Best Practices for Implementing a Diversity and Inclusion Program

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Sue Petersen of Noodles and Co. and Gerry Fernandez, president and founder of the Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance, lead a fireside chat about starting diversity and inclusion programs. Courtesy of Alyx Arnett.

When Noodles and Co.’s Sue Petersen began working to create a brand that was more diverse and inclusive in 2017, there wasn’t much to work with. The company had no budget or designated person to lead the charge, so Petersen took it upon herself to make small changes that eventually led to the brand being named one of Fortune Magazine’s Best for Diversity and Best for Women.

On Saturday at the 2022 National Restaurant Association Show, Petersen joined Gerry Fernandez, president and founder of the Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance, to discuss her journey creating what became a strong diversity and inclusion program for Noodles and Co. And, Petersen and Fernandez offered tips and advice for operators looking to develop their own programs.

Here are their top takeaways:

You don’t need a budget to start. A diversity and inclusion program starts with passionate people, not money.

Be intentional. When looking to hire more African Americans or women, for example, say it out loud, and make your mission clear to everyone around.

Don’t wait. Fernandez says, “Don’t wait for COVID or a George Floyd incident to light the fire underneath … Get started right now. If your CEO doesn’t get it, get a new CEO because I can tell you nothing happens in the company without her support.”

Listen, learn and communicate. Listen to your employees, and learn from what they’re saying before you act. Give employees talking points on the company’s stance so that it’s easy to understand and explain to guests.

Progress, not perfection. You will make mistakes, and when you do, apologize, admit the mistake and overcome. Know that you will step on someone’s toes, and not everyone will agree with your actions.

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