to be doing. So, one of the practices we’re now changing is pausing and listening a lot more to really understand what kind of change we as leaders, and we as an organization, need to make. We’ve formed a cross-functional committee and put out a call to all of our employees — even though most of them were furloughed at the time — and had an overwhelming response of people coming to the table to say, ‘I want to be part of this change, I want to review all of our company policies and procedures.’ We’ve always prided ourselves on being open, diverse and having a workplace free of all this discrimination, but we’re realizing, through giving people a voice at the table, there are things we can change. Giving them the voice will allow us to listen and be part of the change.

Michelle Caine: When it comes to hiring — and I must preface my comments and say we all have our own experiences and our own voices — if your organization wants to hire Black people, hire Black people. And, if you can’t find Black people, I’m sure someone out there will be able to help — it seems simple. Go into the communities where they are, go to the community centres, go to the schools that have them. If you’re concerned about experience, then train them. If you want a Black executive, train and develop your Black executive, if you could not find one to apply to your role. If you’re specifically looking for an Indian voice, then find someone with that background who has that voice. I think there’s some fear in that — fear of reverse discrimination. Don’t be afraid of that reverse discrimination if that’s what you need. Now, obviously, I don’t want to be hired just because I’m a Black woman. I want to be hired as a smart, Black female with a lot of industry experience. And, if you can’t find that, then train that Black hostess, train that Black bartender and inspire them. I’m in the college system and we’re not perfect. We have a lot of things to do ourselves, but once those [students] graduate, we’re asking our industry to keep them. It’s a tough industry to stay in and I’m sure there’s a lot of cultural and psychological reasons why Black men or women don’t stay in a servant type of role, but if you find that spark, maybe it’s not hiring for experience, maybe it’s hiring for potential.

David Wolfman: As an Indigenous person. I’ve seen a lot of different youth come into my classroom and say, how did you get to where you are? Being in the hospitality industry, I’m in the best position in the world because my job isn’t being a teacher — I’m not a professor, I don’t teach culinary — I change people’s lives. I have these young, green youth that all have great ideas and want to do all of these things. We don’t have to create a hunger, they’re hungry already. They want to learn and have open minds. I have to make sure I put the right information in there and also inspire them and see that, as an Indigenous person, you can do anything you want, but you have to put your mind to it. Then there’s also certain criteria we must meet in the industry — handling food, proper techniques, et cetera. So, it’s important to nurture them, show them there are fluctuations and challenges that are going to happen and give them the tools they need. If we give them those tools and skills, when they do go out in the industry, they can say ‘hey, I can do anything I want, if I put my mind to it.’ Every student also comes with their own vision of ‘this is how we did food’ and we can say, ‘well that’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with that,’ but at the same time, they need to know, while it’s important to bring their character and understanding, they also have to add to it. And, I always say that I’m not giving them more skills, I’m just adding to their repertoire of knowledge.

CV: I would be wary of lending any credence to the concept of stereotypes as a reason why people aren’t hired. I also think there’s a lot of passivity in the language being used when talking about hiring. Hiring is one step, fostering talent is another step and promoting talent is another step. Fostering talent is a really big part of this that has to be discussed in terms of how people actually go about having people in their spaces. We have to be really honest with each other. So, if you have a management team and ownership team that’s never considered the idea they’ve had a customer complaint that could be informed by homophobia, racism, transphobia, classism, then you have a trash management team who doesn’t know how to manage their floor. Because, if they don’t know that sometimes a complaint about a fork or the speed [of service] is a complaint that is only coming for one certain type of person, because of the body they’re in, then that’s its own thing.

I went to one of the best private schools in Canada, but I’m Black, so people assume I’m dumb and, when I go to the table, people won’t take my actual wine recommendation or my drink recommendation depending on where I’m working. I have to have people above me with the idea that part of this means they have to manage guests’ and other people in that space’s reaction to me, in my body, as a way of managing other things. Let’s be honest about what hospitality looks like — hospitality has been slow to have HR departments and still doesn’t treat HR as something that could be a director-level position. A lot of HR [roles are] essentially white women coming out of college, who are then put into these positions and aren’t treated as someone who is director level, even though they’re in charge of everyone who is hired. So, we have this whole department that’s not always given the ability to offer real training and develop a system. And that’s not everyone — I know a lot of people in this room have the HR background — but there’s a whole sexist way in which, especially hospitality, has dealt with their HR departments, which means they often become the protector of [the] traditionally white and male ownership level. All that is to say, how do you get more Black staff? Yes, you hire more Black staff, but you make your space safer — the same way you do to attract more trans staff or more women. Part of the reason why a lot of people leave the industry is because it’s not safe for them and they’re not able to succeed in the same ways other people can succeed. And — I say this as someone who went to university [and] has won global awards — I’m not treated, in interviews with hotel groups or restaurant groups (when I used to do them), in the same way they treat white men, who are my friends with far less experience and who have never won a global award. They don’t get questions about ‘how do you manage confrontation’ or ‘is this going to be too much volume?’ They don’t get those questions because the people are very used to certain bodies being very good in certain situations. So, when you talk about internal bias, we also can’t talk about it as something that’s passive.

