For the purposes of this article, we used the term ‘visible minority’ instead of BIPOC. We wanted to be cognizant of the fact that we might have left out certain people who identify as BIPOC but are not a racially visible minority. We would like to acknowledge that the process and steps taken to find this data made us uncomfortable, as we were making assumptions based on how people look and their skin colour to put them into a category. As people of colour, we have disclosed information about our identification to companies when applying for jobs on a volunteer basis, so it seemed morally incorrect to put people in boxes without their permission. It felt like we were taking a few steps backwards in the journey we have completed so far as members of the community; however, we recognize the importance of data to push forward change we want to see in the hospitality industry and society.
The hospitality industry takes great pride in treating all guests equally, welcoming and respecting everyone. After all, it’s the foundation of the people-centric industry. But do we see fair and equitable representation of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) at the executive level in the foodservice and hotel industry? There has been increased discussion about racism in our society and corporate culture in the last few years, but even with the increased attention on the issue, there’s no denying the murder of George Flyod in May 2020 gave the movement a stronger voice, purpose and much-needed media attention. It’s now in our hands to do something tangible to work on this issue.
Crunching the Numbers
As part of this research project on racism in the hospitality industry, we collected data for 83 hospitality companies (45 foodservice and 38 hotel companies) at C-Suite and 42 hospitality companies (28 foodservice and 14 hotel companies) at Board of Directors level from various resources to determine the representation of visible minorities at a number of F&H’s Top 100 Report and Hotelier’s Top 50 Report companies. We’ve taken the sample size of 645 people at C-Suite and 374 people at Board of Directors level to categorize them into visible minorities and others. At C-Suite level, we found that of 645 people, 68 were visible minorities, which represents about 11 per cent. Representation at Board of Director level was even lower, with only seven per cent, or 28 out of 374 people, identifying as visible minorities. When we took a deeper dive and looked at the foodservice and hotel industry separately, we found that the hotel industry represents twice the number of visible minorities at the C-Suite level, while foodservice does slightly better at Board of Directors level. At the C-Suite level, visible minorities constitute about seven per cent in the foodservice industry and 14 per cent in the hotel industry. We see a lower range of numbers at Board of Directors level, with visible minorities representing about nine per cent in the foodservice industry and five per cent of the hotel industry.
Although these numbers are not encouraging, some companies surprised us with almost equal visible-minority representation at the C-suite level. For example, Sunray Group of Hotels reported that of 21 people in the C-Suite, 11 belong to visible minorities; Innvest reported two visible minority people out of five people in total; Easton Group has six out of 13; Silver Group has five out of 13; and Manga Hotels with four out of seven. Larger hotel chains such as Marriott report three of 21 people categorized as visible minorities in its C-Suite, while Accor has one of 13 identify as visible minorities. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts reported no one in its C-Suite who identifies as a visible minority. These findings speak to how company size could be one of the barriers for visible minorities to move through the next level of management. It could also indicate that the pool of visible-minority applicants at the director or upper-management level is not diverse enough.
The U.S -based Castell Project is a not-for-profit organization that has researched Black representation in the hospitality industry. Peggy Berg, chair of the Castell Project, commented that only one in 65 hospitality professionals in director position or higher identifies as Black, while they constitute one in five of the hospitality jobs. According to Castell Project’s report, Black Representation in Hospitality Industry Leadership 2020, 84 per cent of 630 sample companies did not show any Black executives on their websites. The report also shows that 0.7 per cent of C-Suite, 0.9 per cent of principal/managing director and 0.9 per cent of CEO/president roles in the U.S. hospitality industry are held by Black people. It’s hard to compare this data with the research undertaken for Canadian companies, as we identified people who are visible minorities. Since we included other minorities along with Black people, the number in Canada in C-Suite is much higher at 11 per cent.
So, what steps is the Canadian hospitality industry taking in the anti-racism and BIPOC representation journey? Marriott International, the largest hospitality company in the word, is an industry leader in this space and has been recognized as number-1 for diversity across industries on the 2020 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list. The company has diversity statements and guidelines on its websites and aims to create an inclusive environment for its employees. It also has a strategic commitment in place to invest at least $5 million in developing skills of its employees and creates opportunity with a focus on “diverse populations.” IHG, for its part, has established a Diversity and Inclusion Board with an aim to increase diversity in leadership.
