Accepting diversity: how to create a balanced workplace

18 May 2018 by
Accepting diversity: how to create a balanced workplace

The Caterer and sponsor Syft, an online recruitment platform, at Dishoom Carnaby in London. Rosalind Mullen reports


Diversity is about being welcome and tolerant to all - why is that important to your business?

Gregory Hall (GH): Diversity is exceptionally important for our teams and the whole business because the UK - and especially London - is so diverse. It is important that customers feel comfortable, so diversity is particularly important in the hospitality space. A one-dimensional team is ludicrous.

Meg Horsburgh (MH): Diversity makes sense. People are living longer and may have disabilities. We need to bring that into customer service. Sodexo has acknowledged the importance of gender balance on our teams. We are a massive company and a study in house found that where there is a balance of men and women we get better outcomes and operating margins, so it is a business imperative for us.

So how do you create a diverse workspace?

MH: Many organisations have aspirational targets around the kinds of people they want because certain types of customer predominate in certain outlets. But it is also important to create an inclusive environment where everyone can be their best selves. Tracking can help you to see where you are going wrong as well as right. You need to reflect clients and customers if you are to attract them. You need skills and you need to create a culture where people can share their views.

Alison Gray (AG): Yes. Measuring [diversity] is important, but don't get caught up in achieving targets. You need to create the right culture. Our philosophy is more subliminal - it is about hearts and minds.

Is it wrong to positively discriminate, for instance, to get a gender-balanced team?

GH: Ultimately, your staff need to be able to do the job, but you need to make sure your workplace is seen to have an inclusive culture. In hospitality, we know we attract females into work, but further down the road we lose them. We need to attract the right people for the right reasons.

MH: Words and job descriptions should be gender neutral. It is our responsibility to influence that.

Sue Peat (SP): It's also about how you influence, say, women, at an early age in schools.

Novo Abakare (NA): There is a lot we can do in education, but we can't wait for the kids to grow up, so what can we do now?

AG: We need to offer kids a route in and expose them to what their career could look like.

Jack Beaman (JB): The vast majority of bartenders and chefs are male. It is a tough environment to work in and has ended up as a boys' club. You need to discourage that to create an inclusive workplace.

Can offering flexibility help with maintaining a gender balance?

AG: Managers might say it is hard to achieve flexibility, but it isn't if you think differently - if they create their own rosters and change the paradigm of how they work to get a broad reach of people working on their teams.

JB: You can't get managers to buy into that unless they understand why it is also good for them.

MH: So, it is about sharing personal stories of cases that work and explaining the practical stuff. Saying: "Here is someone who had a spell working part-time or from home and achieved this or that". People need flexibility at different times of their lives.

AG: Ironically, our industry is 24/7, so we should be more flexible than other industries. We have that gift.

MH: Flexibility is broad. It can be in terms of childcare or elderly care or career breaks.


It isn't always easy to be flexible, though?

AG: One of our key staff was on maternity leave and wanted to come back on flexible working hours - from 2-10pm instead of office hours. The manager was desperate to get her back, but worried about the practicality of her working late in the office on her own. The solution is that she now works at home and is measured on her output. The fact she could not find childcare two days a week could have derailed her career. And it would have been difficult to replace her. We got to the root cause of the manager's worry and it was an easy fix.

Julia Murrell (JM): It is about putting yourself into someone else's shoes. Looking at the small bits that have a huge impact on people.

Is staff turnover lower in companies that have more diversity?

MH: We haven't done a formal study, but anecdotally we know that is the case. For example, sites with members who are disadvantaged or have disabilities see greater retention and engagement has increased because all staff feel they are part of a community where they are helping people to grow.

SP: Yes, you create a sense of belonging and a joint purpose. It is like that famous story at NASA, where the man who sweeps the floors says: "I put men on the moon".

JB: We had a situation where we were taking on a female software developer. Another candidate was better on paper, but it was good for the team. It often helps to have a perspective from someone who is different.

AG: It's not just about assessing candidates on technical skills, but on evaluating everything and getting the full balance. We need different skill-sets to perform properly.


How do you help the rest of the team to become more inclusive?

NA: It is important to bring someone different, but you can still end up with an "us and them" situation. It is about how you get the team to work together. We had a bar team of mainly Eastern European speakers and another who wasn't and felt excluded.

MH: We do a training day to help a diverse team understand they may be excluding others, but that they may not have seen that. We also have management training around that.

SP: We use Insights Discovery programmes where you take an open discussion away from gender or race. You can have a safe conversation by using colours, such as red or blue, to identify views of individuals. This is powerful.

What part does the culture of a company play?

AG: It's about culturally setting the stage. Our culture is that everyone has something to bring to the workplace.

JM: I agree. At Firmdale the message is subliminal. It is easier to engage people if you treat them as individuals, not just "being diverse". We focus on that.

We have mostly female general managers and eight female deputies. The female operations director has young kids and works one day a week at home. Two of our general managers have flexible working as do three deputies with children. Because this is happening at the top and comes from the owners - Tim and Kit Kemp - it adds a filter throughout the company. This culture has been at Firmdale since the start.

