July 24, 2020

Grappling with racism after George Floyd’s death

Fernandez said George Floyd is one of many who've died from violent interaction with police. "What’s changing now is young people. When it comes to pushing for change, millennials and [Gen Z] Zoomers are fearless."

George Floyd’s murder in May has put racism-awareness center stage in America, and through protests, media discourse and personal reflection, become a catalyst for change.

The Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance’s Gerry Fernandez recently hosted a Town Hall that looked at racism and what it means for the restaurant industry. Restaurant company executives Chip Wade of Union Square Hospitality Group, Anthony Joseph of White Castle, and manufacturer Michele Hoskins of Michele Foods, talked about supporting Black employees, particularly during these challenging times.

Regarding the protests following Floyd’s death, Fernandez said Black people are protesting because they are dying. “George Floyd is just one of many who died from violent interaction with police. What’s changing now is young people. When it comes to pushing for change, millennials and [Gen Z] Zoomers are fearless.”

He added that millennials and Zoomers working at restaurants aren’t afraid to ask employers what they stand for, how they’re going to support them, and to outline their career development opportunities.

Joseph, White Castle’s chief administrative officer and general counsel, said dealing with the killing of George Floyd on top of the pandemic makes everything much more intense to deal with. “It’s been horrific, painful, and shocking, but it’s also created a real opportunity for growth, learning and meaningful change.”

In relying on its values as a company, Joseph said White Castle realized it needed to communicate better, especially since so much of its staff is working from home. To bring everyone closer, CEO Lisa Ingram did more video updates. It also started a virtual series in the company newsletter where employees could share personal experiences with racism to promote conversation.

Wade, USHG’s president, said Floyd’s death had a lasting impact on him. “To watch the loss of humanity and the sheer lack of care for a human being, scarred me. I’m raising two young men, my sons who are 21 and 23, and I think about the impact this is having on them.”

Wade noted that the role of a CEO is critical when addressing subjects like racism with a company’s staff members.

“The CEO sets the tone for what’s important for the organization,” he said. “If he or she is not overtly excited about diversity and inclusion initiatives, it won’t matter to levels two and three below. He or she must engage and drive the change and use his or her voice to start the dialogue, even if it’s uncomfortable.”

Joseph added that the CEO must foster an environment in which people can speak up and share perspectives, as well as ensure that he or she will listen when they do.

As a Black female CEO, Hoskins said it is her responsibility to mentor other Black women to be the best and most knowledgeable at what they do.

All of the panelists shared best practices that could improve racial equality within the industry:

  • Support pay equity and conduct a study to ensure fair pay for everyone
  • Partner with more organizations that specialize in diversity and inclusion training
  • Continue to hire and prepare more minority employees for executive-level positions
  • Participate in straight-talk conversations with all team members about diversity and inclusion

“Immerse yourself in the culture and understand what someone in this skin has to deal with,” Fernandez said.