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A warm welcome

Building a sense of belonging should be the key driver of EDI initiatives according to the CEO of the winner of the 2021 CGIUKI award for Diversity and Inclusion Initiative of the Year.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines hospitality as ‘the act of being friendly and welcoming to guests and visitors.’ That is a mission statement but also a compelling definition of inclusivity.

Before the pandemic, the UK hospitality industry employed – directly or by supply chain – over five million people. They contributed over £130 billion to the economy, of which £40 billion was taxation. Post pandemic, our industry has rebounded quickly with hospitality sales returning to 98% of pre-pandemic levels in the run-up to December 2021.

Hospitality is all about people; they make it what it is. It relies on strong teams to provide experiences to valued customers and guests. But the inconvenient truth is that the pandemic has exposed the need for the hospitality industry to review and reset its approach to people across all levels.

Over the last few years, our available hospitality talent pool has declined, with demand now exceeding supply. This has resulted in employers needing to become more agile and more creative in attracting and retaining talent. In fact, they have had to rewrite their recruitment rule book.

During the last decade, I was the general manager of a hotel located in an area where hospitality was not a career of choice and recruitment was a challenge. To grow the talent pipeline, I would regularly invite school pupils and career leads to the hotel for breakfast, a tour of the property and speed networking with members of my team.

Over Christmas 2019, I had a confident knock on my office door and one of my team members entered. She stood with pride and told me that, three years previously she had visited the hotel with her school and met me and my team. When she left that day she announced to her teachers, friends and family that she was going to work at my hotel. With great delight she told me, ‘I’ve achieved my goal.’

The following year, I took her to the National Apprenticeship Week showcase at the Houses of Parliament. Later that day, I walked onto the Parliamentary Terrace and saw this young lady on stage addressing 200 Members of Parliament, civil servants and businesspeople recounting, that same story. In her own words, she told them she'd found the place she ‘belonged’!

A diverse nation

The UK population demographics have shifted significantly in the last decade; based on data from the National Census, the population has changed from dominant white British to a greater diversity spread. Project the results forward by 50 years and the forecast is that the white British population will contract in favour of even greater diversity. The Office for National Statistics also shows that there is a significant increase in people identifying as LGBTQ+.

Why are these statistics important? Because they show that as we move forward, those in the hospitality industry are becoming more diverse. Businesses must evolve to accommodate the population’s identity; this is a long-term, ongoing commitment.

From my first day as CEO at the Institute of Hospitality (IoH) in May 2021, I have been committed to ensuring our Institute, our decisions and our actions are representative of those in the hospitality industry. There should be no barriers to entry; hospitality professionals should see in us a place where they belong.

When we talk about the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), it’s important that people aren’t defined by one element. At IoH, we don’t start with a label and work backwards when bringing people into our businesses or organisations.

Irrespective of what industry you are in, when you step back and look at your team – or your audience – you will quickly find that you have infinite combinations of people who identify with and come from different backgrounds, genders, circumstances, sexual orientations, education and liberty. Each of these diverse elements make the whole individual unique.

While diversity in all forms should be embraced and celebrated, it’s true – and fair – that many businesses measure any strategic change in their bottom-line results. So here is my rationale: a diverse combination of people leads to better discussions, better decisions and better outcomes for everyone; each person brings a unique perspective to the table. Better decision-making should lead to a better run business which, in turn, will reflect in the bottom line.

Belonging leads to success

I would suggest that, for many, working in a business where they feel a sense of belonging allows them to thrive and excel.

At this stage, I’m going to posit the hypothesis that ‘a diverse group of people excelling in an organisation because they feel they belong is not just a diversity and inclusion aspiration, but an insight into the future of a successful, harmonised business.’

I was committed to this hypothesis throughout my recruitment and subsequent appointment to the role of CEO last year. My aim was for everyone to have the opportunity to participate and flourish in a diverse, inclusive industry body, to make them feel supported as individuals. This guiding principle has formed the basis of the Institute’s strategy since then.

I know that – as a well-established industry body – the IoH is a trusted voice. We can challenge stereotypes, change the narrative and demonstrate what an industry community should look like and the benefits that community and belonging can bring.

