By Ellen Weaver Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. is currently roughly 17 percent Hispanic, 13 percent African-American, five percent Asian, about three percent multiracial and 62 percent White. The numbers continue to point to a growing multicultural nation: The U.S. is projected to become a majority-minority nation for the first time in 2043.
When it comes to truly addressing, reflecting and embracing diverse cultures, it’s important to dive deeper into the numbers. What does it all mean for the restaurant industry and small businesses? How does it impact how small businesses draw customers and the next generation of employees?
The Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance (MFHA) was founded in 1996 to act as a catalyst for creating opportunities for diverse communities in the food and hospitality industry. Gerry Fernandez, founder of MFHA, has been part of the restaurant industry since 1976. “I went from dishwashing to the board room,” he says. “It’s one of a few remaining industries where you can start from the bottom and really work your way to the top.”
Opportunities for all –from top to entry-level—are core to what makes the restaurant industry special. It also makes MFHA’s mission to bring the economic benefits of diversity and inclusion to the food and hospitality industry by building bridges even more important today.
“Everybody wants to improve the bottom line and add value to their brand, and we believe you can do all those things by understanding diversity and inclusion practices in your business,”he says. “There are some real implications with multicultural. We believe that the work we do can help spark the industry to do more to capitalize on the opportunities that come with diversity.”
Throughout the past two decades, Fernandez has witnessed the evolution of the industry and the role “cultural intelligence”plays well before researchers promoted the term. Popularized in 2005, cultural intelligence is defined as having the knowledge, skills and abilities to effectively and appropriately engage people from different ethnic, racial and cultural groups to deliver better results.
Since its first conference more than 15 years ago, MFHA has delivered high-quality events, workshops and conferences that have driven diversity and inclusion initiatives throughout the industry. While Fernandez notes gains for women in senior leadership positions, the biggest opportunity of improvement lies in increasing diversity at the middle management level.
“Why aren’t more people of diverse communities advancing? There are unique challenges that people of color face in the workplace. Companies have to offer training and education that addresses those differences,”he says.
MFHA provides guides, on-demand e-training and live workshops to help with professional development of executives. In addition, the group works with partners like The Coca-Cola Company to field research to paint a clear picture of today’s multicultural consumer.
Roy C. Jackson serves as the chairman of the board of MFHA and Senior Vice President of Business Development and Industry Affairsfor the Coca-Cola North America Foodservice and On-Premise business. He knows firsthand the value of diversity.
“The multicultural consumer has always been extremely important to The Coca-Cola Company. Diversity is at the heart of our business, and diversity efforts reach across every aspect of our business –workplace, marketplace, supplier relationships and community,”Jackson says.
For The Coca-Cola Company, diversity is not only inclusive of ethnicity and gender, but hiring and marketing efforts take into consideration various generations, sexual orientation, gender identities and learning styles. Hiring and acquiring the best talent may be one of the biggest challenges for the franchisee community. Naturally, diversity and inclusion efforts can play an important role in setting some companies apart from others in the competitive landscape.
“Attracting the best talent may sound like the easy part, but sharing opportunities and more about the workplace culture with potential employees is more akin to marketing,” Jackson says. “It’s important we showcase how we’re different and what distinguishes us from the competition.”
In a recent study, MFHA looked at some of the top chains and found that fewer than 8 percent of companies surveyed communicate a dedication to diversity and inclusion well. For example, company websites are the first impression not only consumers see, but potential candidates. It’s critical that the commitment to diversity and embracing all cultures is clear.
Social media is a growing space where multicultural audiences lead and offers an additional chance for business to connect with consumers and customers. For example, according to the Pew Institute, 40 percent of black Internet users age 18-29 use Twitter. MFHA is looking at ways to “meet the millennial multicultural consumers where they are”and tap into digital platforms to showcase companies that are doing an excellent job.
“The millennial generation wants to feel good about the companies they work for,” Fernandez says. “Sometimes there is a disconnect when people of diverse communities don’t see companies giving back or how they represent them.”
Denny’s CEO John C. Miller understands the importance of capturing the attention of millennials. Leveraging social media is one way the restaurateur successfully connects with this audience.
“We have taken an ‘always open’ and ‘always on’ approach to managing social media platforms, which include Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram,”Miller says. “Our customers can see our ‘come as you are’ mantra not only come to life but become a part of their everyday interactions online.”
Billing Denny’s as “America’s Diner”is more than a brand platform as the organization implements programs that truly reflect the nation’s diversity. In 2013 under Miller’s direction and leadership, Denny’s spent $81.5 million with minority and women-owned businesses, representing 13.8 percent of its overall spending and surpassing the industry average.
“We’re incredibly proud that our staff come from such diverse backgrounds and make up 63 percent of Denny’s total workforce and 44 percent of its overall management,”Miller says.
The success of companies like Denny’s didn’t happen overnight. It required its leaders to be intentional in its diversity and inclusion efforts. Often the next step to creating and promoting an inclusive culture is as easy asking the right questions: Is our organization reflective of the community? When we say we believe in diversity, do our words match our actions? How can we share and showcase the diverse backgrounds of our current and future employees better?
These questions can help lead to a path of progress and allow leaders to focus on doing more of what works and addressing deficiencies with action.
Ellen Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full-service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice Industry. Hartman has experience working for Coca-Cola Refreshments, Olo Mobile/Online Ordering, Chili’s, Huddle House, First Watch, Fresh To Order, and Uncle Maddio’s and many QSR brands including Popeyes, Church’s and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 25 years, Hartman is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum, Les Dames d ’Escoffier International and has served on the board Georgia State University School of Hospitality. She earned her APR accreditation from the Public Relations Society of America and is a member of PRSA’s Fellow program for senior accomplished professionals.