When we recruit we look at everyone. Some hotel departments are 48-52% female and half of our entry-level chef apprentices are female - an area that was predominantly male. We advertise jobs with the number of hours a week, but say we are happy to discuss flexible times. Where possible, you can let them start at 8am, 9am or 10am and have a quick win.

AG: We look at whether a person will fit into our world. If the leader of a venue is the right cultural fit for us, they can then hire in our blueprint, but it takes time to create this. It is about sharing what we are with the candidates.

GH: It is important that managers understand inclusion. Diversity equals profitability.


What about older workers?

JM: We don't think in terms of diversity - there is no list, no figures - it just is. More than 60% of the workforce is over 30. So we are looking across a wide range of people to retain through discounts, perks, benefits - not just what millennials want. For example, the doorman at the Haymarket, who has been with us for 15 years, pointed out that the benefits don't include DIY or pet discounts. Different generations want different engagement and perks.

Hospitality recruits across every race and creed. What do you have in place to help promote tolerance between team members?

Andy O'Callaghan (AO'C): We have 800 people and 80 nationalities at Dishoom, so we are always conscious about creating an atmosphere of tolerance. Team events have included an Iftar celebration at Ramadan when 60 staff came along and everyone fasted and we made a charity donation. Some 50% who turned up were non-Muslims and they learned something new. Fasting is tough for the chefs and a lot of them are Muslim. It was about understanding and education, not just tolerance. We talk to the team about breaking down barriers through the charity work we do. It opens up conversations.


And employees need to feel able to approach the HR team to ask for flexibility.

JM: Yes, it is important to give them the confidence to ask and also to take away the fear in the HR team of what they may want to ask. We promote transparency. You listen, but if you can't deliver you have to tell them why and be honest. I have a male manager whose wife is expecting twins. I give him time off to go to maternity classes. We don't differentiate between male and female. We just look at someone's personal circumstances. Further testament that we have an open communication system, our operations director has proved she can do the job at that level and still have a family. But there is support.

It is rare that we would not be able to facilitate flexible working. We have eight hotels in London, so relocation just means a different tube stop. It is about how your leaders manage situations and do not create barriers - then you create loyalty.

MH: And if you are not sure a flexible request will work, agree a trial period.

If we want change, we need to take bold steps. I have respect for people who share things that change the system. Someone who stands up, for instance, and says: "I have a mental health problem". We leave everything at the door when we go to work. It is about opening up those conversations.

AG: We are in an era where you can come in and ask us to help you through a support network. If we understand what we are dealing with, we can help you to navigate through it. It is healthier for all of us because we know what we are dealing with. It is OK to ask for help.


Are younger generations asking for more help?

MH: We use the "I'm fine" video on social media. People say "I'm fine" in response to being asked how they are, but we need to make sure it is a genuine enquiry and respond honestly: "are you really?"

AG: There is a generation of people who know how to ask for help and another generation who don't know how to respond.

Why is it important to have open communication with your staff?

SP: We had an individual who dreaded coming into work on Monday morning because colleagues asked him about his weekend. He was worried about disclosing that his partner was male. It went on for two years and caused him huge stress until he opened up and found he was supported. We might think we are being inclusive because we ask about someone's weekend, but for some people it is stressful.

GH: There is an exercise where teams talk about weekends, but use reverse pronouns "he" instead of "she" etc. It becomes exhausting even after only two minutes and helps convey the stress of having to think twice. Harvard Business School did a report that showed that people are 67% more productive if they can bring their whole selves to work.

AG: If your company is supportive, what employees are dealing with [at home, such as caring for those with mental health issues, the elderly and so on] becomes more manageable. So many people out there live with problems. In organisations that have a culture where staff are able to say "I need to juggle" the result is a high level of trust and loyalty and quality of work from employees. You shouldn't underestimate that.


What matters to employees most?

JS: A manager needs to build support and that way they will build loyalty. The Caterer's Best Places to Work surveys show that people want to feel valued and understood - that comes way above remuneration in surveys.

JB: In another survey of 18- to 32-year-olds, some 92% said they want more flexibility than remuneration. It is a shocking statistic. There is a 400% increase in the last four years in zero-hours workers, which means there is a huge drive towards flexibility. People want that.

AO'C: A recent survey added a new category called "I am free to be myself at work" and this came in second after teamwork. Diverse doesn't always mean people are accepting, but at Dishoom we encourage it.

MH: In our study, diversity came in at second place behind health and safety. In fact, there is a correlation because if you have an inclusive team you look out for each other. Diverse teams get better health and safety results.


From our sponsor

Launched in late 2015, Syft is the market-leading flexible staffing platform. Headquartered in London, the start-up has since expanded across the UK to support its operations in hospitality and events staffing.

Trusted by Tate, Compass and other top brands, Syft offers a better deal to hospitality and events employers and workers.

Employers have genuine control and choice over who they hire, with total transparency in worker profiles and ratings. Syft handles compliance, payroll, tax and other admin, and employers save up to 55% on agency fees.

Syft has thousands of fully vetted casual workers who are active in a variety of hospitality roles, ranging from bar staff to sous chefs. Syft's straightforward platform means you can post a shift in minutes and have it filled in seconds.

Interested in how Syft can benefit your business? Sign up for free on or email

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