Industry wake-up call: Prioritising equality, diversity, and inclusion

Panelists from Food Integrity Global’s Diversity session come together discuss the need for greater attention to diversity and inclusion in the food sector, highlighting disparities and recommending measures to enhance workplace equity and inclusivity.

By Jaclyn Bowen, Purity Hrisca, Deborah Kendale and Mecca Ibrahim.

“What is your equality diversity and inclusion policy?” is a question that’s not often at the top of job interviews. Should the food sector be paying more attention to this important metric that is proven to enhance productivity and workplace satisfaction? 

At the recent Food Integrity Global Summit in hosted in Kensington, London the question ‘Diversity: How far have we come and how far do we have to go?’ was debated by the authors of this article. Here are some of their observations and recommendations as to how we can make the food sector a place with more equity and a more diverse and inclusive place to work.

The current situation 

Be Inclusive Hospitality launched its annual Inside Hospitality report in June 2023. The nationwide survey collected anonymous views and experiences from over 3,000 hospitality staff from all backgrounds and career levels. A total of 83.8 percent agreed that the sector offered good career opportunities, however, areas of concern included:

  •       White respondents are most likely to hold managerial positions, earn the most and occupy full-time employment than other ethnic groups
  •       Black respondents are more likely to be on zero-hour contracts, and Asian respondents are most likely to be on part-time contracts
  •       52.5 percent of respondents did not know if their employer had undertaken any Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) initiatives in the past year
  •       Among Black participants who reported experiencing discriminatory behaviour at work, 94.7 percent reported experiencing racial bias
  •       Of those witnessing discrimination at work, both Black and Asian respondents cited racial bias (62 percent). This was followed by gender.
  •       A total of 40.3 percent of respondents did not trust or had a low level of trust in the company’s ability to address discrimination in the workplace
  •       The industry is perceived as ‘less fair’ in race, age, and disability, and fairer for ‘sexual orientation, religion and gender’.

The food manufacturing industry is largely represented by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) which also undertook a survey and report in 2021.

woman in lab

IFST is aiming to encourage the development of a Food Science Community that is inclusive and diverse

The professional body the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) aims to encourage the development of a Food Science Community that is inclusive and diverse. IFST operates within the Science Council Diversity and Inclusion Progression Framework 2.0 updated in 2021 which provides guidance for increasing diversity and making the workplace more inclusive across ten areas of organisational operation.

Bias: Its place in preventing change and what can we do to overcome this?

One of the cited barriers to Diversity and Inclusion is unconscious bias. Every one of us harbours some form of bias. Biases are a shortcut for our minds to make sense of our environment. The brain makes quick judgements unconsciously, and we arrive at conclusions. Biases can be influenced by our personal experience, societal stereotypes and cultural context. 

These are some types of biases:

  • Implicit bias – this is an automatic and unintentional form of bias. It affects judgement and decision-making.  An example of an implicit bias is, picturing a male when you hear the term “CEO” or a female when you hear “secretary”. 
  • Affinity bias – This is the tendency to gravitate towards or show preference to people with similar interests, culture or background to us.  How does this impact hiring based on “cultural fit”? If cultural fit doesn’t have a proper measurement, the risk here is hiring people we like because they are like us. 
  • Confirmation bias and perception bias – This is the tendency to favour information that confirms or strengthens existing beliefs. This may involve searching for information, interpreting, and recalling information in a way that confirms our beliefs.

Training is one way to support diversity, equity and inclusion. The training needs to be fit for purpose and should not only highlight the importance of diversity for a company, but it should also educate on bias, disabilities, neurodiversity, sexuality, etc. and how exclusion impacts people.  Most exclusion happens unconsciously. That is why it is important for a company to equip employees with tools to help them be inclusive, such as hiring tools that encourage equity and fit-for-purpose training.

What needs to change and how we can help

IFST undertakes a range of educational and career development activities to encourage a diverse range of people to enter the sector and notes that whilst many of the participants seen at student career launchpad events are ethnically diverse and mainly female; this diversity isn’t always prevalent in food business boardrooms and senior leadership teams. This has been highlighted in the FDF Inclusion and Diversity Report of 2021 which includes proposals and recommendations on how the food sector workforce can improve in these areas.

