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Is The Hospitality Industry Discriminatory?

It’s a question that many within the industry would be undoubtedly eager to avoid, for the unforgiving culture of current times strikes fear into the heart of the most established businesses. Some may say that an industry associated with a discriminatory nature must be avoided at all costs, a PR powder keg with the ability to erupt at any given moment. Results, disastrous. Recovery, unfeasible.

But how could positive change ever triumph if we neatly packed and polished away the issues that are so desperate to be rectified? Are those who highlight the wrongs of others out to create irreversible damage or are they intent on creating the first waves of necessary change, providing a voice for those who struggle to find their own?

Discrimination Within Hospitality

The hospitality industry is one of the UK’s largest private-sector employers, employing around 1.8 million people within its sub-sectors of food and beverage, accommodation, travel and tourism and entertainment and recreation.

It has a higher level of foreign-born workers and workers from an ethnic minority background compared to other sectors. For example, 30% of workers in the food and accommodation sectors are foreign-born in comparison to 18% across all other economic sectors. It also is known for being an industry where many begin their working life, those who are taking the first steps into the daunting world of work. A remarkable 35% of workers within hospitality are aged between 16-24 compared to just 11% across all other sectors.

Last month, Be Inclusive Hospitality, a leading social enterprise and not-for-profit organisation, published its annual Inside Hospitality Report.

A powerful insight into the hospitality industry through the lens of the underrepresented. Their findings show that one in three have witnessed employees experiencing discriminatory behaviour, with the most reported forms of discrimination, in descending order being gender bias, racial bias, age bias, and sexual orientation bias.

For those who have experienced personal discrimination, racial bias was the most prevalent form of discrimination for Black and Asian respondents at 94.6% and 57% respectively. For White respondents, the form of discrimination experienced the most was gender bias at 55.7%.

Some will read these statistics in alarm and disbelief; how can discrimination still exist in this day and age?! Others will read these statistics in alarming nonchalance, for their lived experience has followed a similar narrative. It doesn’t come as a shock that others who share the same characteristics share the same experiences. Discrimination feeds social inequality, an issue that we’re intent on changing here at Arc.

What Are Social Inequalities?

Social inequality refers to the disparity that exists between various groups within society and can encompass characteristics and circumstances including race, wealth and gender.

It’s an issue that has been present in society since the beginning of time, with evidence uncovered in biblical texts, archaeological discoveries and stories passed down from ancestors. From the extravagant resting places of ancient pharaohs built by slaves to the uprising that brought an abrupt end to the French royal dynasty and the women who gave their lives for our right to vote. Social inequalities are woven into the very fabric of our history.

Despite its archaic construct, you don’t have to look too far back to see social inequality at play. Regardless of society’s remarkable advances in medicine, technology and education, there still exists social inequalities today, even in the most socially advanced societies. In the richest countries, people will still go hungry and in the poorest countries, you can still find enclaves of astonishing wealth. In cultures where women are viewed as equals, there will still be those who earn less than their male counterparts and in societies where racism is outwardly denounced, there will still be those who live in fear.

Although Arc may be a small fish in a very big pond when it comes to eliminating social inequalities, we know that by being ethical leaders, we can lead our industry in making recruitment and staffing fairer for all.

Our Journey to Becoming a Better Business

We had always wanted to be more than just a recruitment company but the hectic nature of the pre-Covid 19 events industry provided little thinking time. So, in 2020, while the world stood still, we mobilised, discovering our “why” and exploring where we wanted the business to go. We realised that we could have a genuinely positive and lasting effect on the recruitment industry and so formed our vision: “To shape the world of flexible work into a better place for all”

It was a new sustainability-focused era at Arc, one that would push us to understand the industry like never before, the good, the bad and the ugly. We invested in our vision, created a new Impact department, and aligned our goals with our values. Our Impact Pillars would direct our focus onto three key areas: taking climate action, reducing barriers to employment and eliminating social inequalities.

How Are We Going to Achieve Our Mission to Eliminate Social Inequalities?

We first started our internal DE&I conversation with a third-party advisor called Be Inclusive Hospitality, who also provided our first DE&I training. We then took a step further and started a partnership with Your D+I to oversee the creation of our internal DE&I strategy.

Through this strategy, we have launched a series of initiatives to create an inclusive and diverse work environment, including:

  • Educating our employees on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) – first with Be Inclusive Hospitality where we covered Introduction to Bias, and then we continued the training with Your D+I, covering Introduction to DE&I, and Inclusive Language at the Workplace. Now, 100% of Arc full-time employees are trained on the topics of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
  • Working in partnership with Your D+I to audit our internal recruitment processes for diversity & inclusion
  • Providing Safe Spaces to our full-time employees. This is an internal initiative where our employees can come and chat with one of our Mental Health First Aid-trained Safe Spaces Officers.
  • Updating our zero-tolerance policy for harassment, bullying, or discrimination of any kind and making it a public statement

We have built a culture of transparency and honesty and each year; we publish a Diversity Report which serves as an insight into the workforce at Arc, for both full-time employees and our Team Members. In our recent Diversity Report, we found that:

  • 71% of our senior leadership team is built by women
  • The largest proportion of our Team Members (36.4%) are black

Finally, we will achieve our aim through the passion that’s ignited within our team. We’re lucky to have a community of like-minded individuals who genuinely care for supporting those who experience social inequalities.

Sarah King, for example, is one of our Senior People Operations Managers but is also an Inclusion Officer who leads our Social Inequalities pillar. Sarah created Arc’s Diversity Breakfasts, a dedicated space where our team can volunteer to educate their colleagues on topics close to their hearts.

This year, we’ve held breakfasts for International Men’s Day, Ramadan and International Women’s Day. During Black History Month, Sarah directed a documentary, sharing the voices of our own Black Team Members and their experiences within the industry as a person of colour.

Following the launch of our Safe Spaces last year, a place in which our team can speak to their colleagues about any worries they may have, 70% of our full-time team are now fully trained Mental Health First Aiders. Our employees are more aware of mental health problems than ever before, which helps them be empathetic when dealing with difficult or sensitive situations.

It is important to note that we are not perfect, and we know that. We are learning, educating and trying to do better. We know there is a lot to learn, unpick and change – not just looking at ourselves, but our industry too. Are we going to make mistakes along the way? Of course, we are! Are we going to learn from our mistakes? Yes, absolutely!

Never underestimate the power of the individual. Collectively, we are unstoppable.