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Breaking bias in F&B to make the industry more diverse and inclusive

21/03/2022 Kieron Bailey Comments Off

Without realising it, in hospitality, we are affected daily by unconscious bias, especially women, and there’s an urgent need to become more aware of it, starting with the traditionally hierarchical kitchen structure, for instance.

Unconscious bias is often defined as prejudice or unsupported judgments in favour of or against one thing, person, or group as compared to another, in a way that is usually considered unfair. Unfortunately, unconscious biases are often made about background, religion, gender, sexual identity, age, physical abilities, or even weight. Without realising it, in hospitality, we are affected daily by unconscious bias, especially women, and there’s an urgent need to become more aware of it, starting with the traditionally hierarchical kitchen structure, for instance.

According to The Burnt Chef Project, “8 out of 10 hospitality professionals report having experienced at least one mental health issue during their career”. Generally, addressing unconscious bias in the workplace can make a massive difference in both diversity and inclusion and mental health. It creates a more positive and productive work environment while creating a safe space for staff to continuously improve the guest experience. 

Addressing the bias in the food and beverage industry

On Tuesday the 15th of March our team attended a panel ‘Breaking the bias in F&B’ around gender equality challenges and unconscious bias in hospitality, more particularly in food and beverage. The kitchen, very much male-led with a strict chain of command makes it almost impossible to break, so making progress can be very limited. “In the UK alone, only 20% of Chefs are female.” – Amy Newbury, Customer Success Lead at Jelly. So, we thought that by joining the discussion we could help address the elephant in the room.  

Hosted by Alice Tatton-Brown from Jacuna, the conversation welcomed a lineup of inspirational women leaders who are reshaping the future of F&B: Sara McKennedy, Commercial Brand Director at Coco di Mama, Amy Newbury, Customer Success Lead at Jelly, Dora Takacs, Key Account Lead at Slerp, and Ellie Starr, Senior Strategic Partnerships Manager at JUST EAT. 

(Shocking) stats that prove there’s still work to do

Alice Tatton-Brown opened the panel discussion with a few stats demonstrating that lack of gender equality is still omnipresent in the workplace today.  

36% of private-sector employers think it is reasonable to ask women about their future plans to have children during the recruitment process. Source 

41% of employers argue pregnancy in the workplace incurs ‘an unnecessary cost burden’. Source 

There are more CEOs called David than female CEOs (4.5% of CEOs called David). Source 

41% of companies say they’re “too busy” to deploy diversity initiatives. Source 

Transitioning a single-gender office to a team comprised equally of men and women would translate to 41% in additional revenue. Source 

The UK has closed 77.5% of its gender pay gap, ranking 23rd out of 156 countries. The WEF estimated that it would take 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide if the current trajectory continued. Source 

The women leaders present at the event discussed what companies are doing well or wrong in addressing and challenging the bias at work. Because there’s a real struggle in hiring people in hospitality right now, making the workplace fairer, more equal and safer for women can only encourage more of them to join the industry – especially after a tough two years, even if the pandemic helped slightly improve the situation. Dora Takacs, Key Account Lead at Slerp, said: “Without the pandemic, I don’t think being more open-minded in the industry would have happened. Tech helped a lot as well, which was a good start for addressing bias widely in the industry.”  

Although equality can attract more women to join the industry, the pandemic massively shifted mindsets, and today companies have to make adjustments in their culture and give more flexibility and transparency to their workers like Amy Newbury pointed out: “The need for flexibility in hospitality is real. Implement flexible work to make your people happier at work. Publishing grade and salary bands may help build transparency and diversity, too. It’s also important to change the language in job ad requirements as no one will ever tick all the boxes!” 

Challenges in recruitment processes and meetings

The speakers shared how questions during job interviews can be biased and almost discriminating against women in regards to their age, family life of plans, or even private lives. Alice Tatton-Brown from Jacuna said: “I had a Zoom interview where I’ve been asked about my title. I played dumb: ‘Do you mean my job title?’ even though I knew what the interviewer meant. ‘No, no, I mean are you married?’ he asked. I remember I felt so uncomfortable. I also had questions about my personal goals for the next five years and realise that on top of my family plans I also have to compete with my age.” 

Questions like that shouldn’t be asked during a job interview but hospitality still has a long way to go to fix bias issues. Pressure on women can also occur in meetings, specifically when dealing with business opportunities. Ellie Starr, Senior Strategic Partnerships Manager at JUST EAT commented: “As a female, we’re either too young, too fertile, too old so where do we fit!? I worked in the beauty sector which was a female-led platform (65%-35%) but I can’t recall even one woman I’ve negotiated with. My role is to bring investors onto the platform and usually, negotiation is conducted by men. So, in a meeting when you face a young person, new to the sector, or even older, you need to represent yourself in there.” 

Family life can be a priority to some women, but unfortunately too many employers today will make their decision based on their assumptions. An example mentioned in a study showed just that: “Let’s say there are two men and one woman left in a job recruitment process. If the board is made of men only, bias is unconscious when they wonder why the woman may want that job instead of staying at home taking care of her family.”

Making the industry safer for women

Having a diverse and equal workforce needs to be backed up by inclusivity and openness in the workplace, and in food and beverage, initiatives should be taken to make it safer. For instance, having gender-neutral toilets can be a blocker for women working in F&B or chefs. Making more space for women in the food delivery sector is something JUST EAT tried to improve as Ellie Starr pointed out: “Our third-party drivers can access maternity and paternity leaves and we created a safe space with kitchens and games rooms for our riders to build relationships.”  

Advice to young women starting in F&B

Because hospitality struggles in recruiting new people right now, it’s crucial to keep on building healthy company culture. By continuously correcting unconscious bias and making the workplace safer and more diverse for women, they can consider building a career in hospitality, the industry they love, in the long term. Speakers shared their piece of advice: 

“As a manager, have that open mind and be approachable. Always make sure both genders in your company or your team have opportunities, with quality for all. Understand your teams, know your individuals, be mindful.” – Dora Takacs 

No one is going to figure it out or will have the answer to everything. Have confidence and it’s okay if you don’t always have the same opinion like everybody else.” – Alice Tatton-Brown 

“Having a great mentor can help you build a fantastic career and mentorship is important and is great to keep up with industry and career trends. It helps build confidence a lot!” – Sara McKennedy, Commercial Brand Director at Coco di Mama 

“Things aren’t linear in this industry and you can spend a long time figuring what you want, and it’s okay, it can also be the start of something, so don’t worry too much.” – Amy Newbury

“Experience matters, because your experience defines who you are.” – Ellie Starr 

Final words: the Howard vs Heidi study

Alice concluded with this compelling example of gender bias, which Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook since 2008 and bestselling author of Lean In calls the Howard vs Heidi study. It is a case study about a real-life entrepreneur named Heidi Roizen, describing how she became a successful Venture Capitalist by relying on her outgoing personality and a huge network.  

The professors had a group of students read Roizen’s story with her real name attached and another group read the story with the name changed to Howard. The students rated Howard and Heidi based on their accomplishments and on how appealing they seemed as colleagues. While the students rated them equally in terms of success, they thought Howard was likeable while Heidi seemed selfish and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for.” 

Sandberg’s conclusion: “When a man is successful, he is well-liked. When a woman does well, people like her less. Everyone needs to get more comfortable with female leaders, including female leaders themselves.”

At Otolo, we aim to celebrate diversity and inclusion in hospitality to make women and other communities and minorities feel comfortable with building a career in the industry. To make people love hospitality again business must understand their role in supporting and championing minorities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.