Behind the Bar The Business of the Bar

A More Diverse Bar Staff Is a Better Bar Staff. Just Don’t Tokenize.

Celia Jacobs

Having a diverse bar team in this day and age is, without question, a requisite. But getting there is not about ticking boxes or reaching quotas. In fact, approaching your hiring process as such is likely doing more harm than good, to both the people you employ and the industry as a whole.

This kind of ulterior motive is called tokenism, or “the result of diversity without inclusion,” says Amy B. Bakay, an SHRM-SCP (Society for Human Resource Management senior certified professional) and the founder of HR NOLA, a New Orleans human resources firm providing management support, audits and trainings to local businesses in the hospitality world and beyond. Bakay says that establishments lacking inclusivity within their teams must change, as should those whose teams become diverse for harmful or misguided reasons. But how? Here are three ways to incorporate social equity in your hiring process without tokenizing.

1. Follow Through

To avoid the dark side of inclusive hiring, it’s important to first understand what it means to be tokenized. “I end up the token more often than not,” says former New York City bartender Stevie D. Gray. “I got this gross feeling when I realized they just needed someone ‘Black enough’ or a woman to do a job because it would somehow authenticate their brand.”

In Gray’s opinion, the path to hiring inclusively is in the follow-through. “Hiring managers should seek individualism. That said, once the hiring managers have done their job, what are floor managers doing to preserve that diverse authenticity? Are employees being treated stereotypically and expected to be some representative or caricature of their culture or gender?” Asking yourself and your team these questions can help keep everyone on the same page.

2. Ask for Help

Education is an invaluable tool in accompanying any approach to fair hiring, according to London bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana. He urges businesses to constantly learn as much as possible about the industry’s landscape as it grows and to grow with it. Being vocal to prospective hires is key here.

“[When] you advertise, you need to effectively communicate that you’re open to as wide a range of talent as possible and that you’re receptive to as many people as possible,” says Chetiyawardana, the creative force behind Lyaness (formerly Dandelyan) in London and Super Lyan in Amsterdam. He recommends that proprietors and hiring managers work with firms such as Bakay’s in order to achieve an ideal balance across hiring processes, growth and retention. This also invites an unbiased third party into the mix, adding both an outside perspective and a sounding board designed to rectify problematic elements within your management.

3. Put It in Writing

In terms of a bar’s general policy on inclusive hiring practices, it’s a good idea to have a clear mission statement laying out the philosophy and intent of your business, says Tracey Ramsey, the general manager of Lost Lake in Chicago. “[This] statement should be cited in ads for employment and discussed in the interviewing process,” she says. “Conversations spark awareness. In order for change to happen, one must first be aware that there’s a need for a change.”