We have aspired to demonstrate that the IoH and hospitality industry are open, welcoming, caring and inclusive, that hospitality is an industry that listens and is a great place to work, a place where everyone can see themselves belonging.

Inclusive initiatives

To bring this to life, my early vision was to create an IoH Youth Council and an IoH Future Forum to provide representation and lead the Institute on its path toward EDI. This has been whole-heartedly supported by our supervisory board of non-executive directors who also actively participate in many of our initiatives.

In establishing our IoH Youth Council, we looked for people from diverse industry and geographical backgrounds who could be confident ambassadors for the IoH. Their role was to act as a conduit between us and a new generation of hospitality professionals and leaders in addition to providing an insightful voice for more established industry veterans.

The purpose of our equally diverse IoH Futures Forum is to build best practice for the recruitment and development of talent. Their scope is applied to equal opportunities for age, sexual orientation and myriad other identifications, while keeping an eye on how this can be translated to a global landscape.

In both cases, we are proud that those participating in the initiatives fully represent the audiences they are championing.

The IoH Youth Council and IoH Future Forum are empowered to challenge the status quo and provide their unique insights and advice as we tap into their intelligence and drive. They are helping us to maintain an agile position where we can flourish, be representative of the full spectrum of diversity and help ensure we are as ready as we can be for the future.

In June 2021, we launched our Diversity Shield Initiative to coincide with Pride Month. We repositioned the Institute’s logo onto a background of Pride colours and promoted this across our social media channels. This became a visible symbol demonstrating the inclusive nature of our 84-year-old professional body – our statement of welcome. Now those Shields are proudly worn by many of our members, team, supervisory board and wider community.

While the Diversity Shield is something of which the IoH is very proud, EDI goes beyond Pride and LGBTQ+. It covers disability, neurodiversity, ethnicity and gender. To build on our Diversity Shield success, we adopted the slogan ‘I’m in’ and the hashtag #imin as a tool for our members to show that they belong to a diverse ‘hospitality family’.

The impact of EDI work

Over the last year, the Institute has worked hard to continue our own evolution process, which started 84 years ago. Our supervisory board of non-executive directors has achieved gender parity, with 75% of our team recognised as female and gender balance in leadership roles. For the first time in our history, we have apprentices starting their career journeys with us.

Expanding and promoting our range of EDI work has seen IoH membership grow significantly. We have over 14,000 members, from students to established hospitality professionals, with 20% of our membership coming from outside of the UK. Engagement has increased dramatically as more and more people are able to look at us and see themselves. Knowing that more individuals are embracing our work and want to belong to the IoH is where the real success lies.

Although we see increasing our membership base as a key objective, one question that we have been grappling with is whether it’s possible to be truly inclusive when membership fees may present a barrier to entry. For us, the equation is simple: having no membership fee equals no income, which equals no Institute.

Our thinking on this issue culminated in the launch of our IoH Bursary Fund. The bursary fund is designed to help fund the membership of talented, inspirational hospitality professionals who have found the costs associated with joining the IoH a barrier.

Funded by various means, including the sales of our Diversity Shield, this initiative provides everyone with a level playing field when joining our professional body and enjoying the support, networking and development opportunities we provide.

Bringing the conversation full circle, the IoH has had quite a journey since it began in 1938. It was originally founded as the Institutional Management Association and, through generations of hospitality professionals, the Institute has thrived, evolved and stayed relevant within a diverse industry.

It takes courage to evolve; by challenging the status quo and opening our doors to a wider audience, we are raising our heads above the parapet. But looking at the positive impact this has had, and the support it has received – from not just our members but the wider world – it is clear that this was the right path for us to take.

I think we can agree there are many reasons why businesses must embrace equality, diversity and inclusion strategies, but I would suggest that we change the narrative and put ‘belonging’ front and centre of the EDI conversation. The feeling of belonging is what gives us our strength and our relevance. And what better industry than hospitality to lead the way.

Institute of Hospitality – Diversity and inclusion initiative of the year

Robert Richardson FIH, Chief Executive Officer, Institute of Hospitality