CF: I want to go back to the structural side of the system. We need to recognize this system was built this way. The system is not broken — this system was designed to keep a majority of folks who are of colour and of various genders, out, and various orientations out as well. So, when we look at how we eradicate racism, how do we do better, it’s not just about hiring, it’s about the support system. Are we consciously recognizing we have our own internal biases, stereotypes and assumptions that are keeping these barriers — invisible or visible?

Also, regarding the academia system, we’re still steeped in this archaic way of teaching and aren’t embracing the global mindset of what we’re all able to offer to evolve the system. We need a multi-pronged approach. It’s not just about attracting these people, because they actually exist in the industry to this day — there are people who are of colour, various genders or various orientations, who are at the mid- and senior level, but they’re constantly being ignored or bypassed because we have these networks that currently exists. We need to look at the qualities and contributions those individuals can provide to our systems and to our teams and then look at how we eradicate those negative stereotypes, because that’s what’s keeping us away from each other.

At the end of the day, it’s changing your mindset. Pause, look around you and say, ‘what do I need to learn? What do I need to do to fix, to change it, to make it better so that we can all thrive?’ Because that’s the goal. We’re all trying to get there. Because this industry is not different from any other industry — each industry is lacking when it comes to embracing what belonging is and what people can offer.

RC: What are some of the best practices your companies already have in place to help build a more equitable industry?

SG: At Accor, we want a systemic and sustainable form of change — not a tick-the-box exercise, not ‘I got trained, so therefore I’m okay’ — and that starts with listening and understanding what’s going on, what’s being said and how people feel. But you have to listen and then, publicly and loudly, commit to the change. Our teams are watching us — we need to do better. Then you’ve got to set clear and measurable objectives that change, which we’re doing, and take that action. If we don’t acknowledge there’s an issue or an opportunity, we’ll be having the same conversation a year from now — or five or 10 years from now. One of the things we forget is we’ve changed our approach to leadership — leading a diverse group of people is different than leading a homogenous group.

JDenton: We’ve got such diversity across our franchisees, so we’re focused on listening to their experiences and listening to the associates and hearing about their experiences and how we can do better. We want them to have a voice in how we do better — we’re starting down a path of change and we recognize that we’re starting it, but it starts with a conversation. If we want to see change, it is about making it not just a topical conversation, and it is topical now, but making sure the commitments we’re making to our team members [are being] fulfilled. That commitment starts with our leaders — we’ve got alignment from our board, our executive team and our Recipe leadership team, and that’s our top-100 leaders from across the organization. [We also] have an employee-advocacy group and a franchisee-advocacy group and there’s unconscious-bias training we’re rolling out across the board to make sure we all have a common understanding and a common language.

We’re rolling out policies focused on zero tolerance for discrimination and those policies are being vetted by our employees. We want our employees to know the standard by which we’re going to hold ourselves accountable, so we’ve dusted off policies that were probably 10 years old and said they’re not relevant, the language of these policies doesn’t feel right. That exercise of re-drafting, re-writing and, ultimately, re-training and holding ourselves accountable makes sure there’s open, honest channels; that we can build a sense of trust and build a safe space where employees feel we’re truly embarking on change that matters.

JD: Our approach is about listening and about a strong commitment from the top down. So, in addition to our anti-racism and respect-in-the-workplace policy, we issued a manifesto on anti-racism, equity and inclusion, embracing the idea of listening and including everyone. We all come from different backgrounds and it’s that diversity we embrace, making sure everyone has a voice at the table. We’ve created a cross-functional team that’s looking at all of the changes we’re recommending on our policies or any changes in language that needs to be reflected. A lot of this points to us needing to do some work on the training-and-development side. We’re adding courses on Google University around inclusion, unconscious bias and how we’re shifting our hiring practices, so we put that bias to the side and the outcome ends up being a diverse workforce.

