Restaurant Industry Releases DEI Research and Framework for Building Successful Future Programs

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The study demonstrates the disparity in perception of DEI effectiveness between management and employees

In August, the National Restaurant Association released a landmark diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) report measuring the awareness and perceived effectiveness of DEI practices among employers and employees in the restaurant industry.

The research, conducted in collaboration between the National Restaurant Association, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance (MFHA) and Cornell University Nolan School of Hotel Administration, found an association between the impact of DEI strategies and foodservice workers’ job satisfaction. The study also highlighted differences between a company’s perceptions about its DEI effectiveness and its employees’ experiences.

Ultimately, the report reinforces the critical importance of effective DEI policies in driving employee engagement and retention within the restaurant industry.

To support the development of effective DEI programs across the industry, MFHA created “ELEVATE - A Menu for Change.” The framework provides restaurant operators with proactive business strategies and plans for building a more diverse, inclusive, and engaged workforce.

“This research highlights the opportunity for companies to elevate their DEI game,” said Gerry Fernandez, president and founder of the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance. “We have this incredible opportunity to listen, learn and act to improve our DEI practices. Committing to and investing in these changes can increase retention of current restaurant industry employees and enhance the overall perception of working in the restaurant industry. Our mission is to open doors of opportunity for people from all backgrounds, and we are eager to help do whatever it takes to ensure our industry is the gold standard for diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

When asked about the current profile of diversity in the foodservice industry, individuals typically reported differently than the enterprise. This suggests businesses may perceive an environment of diversity that is different than what is experienced by employees. If left unchecked, this has the potential to minimize the experience of historically marginalized communities; limit an organization’s ability to recognize the need for a more diverse workforce and change recruiting policies accordingly; and create an environment for turnover. Key findings include:

• Enterprise-level reporting of gender demographics is different than individual employee reporting. Enterprises underreport the percentage of female employees and overreport the representation of non-binary/non-conforming employees compared with how employees self-report (55% of individuals identify as female, enterprises report 35%).

• A greater percentage of individual employees selfidentify as Hispanic, Black/African American and other races than enterprises report.

• Enterprises reported a higher representation of people with disabilities than individuals indicated; 16% of individual employees self-reported having a disability, while enterprises report 34%. Enterprises generally believe they have created work environments that support DEI, yet awareness of those policies is often weak among current employees and even more so among former employees. This can lead employees to believe that DEI is not a strategic priority, which can ultimately lead to a lack of job satisfaction and higher turnover. Key findings include:

• Ninety-two percent of enterprises report having dedicated DEI initiatives, however, there is limited awareness of those policies among employees.

For example, 78% of enterprises reported having employee diversity training or awareness events, while only 48% of current employees and 34% former employees reported receiving this training.

• Seventy-three percent of enterprises believe that a diverse workforce improves a company’s innovation, yet 54% of enterprises believe that money spent on diversity programs is not having a noticeable impact.

• Fifty-eight percent of enterprises believe they provide adequate DEI training.

• Thirty percent of current employees and 14% of former employees believe the diversity programs in place at their restaurants have a positive impact on the workplace.

In general, the research suggests that current employees are satisfied with their work and overall have positive views about working in the restaurant and foodservice industry. The report indicates a correlation between employee sentiment about working in the industry and supervisor support. Addressing work challenges, investing in training and team member development, and creating authentic and sustainable employment opportunities through a culture of belonging and inclusion can help to address these gaps. Key findings include:

• Seventy-two percent of current employees expect to be employed by their current restaurant/organization in one year.

• Seventy-seven percent of former restaurant industry employees are not currently looking for employment in the industry.

• Sixteen percent of former restaurant employees expect to return to work in the industry.

To drive positive change in DEI initiatives for enterprises and employees, the MFHA created “ELEVATE - A Menu for Change” - a step-by-step toolkit with proven best practices and proactive business strategies.

“The restaurant workforce is the most diverse across the U.S. economy. The new insight provided by our research and the MFHA’s ELEVATE framework creates an opportunity to develop a standard for meaningful DEI programs across the industry,” said Michelle Korsmo, President & CEO of the National Restaurant Association, and CEO of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. “Our industry historically has welcomed all people looking to chase their American dream with a solid career and ownership potential. As our current and future workforces focus on new goals and change their expectations, we want the industry to continue to be a place that welcomes all and supports personal and professional growth.”