On the foodservice side, Restaurant Brands International (RBI) acknowledges that it doesn’t have enough BIPOC representation within the company and plans to change that. It asked its employees to voluntarily disclose the information about how they identify — race being one of those identities — so it could document the representation. Its leadership also holds itself accountable by posting yearly updates on the company’s websites. With regard to hiring practices, RBI is committed to having “at least 50 per cent of all final-round candidates for any role at RBI’s four corporate offices be demonstrably diverse” with race being one of the diversity factors. Aramark puts a focus on hiring and retaining diverse employees, partners with the suppliers who have the same embedded values and provides its Indigenous and Hispanic employees with resource groups. Freshii also boasts a Diversity and Inclusion Committee focused on increasing the number of BIPOC employees in positions of leadership and promises to invest in initiatives, which focus on helping people “affected by systemic racism, bias, discrimination or exclusion.” It has not shared any tangible results or data about BIPOC representation within the organization, but does mention it will keep updating its website. McDonald’s and Yum Brands! both have programs to facilitate leadership opportunities to visible minorities and anti-racism strategies in place to educate their employees — which has been a common trend among majority of foodservice and hotel companies in Canada.
While Sunray Group of Hotels, which is owned by a person of colour, doesn’t have any information on diversity inclusion projects or anti-racism projects on its website, it fares very well on the visible minority-inclusion front. Silver Group of Hotels, another company which does well on the visible-minority front, does not have any diversity inclusion measures in place but does have ‘diversity’ as one of its core values.
This leaves us with a question — what more can be done? Leaders in the hospitality industry already have policies and commitments in place, but how do we take it to the next level? Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure (WiHTL), based in Dorset, England, is an organization championing change in the hospitality industry. It aims to bring a positive impact in the lives of women and an ethnically diverse population of five million by 2025. It’s partnered with 20 companies in the Hospitality, Travel and Leisure (HTL) industry, including McDonald’s, Sodexo, IHG, Compass and more to help them achieve equitable representation of race and ethnicity. WiHTL acknowledges that most of the companies are initiating change in their organizations. Some of them have introduced blind CVs and some have run surveys among their employees where they can voluntarily report their identity. Blind CVs — where the recruiter does not know the race, gender, age, background of the candidate applying for the job and solely judges them on their qualifications and experience — reduces the risk of unconscious bias against certain names or pictures, which could be identified as part of the BIPOC population. WiHTL’s Reverse Mentoring Programme allows a person who identifies as an ethnic minority to become the mentor while a senior executive takes on the role of mentee to introduce people from two different cultures who otherwise would not have met and create an open-minded environment within the organization.
Where Does that Leave Us?
In the current business environment, there is a lot of discussion about increasing diversity at the executive level. It’s important to focus on leading by example and creating opportunities for visible-minority employees who work as hard as others, but often do not get the recognition. With a huge emphasis on that, we often forget that the real change begins at the foundation — at the bottom level — and starts by creating a bigger pool of visible minority candidates at lower, middle- and upper-management levels, so we have a bigger number of capable employees who progress to become directors, C-Suite executives and Board of Directors members at the companies. We strongly believe that training the current management about unconscious bias at all levels and implementing blind CVs will reduce the personal bias some recruiters could have. Implementing these strategies will help visible minorities recieve a better chance at getting their foot in the door at an organization and progress through the ranks as well. Some of the major industry leaders have already started implementing these strategies, but we have yet to see smaller companies follow suit and build on these changes.
We have seen the impact racism has first-hand. We saw one of our friends, who identifies as a person of colour, leave the hospitality program for another industry because of racism at their place of work in the restaurant industry. This incident lowered the confidence they had in themselves and they chose to do something where their “looks will be more acceptable.” It’s heartbreaking to see valuable and talented future hospitality leaders take a different path because of how racism permeates our industry. We need to keep the discussion about racism going, but also demand change, ask our industry leaders for tangible results and experience the change in visible-minority representation at all management levels. It will take time to see results at executive level, but we need to work to implement the strategies now.
By Implepreet Sahota and Shruti Kukreja, fourth-year students in the industry consultation course of the School of Hospitality, Food, and Tourism Management at the University of Guelph