MFHA Culture Matters workshop

MFHA “Culture Matters” workshop attendees at the Brinker International headquarters in Dallas

How to tackle unconscious bias in restaurants

Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance workshop plots path on restaurant workplace behaviors

While foodservice companies pride themselves on addressing diversity in hiring and serving their customers, the industry harbors a high level of unconscious racial bias, university researchers have found.

U.S. foodservice employees ranked third as having the highest level of unconscious racial bias in 12 industry sectors in an analysis of Harvard University data by the University of Manchester. Foodservice was eclipsed only by construction and engineering.

About 70.3 percent of foodservice employees surveyed exhibited unconscious bias, the researchers found.

“Obviously we have to pay attention to the bigger issues like systems, policies and procedures. But, believe it or not, the small things can make a huge difference. The small things can mean a lot,” said Sandra Upton, vice president of educational initiatives at the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Cultural Intelligence Center LLC.

Workshop leader Sandra Upton of the Cultural Intelligence Center. Photo: Ron Ruggless

Biases are “unintended, subtle and unconscious choices made by everyone all the time,” Upton told a Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance workshop, “Culture Matters: Managing Unconscious Bias to Improve Performance,” sponsored by Brinker International Inc. at its Dallas headquarters. 

Overcoming the attitudes and stereotypes based on such characteristics such as race, age, ethnicity, religion or appearance takes a conscious effort by individuals as well as the larger corporation, added Gerry Fernandez, MFHA president and founder.

“One person can stand up and break the ice,” Fernandez said, in summing up the workshop. All minorities need allies, he said. “When you see something, say something. I’m going to steal that from the airport folks.“

Fernandez said people cannot be faulted “for not knowing what they’ve never been taught.”

“We have to get better at coaching mid-level employees of color to what the unwritten rules are so they can advance their careers,” he said. Because many employees were socialized in non-diverse communities, they need training in navigating corporate-culture norms such as following certain chains of command or weighing collaborative approaches versus individual competition. "You don't just stick it in with a jump drive," he said.

Upton noted that cultural differences and biases abound in the workplace as well as society, even with the growing diversity of the large Millennial generation in the workforce.

“We might say that hidden biases are the thumbprint of the culture on our brain,” Upton said, quoting Mahzarin Banaji, co-author of the book, “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People.” 

LaShawn Cartwright, senior manager of talent acquisition for Chick-fil-A Inc., and Gerry Fernandez, president and founder of the Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance. Photo: Ron Ruggless

Banaji, a psychology professor at Harvard University, is a founder of the Project Implicit research organization and its Implicit Association Test, which attendees took before the MFHA workshop to gauge their own areas of bias.

The unconscious bias can be especially acute in hiring. Upton said a University of Chicago study found even names on resumes could affect whether candidates would be considered, with 51 percent of whites more likely to get a callback than African-Americans. 

Practical things leaders and managers can do, Upton explained, is to expand their cultural intelligence.

“One of the ways that you can minimize your unconscious biases is by being intentional with the small things,” Upton said. “They can be very, very powerful.”

She suggested such “micro-affirmation behaviors” as:

—Greeting employees, colleagues and customers with sincerity.

—Connecting with people through personalized interactions. “Bring a personal element to your interactions,” Upton said. “But you want to do that in a way that is culturally appropriate. … Someone may be from a culture where they don’t want a whole bunch of attention, you connect with them differently than those from a culture that embraces that.”

—Focusing complete attention on people when they are speaking and letting your body language and facial expressions show you are listening. 

The MFHA is an educational non-profit based in Providence, R.I. It has scheduled a similar “Culture Matters” train-the-trainer workshop Sept. 8-9 at The Bama Companies in Tulsa, Okla.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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