The people gap

The 2020 Conference highlighted three important shortfalls in the hospitality industry’s workforce: on women leaders, neurodiversity and disabled people.

Women leaders

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CGA research earlier in 2018 confirmed just how far the industry has to go on the diversity of its top teams. The ‘Diversity in Hospitality Leadership’ report, produced with Odgers Berndtson and UKHospitality, found that nearly two thirds (63%) of sector leaders think there is a diversity problem in leadership, and fewer than one in seven (14%) think enough is being done to promote inclusion. The problem is especially acute on gender, with four in five (82%) respondents to CGA’s survey agreeing that hospitality needs more women on leadership teams.

Odgers Berndtson’s head of hospitality and consumer Holly Addison picked up the theme at the 2020 Conference, introducing a new mentoring programme that aims to fast-track women from management to boards. But much more needs to be done, she said. “There are lots of [diversity] initiatives going on, but we still need to do better. There are still all-male boards out there, and some companies are still fulfilling board quotas by bringing in non-executives from outside the sector. We want to positively bring more women through to board level.”

Addison’s points were echoed by fellow Conference speaker Libby Andrews, marketing director at Pho and co-founder of the Ladies in Restaurants group. Beginning with informal meet-ups, it has grown into a significant networking forum, staging speaker events and running training and mentoring programmes. It has just launched a sister group in Manchester, with another to follow in Brighton. “It’s about having a place for women in hospitality, because it is a bit of a boys’ club,” Andrews said at 2020.



Neurodiversity—the multitude of neurological differences like dyslexia, dyspraxia, Attention Deficit Disorder and the Autistic Spectrum—is an aspect of diversity that is too often unseen or misunderstood, the Conference was told.

John Levell, a consultant at the Levell Partnership and co-chair of British Dyslexia Association, said he was among the 15% of British adults who have some form of neurodiversity, and the 10% who have dyslexia. These people can often have difficulty with tasks like reading, writing, spelling and understanding instructions, he explained—but there can be many strengths too, including in verbal communications, creative thinking, problem-solving, tenacity and 3D spatial reasoning. “There are lots of weaknesses, but at the same time what we don’t really know enough about are the strengths,” Levell said.

Those with dyslexia are often suited to entrepreneurship, he argued, and many—including Jamie Oliver, James Martin and Marco Pierre White—have made their way to the very top of hospitality. But employers haven’t yet tapped the full potential of neurodiverse demographics, nor thought properly about their needs in things like the hiring process. “There are many aspects of the standard recruitment process that can knock out some potentially great candidates,” Levell warned.

He urged businesses to adapt their processes and facilities to support neurodiversity, and said practical support and funding was available from the government, especially for smaller businesses. “The bottom line is that these people are already in your workforce… there’s so much value in this group.”

Holly Addison, John Levell and Nick Hale discuss people at Peach 2020.

Physical disability

Alongside neurodiversity, physical disability isn’t sufficiently recognised or supported in hospitality and many other industries, said Nick Hale, managing director of BT Ventures.

“Disability is something that doesn’t get talked about enough,” he argued. “We’re effectively alienating or making life more difficult for large swathes of our workforce that we’re depending on each and every day to do some pretty amazing stuff.” By way of proof, he cited the fact that of the 900,000 people in the UK who are severely or profoundly deaf, only 12,000 are employed outside of charities. “Frankly, that’s morally embarrassing.”

Some businesses are put off making their workplaces more accessible to disabled people by the cost—but simple measures like training or educating managers can go a long way to improving the situation, he added.

“Educating yourself on something you don’t understand… costs nothing.”

It might seem cynical to say so, but businesses might soon sharpen up their practices if they realised the scale of the commercial opportunities, Hale said: “The commercial opportunity that is associated with what is sometimes referred to the purple pound is many billions of pounds. If anyone needs one, that is a reason to take a step forward.”

Levell agreed: “The moral and ethical reasons for doing it—and the law—are fine and good, but in the end the thing that will drive it is the whole organisation realising that you can make more money by doing it.”

CGA’s 2020 Conference was supported by platinum partners Asahi, Bookatable by Michelin,, Coca-Cola European Partners, Coffer Corporate Leisure, CPL Online, Diageo, Fourth, NatWest, Omnivore, Treasury Wine Estates and Zonal; and by network partners Casual Dining, Chapman Ventilation, Fishbowl, Odgers Berndtson, Reynolds, RSM and Yumpingo.

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