DC: It starts at the top. Two decades ago, Marriott established the Board of Directors committee focused on inclusion and advancement of minorities and women — that committee today is headed by Deborah Lee — and it consists of senior leaders that meet regularly to talk about how we’re doing. We also have a Global Diversity and Inclusion Council that was established more than 10 years ago — headed up by Arnie Sorensen, our CEO — which meets regularly to measure how we’re doing in all aspects of the business. And, of course, what gets done gets measured, so we set goals and we tie senior leaders’ compensation to achieving those goals of advancing people. It also extends down to all our new hires. We have a couple of mandatory training programs that we put our employees through — all managers and hourly associates take this course — and it’s where we try to give everyone an understanding of the sort of unconscious biases that virtually all of us bring to the workforce. Then we work on those and really lead towards making sure we’re providing people — despite their backgrounds — a warm welcome. Another program we have is called ‘Valuing our World of Differences,’ where we educate staff on the various diverse people we have. There’s a series of programs but, again, it starts at the top and then is pulled through at all aspects of our hiring-and-development process for developing diverse senior leaders going forward. We like to say success is never final. Recent events and the tragic death of George Floyd has caused us to reflect on what more we can do, so we’ve embarked upon a series of town-hall meeting. I listened in on the first one two weeks ago that was hosted by our CEO Arnie Sorensen and David Rodriguez, our head of HR, where we really started to hear from our associates. And we heard things that are tough — we heard people criticizing us, saying we’re not really going after the eradication of racism with the zeal we are in trying to combat COVID-19 or other priorities. So, there’s a real listening campaign going on to realize there’s obviously more we can do as a company, as much as we’ve done up to now.

AG: In addition to looking at what leaders should do and the way they should be leading, there has to be concrete consequences for when they don’t achieve what they set out to achieve. When compensation is tied to these measures of success, that’s when you start to see things move. When we then hire leaders, we ask them to achieve certain goals, certain benchmarks that come up and plans and practices and, if they don’t achieve it, then there has to be those consequences. I haven’t seen that; I’ll be very honest. That’s a rarity and many sectors do hold leaders accountable concretely, where they can lose compensation and their position if they don’t achieve the things they set out to achieve. That’s the best practice that has yet to be put in place in many industries.

The second thing is that, while bias can be unconscious, I would also underscore that bias can be conscious, as well. There can be conscious things people are bringing in, but they don’t necessarily realize it’s tied to discrimination. So, one of the pieces I would debunk is that idea of fit — this person is not the right fit for us. There’s lots of little HR terminology that really becomes conscious bias and I think we’re in a bit of denial about this. I don’t disagree with the idea of looking at unconscious bias, but we have to not stop at unconscious bias; not stop at training alone, but put those practices in people’s performance measures, holding them to it on all levels of the organization. I want to really highlight the top level of the organization is where you’re going to see those people have a ton of power; they influence culture, they influence policy and practices and all three of these things come together and create either a toxic mix or a very successful mix. I take to heart this idea of building a safe workplace or industry where people want to stay. [Finally,] you have to take a step back and look at the trends — that’s where data-collection becomes important — and measure how different groups of people perform in these industries. Look at what the barriers could be, never assuming it’s because they’ve done anything wrong. It’s often that the structure is set up such that it puts them in that negative position.

RC: One of the reasons we haven’t had this conversation in the past, as we should have, is that many people are afraid of engaging in discussions about racism because it makes them uncomfortable. How do we engage people in potentially uncomfortable, but important discussions?

RG: We need to understand and let everyone know these types of conversations are important. Part of the fear, when we start talking about racism and inclusion, is that it almost becomes a blame game of ‘this person said this and this person did this.’ To be quite honest, we’re often blaming White people, as a whole, for racism, but racism comes in all colours and it just needs to stop, period. We have to understand that racism is not about who said what and who did what — it’s about what’s right. We have more conversations like these and put the right information forward about educating people. It’s not about blaming anyone; the main thing is to focus on what is right and that will relieve the discomfort.

MC: I had a meeting with one of one of my co-workers, who was not Black, and she was trying to describe a student. And she was describing this student as ‘this is a female who had dark skin’ and she was going on with the description and I asked her, ‘is she Black’ and she said, yes. And, there was the fear of saying the word black. There’s a fear of what words do I say and what not to say. I grew up thinking only white people were racist and then I paid attention to a family dinner and the comments that people make about other races — that was education for me as a child. But, a lot of parents had to pivot and educate their kids at home for the last four months, in math and English. You’re educating your kids about racism as well, but the comments you don’t realize you’re making and the words you’re using, they take that outside the door. So, it’s home, it’s education, it’s having the courage to call it out and to ask questions.

