Catering for diversity: how Covid-19 shaped a more inclusive workplace

Creating a culture of equity and inclusion has risen up the corporate agenda in the wake of the pandemic. In the first of the Aramark Outlook series on the future workplace, Aramark’s Fenimore Fisher explains why food is central to an environment of respect

Before the pandemic, workplace culture was largely taken for granted and considered a by-product of employees working together in the same space. Relatively few organisations invested in carefully curating a culture that mirrored their social and corporate values. Now, a paradigm shift is emerging in which company culture has become a powerful tool for attracting and retaining a diverse talent pool.

In the ‘Aramark Outlook’ series of research articles, corporate food service company Aramark is exploring the parameters of the future post-pandemic workplace. In this first article, WORKTECH Academy talks to Fenimore Fisher, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) at Aramark, to discuss how the pandemic has impacted the focus on inclusion within Aramark and the wider implications for food and drink provision.

Defining Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Companies looking to re-evaluate their outlook on diversity and inclusion must first start by defining what that means to their organisation. Aramark defines diversity as the differences that each employee brings to the organisation. It is more than just acknowledging that those differences exist, it is about creating a culture that embodies acceptance and not assimilation or mere tolerance.

Equality is defined by Aramark as the process which acknowledges that advantages and barriers exist and that, as a result, we do not all start from the same place. Organisations should therefore make a commitment to correct and address the imbalance through its policies and recruitment strategies.

Inclusion is action based. It revolves around creating an environment of involvement, respect and connection through a culture of community where the richness of ideas, backgrounds and perspectives are harnessed to create business value. Fenimore Fisher comments that ‘inclusion is a key lever to encourage innovation, build employee engagement, increasing our cultural competence and drive our business to success’.

What’s changed since the pandemic?

The pandemic has highlighted social injustices across the world over the past two years. This, coupled with major political events and the fight for racial equality, has had a marked impact on society and organisational values. In light of these exposed injustices, employees are expecting their employers to take an active role in correcting and publicly addressing inequality and inclusion.

In the midst of a ‘great resignation’ boom where a lot of employees are considering what they want from their work and their employers, and opting in many case for different employment experiences, organisations cannot ignore the new expectations and priorities of talent. Research from IBM Institute for Business (2021) found that despite a massive global economic crisis, one in five employees voluntarily changed employers in 2020. A quarter of those surveyed cited that they were looking for an employer that better fitted their values.

‘The pandemic, as well as the global outcry for social justice and racial equality, allowed us to discover the best aspects of our culture…’

During the pandemic, many organisations had the opportunity to re-evaluate their culture and values. Fenimore Fisher explains that ‘the pandemic, as well as the global outcry for social justice and racial equality, certainly allowed us an opportunity to discover the best aspects of our culture’. Aramark conducted a series of ‘town hall discussions’ which were led by CEO John Zillmer. From these discussions, Aramark established an ally employment network which consists of more than 1,000 people across the country contributing to their peers and communities.

Aramark has built equity as a key functional responsibility for its DE&I team. It is emphasising key performance indicators reviewing the effectiveness of its efforts in recruitment, retention and development. The food services company has also integrated its equity strategy into its sustainability plan called ‘Be. Well. Do. Well’. This plan focuses on establishing equity by stimulating engaging and open conversations between employees about how they can thrive together to support each other and the planet.

Catering for Inclusivity

Current research is clear that employees are increasingly expecting explicit DE&I strategies from their employers, whilst organisations are seeking ways to be more inclusive and sustainable. One of the key areas to develop inclusive spaces within a workplace is through the amenity offering, particularly in food and beverage services.

Fisher explains that ‘food plays a vital role in creating inclusive environments and workspaces. For instance, over a third of our menus are vegan, vegetarian or plant forward.’ The workforce is comprised of a spectrum of multicultural, neurodiverse and religious backgrounds. It is vital that all employee needs are catered for to harness an inclusive and coherent workplace culture. Fisher comments that ‘the role that food plays is key to creating an environment of respect. It can broaden the culture of an organisation through valuing the customs, wellness choices, and traditions of others.’

‘The role that food plays is key to creating an environment of respect…’

Organisations are now increasingly seeking to partner with like-minded companies and services to maximises and help achieve their DE&I strategies and goals. Research by McKinsey, of more than 1000 large companies across 15 countries, found that companies whose leaders welcome diverse talents and include multiple perspectives are likely to emerge from the pandemic stronger.

The business case for DE&I is continuing to grow, and organisations need to work with partners that support their diversity and inclusion objectives, and align with their culture and values.

Aramark is a Global Partner of WORKTECH Academy. This article is part of the Aramark Outlook Series. Fenimore Fisher is the Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Aramark and has worked  as a DE&I practitioner for more than 20 years.
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