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Opinion: A lack of BAME people in senior roles is holding back talented workers

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Leroy Fearon, Gratte Brothers Catering Equipment’s engineers operations manager, feels the industry is missing out on progressing talented individuals to senior roles through a lack of diversity.

Gratte Brothers Catering Equipment engineering operations manager Leroy Fearon is advocating for increased diversity within the UK foodservice appliance supply chain, particularly in senior roles:

In every industry I examine, I don’t see myself adequately reflected at senior levels. A lack of diversity is holding back and harming the careers of many talented individuals.

I have worked in the catering equipment service and maintenance industry for many years, but from the very start of my career, I was aware of just how few BAME people there were in senior management positions. I feel very fortunate that I had managers who were able to look beyond ethnicity and see the potential in me, to help me climb the career ladder. Yet despite my success, I’ve always felt an added weight of responsibility which my white co-workers never carried. It’s left me wondering, whose responsibility is it to bring this issue to the fore in my sector?

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Opening and closing doors

The same responsibility I feel as a BAME person has also, I believe, given me the edge in the workplace. From the very start of my working life, I decided that my behaviour and dedication had to be exemplary if I was to get on and make progress. Anything I could achieve would open doors for others from a similar background, but at the same time, any lowering in my standards had the potential to close those same doors.

Despite the progress which has been made, it’s still not enough and race is still very much a live issue in the workplace. Looking at my catering equipment industry, I still don’t see myself and my fellow BAME workers adequately reflected among those in senior positions or positions with the ability to influence change. Discrimination, conscious or unconscious, holds back many incredibly talented individuals who are demotivated by the lack of diversity and simply overlooked when it comes to the opportunities enjoyed by their white peers.

The need for inclusivity

Over the past few years, I have lost track of the number of times fellow black workers have said ‘I can’t believe they gave you the job’. It simply hasn’t occurred to many of them that they could pursue promotion and management roles, underlining the fact that there needs to be education and encouragement on both sides. What I have achieved has taken years of hard work and challenging a culture which seems set on putting obstacles in the way. This is not specific to the industry I work in, but a general malaise which still afflicts society more widely.

A lack of inclusivity not only damages individuals, but it also hinders organisations. When senior positions are all filled by people from a similar background, you don’t get a diverse range of opinions, and it’s that diversity of voices which helps a company adapt and modernise. If the workforce, customers and clients can’t see themselves among that top tier, then a company ceases to be relevant.

Aim higher and take confidence

As a senior manager, I hope I can help contribute to change by inspiring more talented BAME people to enter the service and maintenance industry and to aim higher with the confidence that their background will not be the reason they don’t succeed. Getting to where I am today has not been easy, but my hope is that I’ve paved the way for others to follow on an easier road.

Catering Insight will be further exploring the issue of diversity in the UK catering equipment supply chain in an upcoming print edition. If you are a member of the BAME community within the industry and would be happy to be contacted to comment on the subject, please email: clare.nicholls@itppromedia.com

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Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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