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Women dominate the restaurant workforce, except at the top

Wide-ranging new research from the National Restaurant Association highlights gaps between companies’ diversity efforts and employees’ perception of them. That includes companies’ own reporting of the makeup of its workforce.
restaurant workers diversity
Sixty-three percent of entry-level restaurant workers re women, but that falls to 38% of executives, according to a new study./Photograph: Shutterstock.

Restaurants apparently do a poor job of counting their women—and how much they promote them.

A wide-ranging new survey released on Wednesday by the National Restaurant Association found that far more restaurant workers identify as women than companies say they do. The survey also provides more evidence that the industry has a far greater percentage of female entry-level workers than it has female executives.

It’s one of several conclusions from the study from the association, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), the Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance (MFHA) and the Cornell University Nolan School of Hospitality Administration.

The research featured surveys with a wide variety of restaurant companies, current and former workers. Among other things, the survey found strong correlations between companies’ diversity efforts and employee job satisfaction, which also hinged at least in part on the quality of the workers’ supervisors.

The survey comes at a time of continued concern over the state of the industry’s workforce. Restaurants remain some 700,000 workers short of pre-pandemic levels, and many locations remain short of where they were two and a half years ago.

The survey provides at least one hint as to why: More than three quarters (77%) of former industry employees are not currently looking for work at a restaurant and only 16% expect to actually return to work at one.

“We have this incredible opportunity to listen, learn and act to improve our DEI practices,” Gerry Fernandez, president and founder of MFHA, said in a statement. “Committing to and investing in these changes can increase retention of current restaurant industry employees and enhance the overall perception of working in the restaurant industry.”

Here’s a look at some of the study’s findings:

There is a big gap between employees and employers on diversity. The report suggests that companies underreport their percentage of women, Blacks, Hispanics and other races.

For instance, 55% of employees say they’re female, yet companies say that just 35% of their workers are women. Companies overreport the percentage of non-binary or non-conforming genders, saying they account for 18% of workers, while just 1% of workers identify themselves as such.

The gap is narrower on race but still prevalent. More than three quarters (76%) of workers identify themselves as White, while companies say 63% of their workers are White. The study suggested that companies may “oversell” an environment of diversity.

Women dominate the industry, except at the top. Sixty-three percent of entry-level restaurant workers say they are female and 69% of mid-level workers are women. But that percentage drops the more senior the employee. Among executive workers, that is down to 38%.

Companies themselves say the percentage is far more consistent across title: They say 36% of their entry-level front-of-house, and 34% of back-of-house workers are women, while 34% of executives are women.

Good supervisors really do help with retention. Nobody quits a job, they quit a boss. Among current employees, 72% strongly or somewhat agree that their supervisor “cares about my well-being” and 69% said their supervisor “cares about my opinions.” Those numbers fall to 52% and 48% among former employees, respectively.

Indeed, current employees were more likely to have positive views of their supervisors than former employees, suggesting that at least some former employees leave because of their perceptions of their boss.

Make sure your customers treat everyone with respect. There is also a gap in views of companies’ diversity efforts between current and former employees. That suggests a correlation between retention and a company’s perception of fairness across gender, race and ethnicity.

For instance, 71% of current employees either strongly or somewhat agree that management in restaurant and foodservice companies advocates for customers to treat all employees with respect regardless of race, compared with 47% of former employees.

And 69% of current employees agree that “the restaurant industry values people from diverse backgrounds,” compared with 49% of former employees. That gap persists across other diversity-related questions, such as whether companies provide equal employment and advancement opportunities for everybody.

There is a big disconnect between employees and employers on DEI efforts. Nearly all restaurant companies have some kind of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiative. And 78% have diversity training or awareness events.

But fewer than half of current employees (48%) and about a third of former employees (34%) actually received the training. The report indicates that companies are not as effective as they could be at demonstrating a commitment to DEI.

“Our industry historically has welcomed all people looking to chase the American dream with a solid career and ownership potential,” Michelle Korsmo, CEO of the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement. “As our current and future workforces focus on new goals and change their expectations, we want the industry to continue to be a place that welcomes all and supports personal and professional growth.”

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