CV: This question is based on a false premise that discomfort is, in and of itself, a negative thing that must be addressed as something that is necessary. So, some people will be uncomfortable because systems are created for their comfort. When you’re talking about something like hospitality, where we centre the comfort of various people — but especially people with power, money and class — there will always be some sort of conversation that will lead to discomfort. That discomfort will be necessary and should not be treated as the same harm as those being done to people through racism, sexism or what have you. So, if it’s hard to conceptualize this in terms of race, because Black people, Brown people, Indigenous people can be racist, they can also have internalized white supremacy. White supremacy is something we haven’t talked about. It’s a very broad thing to talk about, but everyone can be racist towards each other or can be prejudiced towards each other. The difference is how the power that person has can then be used in a system. We’re in this beautiful place where we can have a lot of change, but we have to treat each other like adults and hold each other accountable. It’s important to not only hold yourself accountable to make an action, but also when inevitably that action fails because you’re doing it in a society that’s not built to foster that action in and of itself.

JM: This issue of things being uncomfortable comes up a lot right now and I’m having this conversation a lot. And, the thing that feels really important for me to say is we actually need to stop looking for this to be comfortable and to understand it’s a privileged position to even think you can ask for it to be comfortable. My family has four generations inside Africa so, as a result, racism is a member of my family. It’s an inter-generational inheritance in my life and, in the 44 years I’ve experienced it, not one moment has ever been comfortable. So, stop asking for it to be and let’s hope that conversations about racism are never comfortable.

RC: What are some important next steps we should consider to ensure we have continued progress on this front and keep this conversation going?

MC: Important next steps involve holding each other accountable in a respectful, professional manner. Social media is another aspect we haven’t talked about. When you have that 15-year old in high school, and they’re trying to figure out what their future is, when they look at your social-media feed, do they see themselves in your organization? Do they see themselves in your brand? Whether it’s a promotion or brand recognition or just Tweeting or sending a TikTok, who’s representing your brand? And then can we call each other out when we think our brand is being representative in a certain way or if I don’t feel included in your brand or if I don’t think that my niece and nephew feel like they would be welcomed in your hotel or your dining-room because, from your social-media feed alone, it doesn’t look like I would fit in?

SG: The biggest need in hospitality, collectively as an industry and for each of us on the phone today, is to acknowledge the fact there’s still an opportunity and that that opportunity won’t be solved overnight. If it would, if it was easy, we would all have done it and turned the conversation we’re having today into action to ensure we’re creating real change at the end of the day. People talk about a lot of things, but they do what’s important and it’s the doing that will move this forward.

DC: It’s the recognition it’s going to take all of us to deal with this — corporations, social-justice organizations, government agencies and citizens. We’re all going to have to work together on this.

JM: I would love people in senior leadership positions to take a moment to be reflective of their organizational culture, to see what it is about how that culture was built that does not, in fact, facilitate this listening. Think about re-working your organization so opportunities for listening are more of a core element of how you’re built, as opposed to something that you do when things blow up.

CV: I’m going to hate myself for even saying this, but I think if you’re someone in charge, that early 2000s, late 90s, New York City policing approach to it is actually a very good way to look at it. So, don’t look for someone coming in and doing a white-power symbol and then burning a flag, look for reasons why maybe you have higher Black turnover or higher gay turnover — things that are actually going to be a tangible way for you to get better diversity and inclusion. The second thing I would say is be aware of the idea that your system could be wrong. A lot of the systems we’re trying to adjust are actually systems that shouldn’t be adjusted, but thrown out [to] start with a whole new system. That seems daunting, but might be a lot more practical than taking something from 15 years ago, when literally no one ever said the word non-binary, and trying to update that to now.

JDenton: The key is understanding the root cause, whether that’s the infrastructure or how we hire. Action stems from looking at the entire employee lifecycle, from start to finish, and it comes from sharing and learning. There are people on this call that technically, yes, maybe we’re competitors, but we’re not competitors on this topic. This is an industry topic and this is a topic that matters to all of us.

AG: The data is important to me — you have to track it and be transparent about it with your staff and with fellow industry members. In a sense, you’re airing your dirty laundry at times and people get really nervous about that, but it’s really important to do, especially when it comes to race and racism — whether or not it’s intended, it does allow them to see where they’re at and then be able to do things around it; not just race, but also things like gender, sexuality, age and ability. That would be a good way to make sure the change is sustainable, not just a 10-year or five-year plan.

