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Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance president Gerry Fernandez calls on the industry to champion equity and inclusion.

Viewpoint: During Black History Month, restaurants must look back to find a way forward

Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance president Gerry Fernandez calls on the industry to champion equity and inclusion

As we celebrate Black History Month, it is incumbent upon us to remember the watershed moments of 2020 and their impact on Black Americans and in our own lives. First, serious healthcare and economic disparities were revealed as COVID-19 shut down our industry and the world. Second, the George Floyd killing sparked a racial reckoning not seen since the civil rights movement. Third, a contentious presidential election exposed a deep divide in our country on many issues including race.

Now, as we enter 2021, leaders across the restaurant industry must learn how to engage their employees, guests and communities that are still struggling with ongoing physical and mental stress, personal loss, job loss and racial tensions. Managers must master the skills of self-awareness, cultural intelligence, and empathy. Learning how to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations with compassion will be just one of the challenges facing our industry’s leaders and executives.

Gerry-Fernandez-Multicultural-Foodservice-Hospitality-Alliance.gifWe must take action to promote equitable and inclusive workplaces. This includes charting pathways to leadership with workforce development and managerial training, investing in community engagement through partnerships and programs, supporting the development of more Black and minority-owned businesses, and creating an environment to enable more diverse candidates on boards and in the C-suite.

Without equitable career pathways and growth opportunities, upward mobility and higher incomes will be difficult for underrepresented minorities to achieve.  Our industry is home to a diverse workforce of over 15 million workers and prides itself on offering opportunities to all. Diversity, however, drops significantly among the manager and executive ranks.

Now is the time to step up and play a leadership role in shaping the future of our industry and, frankly, all business across the nation.  It is time to get involved in both the public and private sector to solve big problems such as income inequality, healthcare disparities and racial injustice.  We can restore the restaurant, foodservice and hospitality industry, help our country heal and remove all barriers to opportunity. Together, we can be champions for equity and inclusion. 

Gerry Fernandez is president and founder of the Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance, an educational non-profit organization that makes the business case for developing cultural intelligence in the workplace.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation's Restaurant News and Restaurant Hospitality.

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