‘You have to see it to be it’ is an often-quoted phrase about representation and attributed to Billie Jean King referring to the visibility of female sports people. IFST encourages all food technical professionals to take part in mentoring activities and volunteering at our careers and educational events with the ambition to inspire young people and early career professionals to explore the numerous career pathways available as part of the food sector. 

The hospitality industry could do much to encourage more diversity and fairness if there was more obvious flexibility around shift work and a realisation that restaurants and food production outlets do not have to operate with all staff working “unsociable” hours. The Biskery for example is a successful sustainable bakery company that mainly employs young mothers.

Co-founder Saskia told Women in the Food Industry the following: “We started this business as working mums to small children. We understood from personal experience that working mums need flexibility. We understood that mums want to contribute to the financial stability of their families. And we understood that no working mum is the same.


The audience at Food Integrity Global listened to the panelists speaking on “Diversity: How far have we come and how far do we have to go?” on day two of New Food’s conference

Whatever their reasons were, we wanted to make sure that we could offer them what they needed, and still feel like they were doing a good job as a parent. That is why we, in the first instance, offer all of our team the ability to work school hours only.”

Sally Abé, the consultant chef of Hilton’s Conrad London St. James Hotel restaurant The Pem, also strives to cultivate a positive culture the restaurant industry infamously does not normally follow. Many restaurants bear long hours and high-stress environments. Sally said, “The only way we can draw people into the industry and make it attractive is by being sure that people are treated like human beings, and that they want to come to work and feel proud to come to work.”

When it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, nurturing the mindset requires inclusion across all aspects and ranks of the organisation. This means empowering team members to bring their true selves to work each day. Authenticity plays a key role in this philosophy. 

If you can’t measure it….

We often define EDI as being a programme to support employing women and minorities. Rather than limit its applicability to women and minorities, evaluate your human resources practices to attract and retain talent across different religions, age, sexual orientation, physical capabilities, and education. 

Stepping up to the plate: Joanna Trewern


Building EDI metrics can be a great way to transform the current status quo across the office. Rather than thinking of EDI as a deliberate programme, transform it into a business value with key performance indicators. Just as corporate priorities like innovations, line extensions, and new markets are a priority and how customer service and operational excellence are measured, incorporate EDI into corporate goals that are measured. Consider changing the current recruitment process to include a greater percentage of diverse candidates for interviews. Working with local colleges and universities can be a great way to attract a more diverse applicant base. 

To make improvements to EDI a conscious effort and a managed plan within a business are needed. As has been highlighted across both food manufacturing and hospitality, diversity in all its forms offers businesses huge advantages in understanding their customer base and being seen as an attractive place to recruit new staff members. 

About the authors

Jaclyn Bowen is a food safety and quality systems engineer and executive director of Clean Label Project, a national non-profit with the mission to bring truth and transparency to food and consumer product labeling. Through data, science, and benchmarking, Clean Label Project uses retail sampling and testing to reveal levels of contaminants in best-selling food and consumer products. Before coming to Clean Label Project, Jaclyn held numerous technical, standards development, food safety, quality, and executive roles within the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre, NSF International.

Purity Hrisca is the EMEAI Supplier Quality Manager, Oilseeds Division at ADM looking after suppliers within EMEAI region for ADM’s oilseed business unit. This is a role she took in January this year. Prior to joining ADM, she worked for Sainsbury’s supermarkets as a Technical Manager. 

Mecca Ibrahim was formerly Head of Marketing & Social Media at Great British Chefs – the UK’s fastest growing food website. After almost eight years in that role, Mecca (who everyone calls Mex) co-founded ‘Women In The Food Industry‘ – a Community Interest Company for conversation, insight, stories, resources & community support as women in food face obstacles of inequality & inclusion. Mex is also MD of her freelance social media, marketing and content creation agency, and a member of the Guild of Food Writers.

Deborah Kendale is proud to have been Business Development Director at IFST for the last three years and is responsible for developing growth opportunities as well as new projects and workstreams which will contribute to the sustainability and growth of the Institute. Deborah also drives membership growth and engagement to ensure IFST grows both in-depth and well as strength. She is also responsible for the marketing and communications team to ensure a joined-up approach to these activities with our membership and with the aim of achieving maximum impact and reaching a wide and engaged audience externally.