‘Hospitality can be an engine for levelling up’

Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure’s Festival of Inclusion celebrated best practice in social inclusion this week.

African American businesswoman with colleague


The hospitality sector can be an engine for social mobility if it has a smart plan and measures progress, former government minister Justine Greening told an industry event yesterday.

Greening, who was speaking at the Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure‘s virtual festival of inclusion, said the Social Mobility Pledge, which she co-founded and which has 14 goals from education to addressing the digital divide and recruitment, now has nearly 600 companies on board. They are committed to taking a strategic approach to levelling up and are working with universities to develop cutting edge approaches to social mobility. They cover everything from recruitment processes – to ensure the widest range of candidates – training opportunities and progression pathways that mean there are “no dead end jobs” to support for supply chain organisations.

They work in social mobility cold spots which the hospitality sector is ideally placed to reach, said Greening, with some companies hiring remote workers in one particularly cold spot which also makes training easier. “We are in the foothills of innovation when it comes to what companies can do to level the country up,” she said, adding that leadership was vital.

Donna Catley, Chief People Officer of Compass Group UK, spoke of the commercial imperatives for levelling the playing field. Firstly, she said, organisations should reflect their customer base; secondly, there is a ‘war for talent’ due to Brexit and employers need to up their game; thirdly, brilliant ideas come from across society and are needed to re-energise businesses after Covid; and, fourthly, hospitality is a unique business where people’s underlying characteristics matter more than qualifications and where resilience and grit, qualities often forged in adversity, are vital.

Catley saw Covid as an opportunity for change and said we would all be poorer if we don’t face the social mobility and diversity issues. She said Compass Group was ideally placed to affect change because it reaches across the UK and is a barrier-less organisation where qualifications are not vital and where there is a career pathway for everyone to progress.

Hannah Thomson, CPO of Travelodge, said employers need to understand the benefits of diversity and social inclusion through the use of data and making the emotional case for change through a depiction of what change might look like and telling the stories of people who work there.

Meeta Zakharia, Head of HR and Inclusion at McDonald’s UK, spoke of the power of taking intentional action and explaining why it matters, telling employee stories, especially those of senior managers who have overcome barriers, and creating a “ripple effect”. Catley added that line managers who led on the social mobility agenda should be celebrated. For Dave Davies, Business Development Manager at the Metropolitan Pub Company, board-level commitment is crucial, with employee networks feeding into the executive.

Diversity and inclusion

Earlier in the Women in Hospital, Travel and Leisure [WiHTL] Festival – the first of its kind in the sector –  Paul Pomroy, Chief Executive of McDonald’s UK and Ireland, spoke to June Sarpong, Director of Creative Diversity at the BBC, about why diversity and inclusion matters and what the company has been doing to boost it over the last months. He said he could see the results in terms of greater diversity at all levels and the fact that minority groups felt more confident about speaking up. He said McDonald’s could have just sat back and hidden behind their general statistics, but they recognised that they had a lot of work to do, particularly at senior levels.

Pomroy spoke of growing up outside South London, going to state schools and how his mother had taught him to look after people. He described his leadership style as “very open” and “very competitive”. He said leaders should not be afraid to be vulnerable and to admit when they need help, be brave enough to get the right people around them to support diversity, listen to their employees [through employee networks, for instance] and be clear about the kind of inclusive culture they want to create. “We have to be deliberately inclusive,” he said. He referred to McDonald’s young black graduate programme and of the need to diversify McDonald’s franchisees through promoting positive role models.

Another panel discussion looked at closing gender and ethnicity pay gaps. Research presented on addressing gaps and expert suggestions focused on  effective ways of doing so, for instance, using employee networks, collecting data, organising it and analysing it, creating an action plan, having executive champions, supporting progression and succession, using external forums to draw on best practice and sponsorship and two-way mentoring. Experts suggested using gender pay gap guidelines to address ethnicity pay gaps, looking at information through different intersectional lenses and analysing according to specific groups rather than just in binary groups such as white and minorities.

*Read about WiHTL’s research on the impact of Covid on diversity and inclusion in the sector.

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