Diversity and inclusion strategy essential to retaining top talent

Diversity and inclusion are playing an increasingly important role in talent retention for companies based in Ireland, said Micheline Corr, director of hospitality recruitment specialist The Firm.

Diversity and inclusion strategy essential to retaining top talent

Diversity and inclusion are playing an increasingly important role in talent retention for companies based in Ireland, said Micheline Corr, director of hospitality recruitment specialist The Firm.

The Dublin-based recruiter says hotels and other hospitality companies are literally bending over backwards to support all forms of staff wellbeing.

Like the companies it works with, The Firm is practicising what it preaches. When we spoke earlier this week, on ‘Wellness Wednesday’, Micheline was enjoying a staff yoga day. How does she feel about the initiative?

“Right now, I feel a bit sore, to be honest,” said Micheline. “I’m in my yoga pants, like the rest of the staff. All jokes aside, yes it’s working. It makes you more flexible.

"It’s not enough to just talk about it. Once you make a commitment, you have to see it through. It’s also very bonding to be on the floor with your colleagues.”

Micheline says hospitality companies see the value in diversity and inclusion in retaining staff. She notes that big companies like Aer Lingus are appointing an in-house diversity officer, while the employer group hosts events on the topic.

The Firm also hosts talks around workplace topics, the latest of which was delivered by Margot Slattery, global chief diversity and inclusion officer with Sodexo, the food services and facilities management company.

“The feedback we’re getting is that companies want to know how to follow the principles through to their companies. They want to know how to make this work for them, some companies with five to 50 staff, others with huge numbers,” said Micheline.

We all know that there are perhaps unconscious biases in every industry. What we’re seeing is that there is a need for these talks, and a genuine appetite to talk our biases through.

The talk given by Margot Slattery was particularly enlightening. Margot currently sits on Sodexo Global LGBT leadership team.

She progressed through several roles in the company and became country president for Ireland in 2015. In that role she oversaw all operations for the organisation which employs 4,000 people on the island of Ireland.

Margot describes herself as a determined optimist. Addressing the recent third event in the ‘Firm Talks’ series in the RDS Dublin, she recounted a story from her youth in Limerick.

“One Christmas Eve my mother, my brother and I went to midnight Mass. My father didn’t go to the Mass because he would have been tired after a long day and may have had a drink or two.

"When we got back from Mass there was a horse standing in the field outside the house and the front door was wide open. I said, ‘Oh look, Santa has come and brought me a horse!’.

"My brother said ‘No, we’ve been broken into!’ and some other things as well. That shows you how much of an optimist I am.”

She carried that positive outlook into her career in the hospitality industry, beginning her career in hotels in the 1980s. She won numerous hotel awards and is now a leader in guiding positive change in the sector.

Sodexo’s journey to creating that environment began 18 years ago following the creation of the role of global chief diversity officer and the appointment of Dr Rohini Anand to take it on.

“She is a wonderful lady from India who did the job for 17 years and advised President Obama and other leaders on diversity issues during that time,” said Margot.

“I was honoured to take over the position last year. We have 480,000 employees in 80 countries around the world and I am responsible for driving strategy and everything we do around diversity and inclusion.”

She pointed to a survey carried out for recruitment site IrishJobs.ie as a reason for the rest of the industry to sit up and take notice of diversity. That survey found that generation Z students wanted to work in places alongside colleagues with the broadest possible mix of backgrounds.

“The survey found that having a workplace committed to diversity was increasingly seen as a key to recruiting and retaining graduates. Organisations need to challenge themselves and examine their own biases if they wish to become truly diverse. Do we walk the talk and make people feel they belong? What is happening beyond the céad míle fáilte?” she asked.

Margot reminds hospitality employers that being diverse and inclusive also adds to their bottom line. She cited research by McKinsey showing that radically diverse companies outperform industry norms by 35%.

We found where the balance was around 60/40, we had increased retention, improved engagement, profitability and performance. What really surprised us was the scale of the difference — it was up to 9% in each measure.

"It hasn’t been a hard job to sell the importance of diversity, inclusion and belonging. These results make a very powerful case.”

She also cautioned that failure to change and adapt to this new world will have serious consequences. In an age where hospitality guests can freely criticise, it is important that staff are well cared for, so that they in turn are caring towards hotel and restaurant guests.

“It’s all about the experience,” said Margot. “Look at influencers on platforms like TikTok. They will tell the world within two minutes if they have had a bad experience in a hotel or workplace.

"That’s generation Z and they are going to be our customers and employees in future.

“We have to ask ourselves if we are able to compete in the hunt for talent. There is so much choice now we have to be able to go out and compete and look at how we can create an environment where everyone feels truly welcome and where they belong.”

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