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Lessons in Diversity, Inclusion & Bias (DIBs): An alternate perspective on Black History Month

To truly celebrate Black History Month, we must find new ways to lead, hire and retain our workers — and to create healthy and balanced work cultures.

The food industry has a strong argument for being the hardest industry hit as a result of COVID-19 and the sundry variants that seem to be never ending. Massive and immediate layoffs were followed by uncertainty and fear. Leaders of every stripe were stretching the limits of their creativity to identify solutions to a problem that was still revealing itself. And then came the social justice considerations; from the murder of George Floyd to the deaths of Asian women in Georgia, race and death seemed to be in our face and interconnected. 

It was heavy. It was emotional. It was seemingly everywhere and on every screen.

Black History Month in 2020 and 2021 were strange. There is an argument that they were transitional; but transitioning to what? What would happen if we took a good hard look at the work we have done over the last two years or so and viewed it through an evidence-based evaluation and the good ol’ fashioned eyeball test. In other words…

Are you proud of what you have accomplished?

Do you have proof that your efforts are the reasons for the results you see?

Here we are nestled in the warm embrace of 2022, and I, like many others, am reflecting on the work we have done. I’d like to pose to you the questions I ask myself and request that you view them through the lens of Diversity and Inclusivity. 

To be plain, none of us, nor our restaurants, GMs, managers or frontline workers, are perfect. Inevitably, they and we have made any number of mistakes. Outside of the most grievous of errors, this is fine. To expect any of us to navigate the foodservice industry without having tripped over ourselves and made a diversity error is silly. What is reasonable is for us to look at the successes, challenges, wins and losses with a critical eye. When we do this and use the lens of diversity and inclusion, what do we see?

Are we proud? Do we have proof?

Having been hit hard by the pandemic, many organizations either shut completely down or came close. In some cases, restaurants closed their doors entirely and permanently. For those who were able to reopen their doors, you were offered the intriguing and challenging opportunity to bring folks back after having experienced both COVID and the Summer of 2020. It would be hard to blame any leaders for utilizing essentially the same hiring process they had in the past, to (re)hire or bring folks back. But let’s take a look in the rear-view mirror and ask a different set of questions — asking NOT to blame, but to learn and improve. 

 Did you make changes to your (re)hiring practices that took into consideration the lessons learned in the many town halls, companywide virtual calls, one on one conversations and individual explorations? 

Are you proud?

There are some organizations who brought teams back from the C-Suite to the frontline over the past year or so, and the culture seems better and richer. How is that possible? The people seem more connected. How did they do it? Is it a function of the shared experience of the COVID struggle? Is it a result of having missed one another and the relationships that are so important to us all? Or perhaps it is a direct result of the aforementioned town halls and virtual calls? 

Do you have proof?

If the lens we were using were a different one, we would have answers to these questions that were clear, concise and measurable. Imagine if the question was about sales, historical sales, labor costs or costs of goods: we would have clear answers. We would have indicators of which we could be proud, and we would have measurements that would provide proof. 

When it comes to the business of culture and equity, do we have the same?

At JP Enterprises, we push organizations to strongly consider an assessment — we call ours the Inclusive Leadership Assessment — that measures the inclusivity of their leaders individually and in teams, departments and organization-wide. The ability measure inclusivity is critical. In truth, diversity is relatively simple to measure, right? We can count the number of self-identified folks of any group and compare it over time against the past and the towards the goal. Unfortunately, this does not provide us any data on whether team members, guests or partners feel included. Inclusion is important, and our ability to measure it gives us the proof we need.

Pride is a little different. We can be busy doing many things and none of them can significantly move the needle on the issue that needs the most attention. We can meet, we can talk, we can discuss, we can explore ideas. It is also possible to do all these things and end the day having accomplished precious little. Said another way, we can engage in great discussions and avoid making progress. Maybe it’s just the folks I know, but this does not seem to be the kind of activity and (in)action that lights the flame of pride.

Let me provide a skeleton road map that will help move leaders, teams, managers and frontline workers a stronger chance of being able to have both Pride and Proof.

  1. Execute an Assessment: Focused on Inclusion.
  2. Use the Assessment: Identify where you are and where you want to be in the future. 
  3. Develop strategic priorities: Prioritize Leaders and Hiring Managers.
  4. Assess again: Measure progress. Identify the successes, challenges, pain points.
  5. Celebrate and repeat.

You may be thinking to yourself, “How does this apply to Black History Month?” As leaders or organizations, teams, and ourselves — particularly in the food industry — we can use BHM as a moment to reflect on the work done in the past, the unbelievable leaders past and present and the impact folks of African descent have had on our organizations. There is nothing wrong with this. 

This option I am suggesting is a way of honoring the work and sacrifices of others by working smarter and driving toward the results of inclusivity. If we want our work cultures to be healthy and balanced, we must find new ways to lead, new ways to hire and retain — and, yes, new ways to celebrate Black History Month— and the other months — too.


James Pogue, PhD is a consultant in the areas of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. He’s the founder of JP Enterprises and believes that sharing the results of his research with leaders and decision makers is his way to be a catalyst for positive change.

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