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Viewpoint: Times have changed, and so should we

13 August 2020

A diverse workforce is key to creating an innovative, high-profit business, so why are some companies living in the past? Tevin Tobun explains how our industry can evolve.

A few decades ago, caterers just needed a good idea, the ability to cook and a reliable supplier to get them going. There was no complex health and safety legislation, little requirement for thorough HR processes and procedures, and absolutely no reason to consider the diversity of your workforce. How times change.

In our world, 20-plus years ago, you probably wouldn't see much diversity in hospitality – be it a female chief executive, a disabled person, a black person at senior level, an openly LGBTQ+ person, or even many working mums.

Fast-forward two decades and people are still making the same arguments about all strands of diversity – some to a greater or lesser degree.

But the natural churn of time means society has evolved and our multicultural, multi- faceted sector needs businesses that reflect this – not least because the benefits of having a diverse workforce have long been proven.

According to a recent report by diversity and inclusion specialist Pipeline, London-listed companies with no women at executive committee level have a net profit of 1.5%, while those with more than one in three women at that level reach a 15.2% net profit margin.

In the context of ethnicity, a 2018 study by the Boston Consulting Group found that businesses with more diverse senior management achieve 19% higher revenues, largely driven through innovation.

Further analysis from management consultant firm McKinsey found that of 366 companies audited, businesses in the top quartile for racial/ethnic diversity were 30% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median.

Striving for more diversity isn't just about doing what's right by society – it actually helps to improve business performance. Businesses need to evolve as society has. And it's not just about our workforces – it's about our customers, too.

Striving for more diversity isn't just about doing what's right by society – it actually helps improve business performance

If you were a chef working in Mayfair, your menu and produce would be very different now compared to what you might have had in the past. Today, for example, the large influx of Middle Eastern clientele during the summer months means you may need to look differently at your meat supplier. This just wasn't a consideration before.

The modern chef or caterer needs to be across this, because being more aware of diversity leads to happy customers, and it can also give you a competitive advantage. Encouraging diversity is as much about the micro as it is about the macro. And we all have our part to play.

I've spent more than 20 years in a sector as a partner to companies in the catering, restaurants and wholesale sectors, and I've witnessed a lot of change. We are improving, but more can be done to help us kick on.

While still a minority, there are plenty of talented and diverse people within our sector and beyond. We need to make sure their voices are heard – not just about issues concerning gender, race, sexuality, etc. They will offer invaluable insight into the world of business and what our sector can do to grow.

I spend time in communities and with organisations trying to understand how we can do more to encourage positive change. For me, in the context of hospitality, it is as much about grassroots as it is at the very top. More needs to be done to create a culture where diversity is encouraged at entry level, as well as looking at how we can support more diversity in the boardroom.

Our sector needs to continue working hard in the battle for talent. While some may argue that the current Covid-19 crisis means it's an ‘employers' market', the onus is still on us as leaders to find ways to get the best out of people. We need to focus on the long-term strategy of retaining and attracting talent.

More profile can be given to what we do in our sector in diverse communities to help attract talent. Equally, more awareness of the business benefits of diversity need to be profiled at the very top. One cannot succeed without the other.

Tevin Tobun is chief executive and founder of GV Group

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

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