The true colour of our industry: Meet the people working towards racial equality in hospitality

Aleesha Hansel

Aleesha Hansel

13 October 2020

Scratch beneath the surface, and the hospitality trade still has a way to go when it comes to racial equality. Aleesha Hansel meets the people trying to move things forward

On the face of it, the hospitality industry is a diverse place to work, with people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds making up 18.8% of the workforce. This is higher than the 14% of the UK’s general population who identify as being BAME. But delve a little deeper, and these statistics suddenly don’t seem so encouraging.

Lorraine Copes, founder of BAME in Hospitality, has worked in the industry for 18 years. Starting as a forecast and planning analyst, she has since led procurement and supply chain teams for Shake Shack, Gordon Ramsay Restaurants and Corbin & King.

A seniority issue

She set up the platform in 2019 to address the lack of representation and visibility of BAME professionals within the sector, especially at senior levels.

‘From a numbers perspective hospitality is diverse, but why is this mainly in junior positions?’ she asks. ‘The reality is when you get into the decision-making rooms, it’s all white.’ She adds: ‘Because I’ve always been in senior positions, I’ve not suffered the same micro-aggressions as some, but I’ve been overlooked for promotions, and generally found it harder to get through.’

Lorrain Copes of BAME in Hospitality
Lorrain Copes of BAME in Hospitality

Finding herself in that position throughout her career has strengthened Copes’ resolve to shed light on the matter. ‘The focus shouldn’t be on the exception. I’m not the conversation to be had – the issue is,’ she says. The Baroness McGregor-Smith Review of Race in the Workplace 2018 stated that: ‘All BAME groups are more likely to be overqualified than white ethnic groups, but white employees are more likely to be promoted than all other groups’.

The report, while not hospitality industry-specific, highlights the racial disparity in employment with BAME people making up one in eight of the working age population but only 6% of top management positions.

The reasons behind this are varied, but undoubtedly unconscious bias plays a part. In a study conducted by the Centre for Social Investigation, researchers applied to 3,200 job adverts with fictitious applicants. They found minority ethnic applicants had to send on average 60% more applications than a white British person to get a callback from an employer. As Nuffield College put it: ‘The findings revealed that Black Britons and those of south Asian origin... were penalised heavily, facing strong discrimination in the labour market at levels unchanged since the late 1960s and 1970s.’

The focus shouldn’t be on the exception. I’m not the conversation to be had – the issue is

Lorraine Copes

So what can be done to redress the balance? ‘It starts with an audit. With the business then assessing and understanding what they see,’ Copes advises. This view is echoed in the McGregor-Smith report, which says gathering data should be the crucial first step for companies.

Shocking then, that when researching this article, no audit about people of colour working within the industry as a whole could be found, despite the fact it represents 10% of UK employment, and is the third-largest private sector employer in the UK.

UKHospitality is the leading trade body for the sector, with more than 700 member companies operating around 65,000 venues. Kate Nicholls, its CEO and diversity board member, says: ‘I don’t want to appear complacent or suggest that there isn’t a problem. I just don’t think we’ve got a structural problem that needs to be undone. I think we have just got an ambition problem.’

When asked why BAME talent isn’t seen in higher roles, Nicholls says: ‘I genuinely don’t know. The only thing I can think is that in the main the businesses in the on-trade are quite small companies.

‘You just grow up with the people that were there, so you are not recruiting in at the top levels until you are in private equity, or that kind of stuff,’ she adds. ‘And I think there is where our challenge lies, because inevitably you’ve only got a few roles that come up, and you don’t tend to get a lot of external recruitment.’

This response will disappoint some. It contrasts with Baroness McGregor-Smith’s report foreword, which argues: ‘Until we know where we stand and how we are performing today, it is impossible to define and deliver real progress. No company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion can be taken seriously until it collects, scrutinises and is transparent with its workforce data.’

With movement in the upper echelons depressingly slow, many people of colour are taking matters into their own hands and starting projects at a grass-roots level.

For any meaningful change to take place... all areas of wine must have representation from the BAME community

Siobhán O’Garro

One such person is Siobhán O’Garro, founder and principal of Siobond Management, who saw a glaring lack of diversity in the wine industry when moving to London from America. ‘I firmly believe that for any meaningful change to take place in increasing diversity, all areas of wine must have representation from the BAME community,’ she says. And so the Glasswing Scholarship Foundation was born.

Currently funded with O’Garro’s own money, the scholarship, once up and running, will offer Caribbean students the chance to study Viticulture & Oenology or International Wine Business degrees at Plumpton, with a view to include WSET courses in the near future.

Explaining the name, O’Garro tells us: ‘The glasswing butterfly is rarely seen because of its transparent wings, and so it reflects the fact that Black people are rarely seen as equal. Butterflies are so important to the ecological make-up of the earth, just like BAME people are to the functioning of society and community, but both are easily overlooked.’

Also overlooked is the importance of the language used to discuss racial inequality. ‘Diversity can be an empty word. What we are really looking for is a decolonisation,’ declares a spokesperson for the global talent, thought leadership and mentoring platform Black Book.

