Q&A / Facilitating the diversity conversation

Founded in 2016, Well Grounded is an award-winning social enterprise in London working to develop and empower a diverse talent pipeline for the specialty coffee industry. The non-profit works within the community and with more than 135 hospitality operators to support and progress people who are unemployed and under-represented in the coffee industry by delivering Speciality Coffee Association Training and accreditation, alongside a mentoring, networking and employability programme.

Here, 5THWAVE talks to Eve Wagg (EW), Founder & CEO, Darshika Ravindran (DR), Head of Partnerships & Communications, and Aashifa Hussain (AH), Senior Coffee Trainer

Aashifa Hussain, Senior Coffee Trainer, Well Grounded



What barriers do some aspiring coffee professionals face?

AH – Many of our graduates lack role models in the hospitality industry, which can be a barrier to career progression. When I started my career, there weren’t many people that looked like me or were visibly Muslim. While that’s changing, and didn’t deter me too much, it can be demotivating.

Another major issue is the lack of a clear career ladder in hospitality. After graduating from Well Grounded as a trainee, I worked as a barista, progressing to head barista before becoming a trainer. That process was really motivating; however, often the industry doesn’t facilitate clear progression and many of our graduates have struggled to find a path.

DR – Coffee suffers from a reputation of not being well paid and many people simply look elsewhere. Much of our work centres on education about career progression. We go into communities and discuss the creative, technical and career growth potential of specialty coffee.

Many people will walk past an independent coffee shop and feel it’s not a place they’d be accepted. That’s a barrier we’re trying to break down by creating cohesion between individuals and operators and encouraging them to think differently.

How does Well Grounded work to support individuals and operators to overcome these barriers?

EW – We take a proactive approach to attract a diverse talent pipeline by working with job centres, attending job fairs, working with youth groups and refugee centres as well utilising social media marketing and word-of-mouth from our 300-strong graduate network.

We give all our students a work placement and nurture the relationship between individuals and operators.

Well Grounded provides programmes of support to create structured pathways, further training, education, networking, mentorship, and mental health support – all of which are designed to support all levels of diversity. We link with local agencies, have had educationalists design the programmes, and draw from additional support if needed.

There are always going to be hiccups along the way, but if individuals and operators collaborate and work through challenges the process becomes stronger. It’s important to identify why someone isn’t turning up to work, for example, because maybe they’re a carer or are having problems at home they might not immediately want to highlight. It’s about facilitating that conversation.

AH – We also work to develop soft skills through weekly one-to-one check-ins. Here we identify career goals, how individuals are feeling and how to maximise the efficacy of the training programme while asking how they feel about the process in general. That conversation can be as basic as wanting to get better at milk frothing, but it can also cover challenges around time keeping, help with job applications, mental health, confidence and interview coaching.
 

“Workplace diversity policies often do not translate to the shop floor, so it’s important to listen to team members, especially when facing challenges such as high staff turnover”


What questions should hospitality businesses be asking themselves to foster diversity and inclusion?

DR – Looking inward into your organisation is very important. This involves asking what your business looks and feels like and what kind of culture it wants to foster. Workplace diversity policies often do not translate to the shop floor, so it’s important to listen to team members, especially when facing challenges such as high staff turnover. Rather than going out and hiring more staff, businesses should ask and find out why staff are leaving, gain insight from conversations and work to fix the root cause rather than finding short-term solutions.

EW – We also practice what we preach: Our training space is open, accessible, well-equipped, and staff present themselves in an approachable and calm manner to help create a safe space. 100% of our team represent our diversity statement – ethnicity, class, neurodiversity, mental health need and sexual orientation. Our Board of Non-Executive Directors comprises: 86% women, 35% from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background. 43% have lived experience. We also recognise this isn’t enough. We hold ourselves accountable for reviewing, re-setting and renewing targets ensuring diversity throughout the organisation from our programme recruitment, our staffing structure, all the way through to our governance.

How can hospitality operators become more aware of barriers to diversity and inclusion?

EW – It can be overwhelming to know where to start but there are concrete steps businesses can take.

On the recruitment side, making small adjustments such as proactively encouraging applicants from minority ethnic communities to apply in job advertisements can make a big difference. Companies should assess their onboarding process to provide adequate inductions and create a culture where staff are set up for success. They also need a zero-tolerance policy for discriminatory behaviour, such as bullying and harassment, and should actively help managers and staff identify and address microaggressions through education and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) training.

DR – Belief and the implementation must come top down from an invested leadership. Staff need to know they have access to training and support. There are many factors influencing decisions not to go into employment. We’ve met lots of single parents who want to work but lack access to childcare. Part-time work can also be beneficial as many people in our programme have other responsibilities, health issues, or perhaps haven’t been in employment for a long time. That flexibility can be crucial.
 

“We see the most diversity in entry-level positions and a lot of our research and work revolves around getting people into more senior leadership roles”


Do you see progress on diversity and inclusion at the leadership level of the coffee industry?

EW – We’re optimistic. I think there is an entrepreneurial spirit in the industry we can harness and there has been progress in terms of discussion, awareness and a push and pull towards making those changes. We see pockets of good practice with our employers, but there is a lot of work to be done.

DR – We see the most diversity in entry-level positions and a lot of our research and work revolves around getting people into more senior leadership roles. We’ve seen employers engage with our inclusivity workshops that help them tackle issues such as race and inclusivity and allyship, which in many cases people are afraid to discuss. It’s about giving businesses the tools to facilitate dialogue and make positive changes.

What have been some of the most profound lessons you’ve learned during your time at Well Grounded?

EW – Too many to mention: That progress and change don’t happen on their own. We need to be proactive and make conscious decisions to enact real change. That we all need support, nourishment and to be nurtured, I know I do. And that we all deserve to be understood for our own diversity of thought.

AH – Listening to understand rather than with assumption. If you truly listen to what someone is communicating you can develop better-informed outcomes for them. As a coffee trainer, I’ve also learned the importance of embodying empathy and resilience for students, and that there is no single way of learning. It’s important to celebrate and validate every intimate and individual way that someone navigates the world.

DR – I’ve learned that everybody has their own frame of reference to build their world view, and the importance of being empathetic to that. Another is understanding that behaviour is underpinned by lived experiences and what individuals are dealing with personally. It’s important to keep that in mind when building trust and respect and that will grow a truly supportive relationship.
 

As part of our 5THWAVE series on diversity and inclusion, Lem Butler, world-renowned barista and co-owner of Black & White Coffee Roasters, discussed the systemic racism that has influenced his life and career and why coffee businesses must give marginalised staff a seat at the leadership table to be truly inclusive. Read his article here.

This article was first published in Issue 11 of 5THWAVE magazine.

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