Senior procurement leader at restaurant operator Corbin & King who has previously worked for the likes of Shake Shack and Gordon Ramsay, Lorraine Copes founded Be Inclusive Hospitality to address the sector’s lack of diversity in managerial and leadership positions.
One year on, the organisation’s efforts to clear a path from bar to boardroom for Black, Asian and other minority professionals in hospitality have generated more than 30,000 website visits, built a community of more than 5,000, held more than 60 digital events and launched a mentorship scheme cohort of 22 individuals.
"Am I encouraged? I feel very much as I did 12 months ago in that the sector, as it is, has a lot of work to do and we are going to champion change on supporting that change happening,” Copes tells The Morning Advertiser (MA).
The numbers, she says, reinforce the need for an organisation like Be Inclusive Hospitality to exist.
“Visibility is a key part of what we do, but we're more interested in seeing the needle move forward towards race equity within the sector which we're at the very beginning of the journey of,” she explains.
Said journey will, in Copes’ words, involve “more of the same” over the next year with Be Inclusive Hospitality poised to continue its delivery of consultancy services, workshops and culture audits, attempts to forge corporate partnerships and aim to establish its first awards programme before its second anniversary.
An awakening across the UK
As Be Inclusive Hospitality turns one, Copes reflects that she has seen an increased willingness to host more diverse panels and imagery on websites and advertising as well as express interest in recruiting diverse hires, to name but a few positive early steps.
"What we all know for sure is last June there was an awakening across the UK and across the globe that there's a problem that needs to be rectified,” she says. “That still remains the case.
“It would be unfair or inaccurate to say there has been significant change for all parties involved since that awareness,” Copes caveats, however, emphasising that the past 12 months is a very short spell in the grand scheme of things.
“When we think about it realistically, this is a problem that has existed for hundreds of years, it's not going to be undone in 12 months of people being aware that there's a problem or being more consciously aware that there's a problem,” she says.
“I'm very stats driven, and I always look at numbers, and back in January and April there was a report that Asian and Black workers have been disproportionately hit by job cuts as a result of Covid – that has been driven by hospitality and retail.
“We've also seen youth unemployment numbers for Black and Asians between the ages of 16 and 24 – which is three times and two times that of their white counterparts.”
In light of this, Copes believes that Be Inclusive Hospitality and the wider sector are very much at the beginning of a journey, with the industry not yet cohesively driving change.
“There are some businesses and people that are taking the lead and publicly talking about it, and some are taking action behind closed doors. But The important thing here is taking action. We're not all there yet, for sure.”
Change ‘starts at the top’
To coincide with the organisation’s first anniversary, Be Inclusive Hospitality released its first annual Inside Hospitality Report – a survey which Copes says attached stats to what she already understood as industry truths.
It revealed that more than half of hospitality professionals from Black, Asian or Ethnic minority backgrounds quizzed have witnessed or experienced racism in the workplace and that 56% of Asian and 41% of black hospitality professionals felt that their race or ethnicity has hindered their career progression.
By comparison, just 7% of white hospitality professionals felt their race or ethnicity has hindered their career progression.
“It's hugely troubling to read that people leave their homes – sometimes at unsociable times of day – to go to work to face racism,” Copes explains.
“For me it really reinforces the important role that employers must play in stamping out these behaviours with zero tolerance approaches to racism and discrimination in the workplace.
"What's interesting is that there are disparities and differences in experiences between different ethnicities, which is always really important to highlight,” she adds. “Black, Asian and ethnic minorities are not a monolith group of people with the same experiences and those disparities are quite interesting to see.”
Yet amid a number of troubling statistics, the fact that 60% of respondents have a real appetite for education on race, ethnicity and anti-racism – bearing in mind that 46% of those quizzed were white – is a source of encouragement for Copes.
“The fact that there is an interest is positive but ultimately it starts at the top,” she explains. “There can be an interest but unless the CEOs and business leaders are driving the need and necessities for this sort of education then it won't happen really."
‘Societal issue with racial inequality’
"There's not a diversity problem in hospitality, there's an equality problem and I don't see the solution to that being to encourage more people from those backgrounds to enter a sector that's already unfair,” Copes continues.
"The sector I liken hospitality to is probably the NHS. People of colour represent 17%, which is ahead of the UK percentage – which sits somewhere between 12% and 14%. Diversity is not the problem, it's around equity, inequality and fairness.
“We have a societal issue with racial inequality – hospitality is not exempt from that – but we have a greater proportion of people of colour within the sector."
What’s more, according to reports by the BBC, the number of job vacancies in the UK surpassed pre-pandemic levels in the three months to June, as per data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
According to latest figures, there were 862,000 jobs on offer between April and June – 77,500 higher than the first three months of 2020, with the ONS claiming the rise was driven by shortages in hospitality and retail.
"There's never been a barrier to entry for Black, Asian and ethnic minorities but there is a barrier to progress in the sector,” Copes says. “Our focus is on giving people a fair opportunity to thrive and not to fill a labour gap – and there has to be a real distinct difference between that.
“It should be around 'we want the very best, at all levels, to have a fair opportunity to thrive and develop irrespective of their ethnicity. I think more than anything it reinforces not to marginalise quite a large proportion of your current employees through addressing problems with racism and inequality within the sector."