Sheilina Henry’s responsibilities at Bloomin’ Brands, parent to Outback Steakhouse and other casual-dining brands, include two of the fastest changing areas of the restaurant industry: diversity and off-premises sales.
The Tampa, Fla.-based company named Henry as senior vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion in 2020, then added off-premises dining in July 2021. She joined Bloomin’ in 2012 as an Outback joint venture partner in the Chicago and Wisconsin markets after working in operations and training with Yum Brands for 12 years.
“My role at Bloomin’ is probably one you won't find anywhere else,” Henry said, noting that it offers her a unique perspective in the industry. “I have two worlds that we combine, and that's a lot of variety.”
Companies recognized the need to shift and change in diversity, equity and inclusion in 2020 and built a foundation and infrastructure in 2021, she said.
“In 2022,” Henry said, “it's time to … really bring those ideas and turn them into actions, but also make an impact where people feel it.”
For Bloomin’, that comes to life in three ways. First is through accountability; from the CEO down, all employees are held accountable for inclusive leadership and changing behaviors that exclude. “This requires us to continue executive level training sessions, to challenge bias and build equitable processes across every function of the business,” Henry said.
The second is Employee Resource Groups, which include groups like the Black Employee Resource Group and BELONG for the LGBTQ+ Community. Finally, Bloomin’ is partnering with four Florida higher-education institutions for a partnership called Florida Future, through which students have access to scholarships and internships, and executives support their development through virtual and live learning experiences.
2022 represents a big opportunity partly because of the state of labor, Henry said. The COVID pandemic will have a long-lasting impact on the restaurant industry and its hiring practices, starting with what’s being called the Great Resignation.
“I actually think of it as the Great Reprioritization,” she said, “because as we sat in our homes and we thought about what was important to us, who was important to us, who we valued and who valued us, I think that people decided that, ‘Hey, I know what's most important to me and I'm going to go after it because life is too short.’”
That gives employers the opportunity to listen to their employees, she said, “and adjust how we look at the employee value proposition. I think a lot of it is consistent with what I've heard over the years: People want a fair wage to start, but they also want a solid package of benefits; they want to make sure that they are in an environment that appreciates them, that their bosses are great.”
The pandemic has also changed the meaning of well-being, she said. That means not just offering opportunities for employees to be healthy physically and mentally, but also “removing the stigma that comes along with it.”
Henry is most looking forward to again meeting employees in 2022, she said, and she’s optimistic about getting back into the field.
“It's going to be back to shaking hands and talking to our employees even more than I get to do now,” she said, “and spending time with them around the table.”
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