Restaurants can be guilty of overselling diversity, finds report

A new survey released on August 3 by the U.S. National Restaurant Association found that the restaurant industry has a far greater percentage of female entry-level workers than female executives — but restaurants don’t necessarily report that accurately.

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), the Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance (MFHA), and the Cornell University Nolan School of Hospitality Administration conducted a joint report on the restaurant industry.

Restaurants “oversell” diversity

Among its key conclusions were that there is a big gap between employees and employers on diversity, both actual and perceived.

For example, the report suggests that companies underreport their percentage of women, Blacks, Hispanics and other races. More than half of employees (55 per cent) say they’re female, but companies say that only 35 per cent of their workers are women.

Companies also hugely overreport the percentage of non-binary or non-conforming genders, saying they account for 18 per cent of workers, while in reality, just one per cent of workers identify themselves as such.

When it comes to race, the gap is smaller but still extant. 76 per cent of workers identify themselves as white, while companies say that figure is just 63 per cent.

As a result of these findings, the study suggested that businesses in the foodservice and hospitality industry may “oversell” the level of diversity in their workplace.

Sparse women at the top

Meanwhile, while more industry employees identify as women than companies acknowledge, it’s still hard for them to reach the top.

Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of entry-level restaurant workers say they are female and 69 per cent of mid-level workers are women. But that percentage drops the more senior the employee. Among executive workers, thgere is a huge decrease down to 38 per cent.

There is a pattern emerging with companies’ reporting not being reflective of the real situation, it seems. Companies say the distribution of women is much more evenly spread across all positions, claiming 36 per cent of their entry-level front-of-house workers are women, 34 per cent of their back-of-house workers are women, and 34 per cent of executives are women.

Disconnect on diversity

Ultimately, there is some reconciliation needed between how employees feel about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and how operators feel.

The report found that while nearly all restaurant companies have some kind of DEI initiative and 78 per cent have diversity training or awareness events, fewer than half of current employees (48 per cent) and about a third of former employees (34 per cent) report actually receiving that training.

“Our industry historically has welcomed all people looking to chase the American dream with a solid career and ownership potential,” Michelle Korsmo, CEO of the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement. “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.”

RELATED: Diversity in foodservice lags behind other industries, finds report

Former employees not keen on returning

As well as DEI, the report shed some light on how former employees feel about the industry. The pandemic years saw a mass exodus from the industry and the effects of that are still being felt in an ongoing labour shortage.

The survey found that more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of former industry employees are not currently looking for work at a restaurant and only 16 per cent expect to actually return to work at one.

However, good management can help.

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Among current employees, 72 per cent strongly or somewhat agree that their supervisor cares about their well-being and 69 per cent said their supervisor cares about their opinions. Unsurprisingly, those numbers fall to 52 per cent and 48 per cent, respectively, among former employees. This perhaps suggests that at least some former employees leave because of their feelings about their boss or their workplace’s management.

“We have this incredible opportunity to listen, learn and act to improve our DEI practices,” Gerry Fernandez, president and founder of MFHA, said in a statement. “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.”

Read the full report.