Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 'Has To Be Thoughtful and Thought Through': JP Enterprises CEO

Foodservice leaders discuss cultural change in the workforce at the National Restaurant Association Show
Cultural Change session
Chip Wade (from left), Kelli Valade and James Pogue | Photograph by WGB Staff

Diversity, equity and inclusion took center stage at the National Restaurant Association Show as James Pogue, president and CEO of JP Enterprises; Chip Wade, president of Union Square Hospitality Group; and Kelli Valade, incoming president and CEO of Denny’s, led a session on “Accelerating Cultural Change in the Foodservice Industry" on May 23. 

The group took a closer look at ways in which companies can address diversity (which can range from socioeconomic, religion and politics to race, gender and age), equity and inclusion, as well as how they address DEI within their own organizations. 

Said Wade of Union Square Hospitality Group, “We now publish our diversity and inclusion data on our website. We share and talk about this with our employees, so they hold us accountable to really high standards.” He said sharing this kind of diversity data was new for 2020, that there was a prior intention to provide this type of information but that “the summer of 2020 literally kicked it up to a different level. We were asked to accelerate what we put on our website, including information about diversity and inclusion.”

Valade had similar observations during that same time (“the summer of 2020”). She said, “You can have the representation … but if you didn’t speak up and say something meaningful, or talk about the tough conversation, your guests noticed and your employees noticed. They were frustrated, and they were hurt, and they wanted people to know that.” She continued, “What they see you doing and not doing … that matters in a huge way.”

When the speakers were asked what companies can do to address diversity in their organizations, Pogue said, “You as a leader have to decide it’s important. You have to kick it up to something that’s critically important, and your team needs to know that it’s important. It has to be thoughtful and thought through. You must have some version of assessment in your organization that says this is where we are today, and this is where I would like us to be, and I would like for us to figure out how to drive towards that.” He continued by saying that sometimes that means getting help from outside of the organization if you’re not “designed” to address DEI within your organization. 

“We want our employees, our leaders, to bring their full selves to work,” Wade said. “We don’t just want their hands, we want their heads, and we want their hearts. You have to engage and start the conversation about how they’re feeling.”

The audience was asked to contribute to the conversation by participating in a survey using the DIBs (diversity, inclusion and bias) Assessment Model to rate themselves using the following categories: hesitant, discomfort, investigating, experimenting and engaging. When asked how audience members rate their industry’s comfort level with DIBs, 39% said investigating and 5% said hesitant. When asked to rate their own comfort level with DIBs, 37% said experimenting and 2% said hesitant.



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