President's Message

Dealing with Diversity

As I write this article, I have not long returned from our conference in Orlando. Despite the damp weather outside, the atmosphere inside the conference centre and the different networking sessions was very cheery indeed. It was great to catch up with so many members of our extended ICHRIE family. It was also a great pleasure to present our new ICHRIE 2020 Strategic Plan to you. As you are aware from the conference presentation, or from my article in last month’s Communique, part of our new mission explicitly states that ICHRIE ‘values the diversity of its academic and industry members’. Our new plan also recognises the diversity of our membership as a core strength of ICHRIE; one that brings opportunities and value to our membership. And it is the topic of diversity that I would like to focus on in this month’s article.

We were very fortunate to have Mr Gerry Fernandez as the guest speaker for our Dean and Directors’ event during the conference. Gerry is the President and Founder of the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance (MFHA), a non-profit organisation that promotes cultural intelligence in the workplace. He has won numerous awards and accolades for his work advocating the business benefits of cultural diversity and the importance of cultural intelligence. He is also a very energetic and engaging speaker who stimulated thought provoking discussions amongst the audience.

The topic of diversity management is by no means new. Back in the 1980s, companies started to reconsider diversity management as a legal obligation and began to recognise the business benefits of effectively managing diversity. In its broadest context, diversity encompasses race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious and political beliefs. Effective diversity management in the workplace can yield a number of benefits; improved talent management, higher levels of creativity and innovation, improved customer relations, enhanced productivity, improved communication and reduced labour turnover. All of these benefits in turn, have a positive impact on the bottom-line profitability of a business. Realising these benefits however, requires companies to have culturally intelligent leaders and a clear diversity statement which shapes diversity policies and practices from the corporate to the unit level of the firm.

Since its formation in 1996, the MFHA has been an advocate for effective diversity management and culturally intelligent leadership within the foodservice and hospitality industries. Accordingly, its values reflect inclusiveness and trust; appreciation of others’ points of views and opinions; candid and open communication; continuous learning and growth and a commitment to diverse communities. Although the MFHA has a US focus, the importance of diversity management within hospitality and tourism is recognised around the globe. The internationalisation of hospitality and tourism across a wide range of sectors and a growing number of countries, and the changing demographics of populations in many countries have led to increasingly diverse customers and workforce populations. The argument for effective diversity management within the industry is therefore readily apparent.

Nonetheless, research conducted by the MFHA identifies that there is room for improvement in both the policies and practices adopted within firms and in the visibility of their diversity statements. A survey conducted in conjunction with the People Report in 2013-2014 of 60 US corporations that represented 90 different restaurant brands, revealed a decreasing percentage of ethnic/racial minorities and women moving up organisational levels from hourly employees to assistant managers to general managers and to the corporate level. The survey also revealed that larger companies were more likely than smaller ones to have a corporate diversity statement. Those firms that did have a diversity statement realised lower turnover rates at both the hourly and managerial levels.

The importance of the visibility of corporate diversity statements has also been recognised within hospitality and tourism as corporate social responsibility (CSR) becomes more important to a wide variety of stakeholders, including customers and employees. The MF&HA has conducted two studies on the online visibility of diversity statements within the foodservice sector in 2010 and 2014. In these studies, the corporate websites of the top 100 US restaurant firms were examined using content analysis and graded using a clearly defined assessment rubric for the visibility of their diversity statements, management and practices. The latest study revealed that there is clearly room for improvement, with only 3% of the corporate websites examined graded as A- or better.

Clearly there is much work to be done within hospitality and tourism. Our industry is characterised by an increasingly diverse workforce and an increasingly diverse customer base and managing diversity effectively will become more, not less, important in the future. Regardless of whether we are industry or academic ICHRIE members, perhaps it is time to pause and reflect on whether our diversity practices and policies are sufficient, and sufficiently visible. For academic members, we should also reflect on where we are covering diversity management within our curriculum, how we are developing intercultural intelligence in our students so that they will become effective leaders in the future, and how we are interacting with industry to shape best practice.

With kind regards,
Maureen Brookes