Union Square Hospitality Group, parent to such respected restaurants as Gramercy Tavern and The Modern, committed in 2020 to improve its diversity, equity and inclusion and to be “radically transparent” about the process, according to its consultant.
The consultant, James Pogue, president and CEO of JP Enterprises, provided insights into USHG’s process during a “The Journey Toward Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging” presentation Wednesday at the Black Box Intelligence Best Practices Conference in Irving, Texas.
Because of an extended ice storm in North Texas, Pogue was unable to be joined by Patti Simpson, chief administrative officer for New York-based Union Square Hospitality Group, who oversees the human resources, legal and marketing teams and spearheads Hospitality Quotient, the company’s leadership, learning and development consultancy.
However, Pogue said the two consulted extensively before his presentation.
Pogue said his work with Union Square Hospitality began in 2020, during the summer after the COVID pandemic had been declared in March and amid the many social justice protests following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minn., in May.
“We started off with an executive-level strategy session with them to talk to their leaders about where they wanted to go and so on,” Pogue recalled. “We did an inclusive leadership assessment. ... We provided strategic recommendations and they gave him a roadmap for success.”
To become an effective organization in diversity, equity and inclusion, Pogue noted it requires work, much like building muscles in a gym.
And providing a roadmap toward solutions for the leadership and the organization is vital, he added.
“It helps them to build muscles around the questions and answers that are going to be happening around DEI,” Pogue noted. “It's one thing to know it; it's another thing to be able to do it.”
The first step, he added, is becoming aware of leaders’ biases.
“You cannot possibly know what your unconscious biases are,” Pogue said, “otherwise they would be conscious.”
USHG leaders were less interested in comparing themselves to the general restaurant industry, he added, telling him: “We want to be the best at it. Period.”
Pogue and his team worked with USHG organization leaders “both individually and in groups to push and pull and twist and focus them on what they want and how they want to do it and to get them better and muscle up on what it is that they're trying to accomplish.”
Among initiatives USHG implemented were increases in back-of-the-house hourly rate by 26%, Pogue said. Pay equity across the organization remains a large focus for the group, he added.
In addition, retention was a consideration. One of the possible solutions included scheduling, allowing female caretakers of family members – children as well as elderly – to enjoy flexibility in work times.
“They've got a shift that starts at 2 o'clock, and they have seen because they're collecting the data that they're many of their female employees have to go into family stuff at a time and that doesn't allow them to be at work at 2 o'clock,” Pogue noted. “They are reorganizing the entire scheduling system to allow for that.”
USHG also committed to transparency in its DEI journey, posting the company’s work toward goals on its public website – and that is currently being updated, Pogue said.
“They're reporting to the world: This is who we are and this is how we're trying to get better,” Pogue said. “it's transparent.”
“It takes your leadership to win at this,” Pogue said. “You can't accidentally be great at this. You can’t trip and fall to be a great inclusive leader. It’s going to be awkward and comfortable, and you're going to get pricked and poked and twisted.”
Pogue said Simpson is adamant. “We have this limited time on this planet to do great things,” he quoted her as saying.
“How do you get better? It takes work,” Pogue said, likening it to running or weight-lifting. “If you want to lift heavier weights, you have to do what it takes to lift heavier weights. If you want to be a more inclusive leader, you have to go through some stuff too.”
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