CF: You have to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and take ownership of responsibility to heart. You have to commit to it and I agree data is important because we need to be able to set targets; to understand each company, each organization is on a learning spectrum to eradicate racism and all the ‘-isms’ that currently exist in our society and in our workplaces. It’s looking at all those in small compartments, but how those compartments all connect. It’s a collective movement we have to focus on.

DW: This conversation is something that’s really important and trying to encourage new behaviours in our industry is really important. We can’t change history, but we certainly can be a voice of tolerance for our community to bring people into our circle so that we’re all on the same teams and can collaborate. This a fluid conversation that’s going to evolve and lead to the next conversation.

Audience Question
How do you suggest an entry-level worker in the hospitality industry address the discriminatory internal practices within their workplace?

Chandran Fernando:
It’s looking at your leadership team above you and seeing who is potentially open to becoming a cheerleader for you. Someone who has, ideally, a bigger megaphone then you. Start those conversations with him or her. The second part is if there is an HR department, which generally most people do not go to HR, unfortunately, but to look within the HR department and see who’s there, who’s using their empathetic mindset to really understand what area you’re struggling with, when it comes to harassment or discrimination or something that’s not balanced. And, thirdly, to speak to some peers and see if anyone else is feeling or thinking the same way and then go collectively to a senior manager who you have deemed as a potential safe zone for you.

Sara Glenn:
It’s incumbent upon organizations to have both a public and a private forum for these kinds of conversations, where, if you’re really uncomfortable, you don’t have to go to your manager, you could go through a hotline or some kind of private forum where you can have those conversations because that’s where part of that dialogue can happen. Then it’s incumbent upon your organization to take that very seriously and do something with it, not just, ‘Oh, nice to know.’ Both of those forums can help in terms of stimulating people to feel that there’s a safe zone for the conversation.

Audience Question
How many of your companies have racism conversations included in their new hires/training packages to educate their employees and how are you continuously having this conversation with your employees?

Juanita Dickson:
This goes back to needing to have those uncomfortable conversations and I can say, as a leader and as a as a white woman, early on in what I call the ‘second pandemic,’ I started to lose my balance on the eggshells.

[We’re] making it very clear that, culturally, we’re now having these conversations and we’ve created this policy when we’re hiring so they know they’re coming into a culture that’s very much a stand against racism and encourages equity and inclusion. It means, when you’re feeling uncomfortable or if you see somebody else talking out of turn or behaving in a way that might make someone uncomfortable, you are — regardless of whether you’re a host or a dishwasher or an executive chef — empowered to raise your hand. It’s [ensuring] anytime there’s any behaviour from a guest or from a team member, that it’s culturally acceptable to raise their hand and say, ‘you know, this is no good.’

By Danielle Schalk

During Terroir Symposium’s recent virtual conference, Eden Hagos, founder of Toronto-based Black Foodie, highlighted the lack of diversity that exists in all aspects of food marketing.“[Black Foodie] is a platform that is created to celebrate Black food culture, the chef’s, the cuisines, the restaurants and all of the amazing things that happen within the black food world,” Hagos explained. “it was actually sparked by an experience of racism I had while eating out…When doing Black Foodie, I realized that this is something that exists in so many ways in the industry — not just for people who are experiencing the hospitality world,but those who work within it and those who work within food marketing or those who, like me, are in the social media space.”She explained that, while here has been a recent push to amplify Black voices, “we see brands start to respond in ways that are just really not appropriate [or adequate]…What I witnessed many times was [the industry’s idea of amplifying Black voices] meant searching online for people and tagging them on your brand’s social-media page without paying them, without knowing them, without engaging them, without asking them for permission, and placing them as a prop on your page to [make it] look as though you’ve worked with Black people. And, I know this because I was that person on those pages.”She highlighted that food marketing has often left out Black people from events, campaigns and speaking opportunities or placed them in narrow boxes. “If you looked at campaigns that exist currently — [though] things are starting to shift — we often don’t see the fact that Black people live, they eat food, they cook, they buy stoves, they buy microwaves, they host dinner parties,” she noted. “What we see in these campaigns are food bloggers, chef ambassadors [and] mixologists that don’t at all reflect these communities and don’t at all showcase the fact that we exist outside of the trauma; outside of your response to racism.”

Click here to watch the entire Eradicating Racism webinar.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.