‘A mixed array of people at a workplace will offer a better outcome to businesses, but won’t create safe space, or interesting work if structures don’t change.’ Set up to represent Black and non-white people working in the hospitality and food media, the organisation recently hosted a series of online talks about the decolonisation of the food industry.

BAME plurality

Black Book explains that to ‘decolonise’ the industry includes, but is not limited to, dismantling systemic racism, tokenism and nepotism, and creating equity and wealth for non-white people.

‘The lack of diversity is because the food world is a colonised one, which centres the white experience/lens/ culture; this centring puts less value on anyone – including their food – outside
of that “norm”.’

L-R: Frankie Reddin, Zoe Adjonyoh & Dr Anna Sulan Masing of Black Book
L-R: Frankie Reddin, Zoe Adjonyoh & Dr Anna Sulan Masing of Black Book

Another phrase often bandied about is ‘BAME’, with this article being no exception. The term has been heavily criticised for homogenising myriad cultures and experiences. Critics also argue it polarises humanity into white and ‘other’ groups. It is fine to use BAME when it is not weaponised, says BAME in Hospitality’s Copes.

Others will disagree. The experiences and issues faced by a Black Caribbean person will be different from those faced by a Black African – and from those faced by people of Indian or Chinese heritage, both groups which come under the Asian banner. (Of the 18.8% ethnic minority cohort in the industry, 11.5% identify as Asian, and only 2.3% identify as Black*).

While it’s important for articles such as this one to share the experiences of people from Black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds, care must be taken to prevent it becoming the racial equivalent to poverty porn. We need to be sure not to find ourselves objectifying personal experiences or exploiting racial trauma for the sake of entertaining a privileged audience.

Conversations to be had

People of colour are not obligated to recount the prejudice they have faced in order to convince others that racism exists, or to prove that the system is weighted against ethnic minorities. With that said, it is important to realise what is happening, so we may recognise it when we see it, and call it out.

Deano Moncrieffe is the owner of Hacha bar and creator of the Equal Measures initiative. Among other things, the project is encouraging bars, restaurants and hotels to celebrate Black History Month by creating a cocktail inspired by a person of colour who has made a positive impact on society.

Deano Moncrieffe of Hacha Bar and Equal Measures
Deano Moncrieffe of Hacha Bar and Equal Measures

Speaking to Imbibe recently for an interview on Instagram Live, Moncrieffe recounts a story from his time working at another company. ‘We were playing pool and one of the guys who was on my team, who I thought was a really good friend, said: “Don’t forget Deano, that’s a snooker cue and not a spear”.

‘I called him out on it, but there was a lot of “come on Deano, he didn’t mean it” and “let’s not spoil the night, it’s been a good night”.’ Such is the insidiousness of racism that it was Moncrieffe who was made to feel like the ‘aggressor’ with his colleagues validating racist attitudes.

We must not be scared to talk about race and inequality. Honest conversations will be difficult and at times uncomfortable but they will move us forward. We should be heartened that there is already diversity in the ranks and use this as a foundation to build a stronger and more inclusive industry.

Register for your free ticket to Imbibe Live Online for access to all the sessions on demand.


BAME in Hospitality
Instagram: @bameinhospitality
Twitter: @bamehospitality

  • Learning and development –
    mentorship, training, coaching,
    sponsored qualifications
  • Partnerships – insights and data,
    strategy, sharing of best practice,
    and resources
  • Events – networking, panels,
    and interviews

Black Book
Instagram: @blackbook_2020
Twitter: @BlackBookOrg

  • Representing emerging talent
  • Consultancy services to companies
    and brands wanting to align better with
    a vision for a more inclusive industry
  • Brand partnerships
  • Holistic mentorship programme launching in 2021

Equal Measures
Instagram: @equalmeasuresuk

  • Black History Month events
  • Coming soon – free online course
    focused on inclusion and diversity
  • Coming soon – education and
    recruitment tour through a series
    of workshops


  • Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging
    for All
  • Online training course

*(Figures for Food and beverage service activities 2014-16, ethnicity by industry, Office of National Statistics)

This article was first published in the autumn issue of Imbibe magazine.

Related content

News |  Wine

The wine industry needs to stop ignoring the Black Pound

With a spending power of £300bn and rising in the UK alone, the BAME community is not one that the wine industry can complacently ignore any longer.

News |  People & Places

Deano Moncrieffe launches initiative to eradicate racism in hospitality

Equal Measures will be an independent platform for industry professionals to share ideas and practises they've established to educate staff and consumers in diversity.

News |  Wine

Black Book announces events to mark Black History Month

This October, the platform which supports Black and non-white persons working in hospitality media will be hosting weekly events focusing on the food and drinks world.

News |  Spirits & Cocktails

Long read: What can we do to make people more safe in our venues?

A shocking number of customers still feel unsafe in bars, pubs and venues. Deputy editor Millie Milliken looks at the initiatives on offer and investigates what more can be done to equip staff and safeguard patrons in the future.