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  • Writer's pictureRaquel Weiss Fusco

Hope for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Some Insights from the 2021 SHFM Young Professionals Summit

Cultivating a diverse professional culture is a complex and worthy pursuit. As I begin writing this post about my experience at the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management’s Young Professionals Summit, I’d be remiss if I didn’t begin with thanking the organization for using this platform to have a hard conversation and bring awareness to people in our industry.

Some might say that DE&I – diversity, equity and inclusion – are buzz words across, not only the foodservice and hospitality industries, but all industries. And honestly, they’re right. But this SHFM event wasn’t about just “checking the box.” It took a challenging topic and addressed it from a variety of angles.

Authors Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy explain: "Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard.”

SHFM has embraced this explanation providing everyone in the organization — regardless of gender, race, religion, LGBTQIA status and any other difference one can find in biological makeup or life preferences — a voice that is heard.

Executive Leadership Panel

This session provided a unique opportunity to hear directly from a diverse panel of executives as they share their experiences regarding diversity and biases they faced throughout their career. Some of the speakers also touched on how they’re promoting equity and inclusion in their organizations.

There’s no way this blog could exude the passion shared by these leaders and being frank, I’m nervous to recap their stories for fear of mistelling them. However, as a leader at elite|studio e and in SHFM, it was eye opening to hear how they’ve all handled situations and approached difficult conversations throughout their careers. I really appreciated the honesty that came from everyone on the panel, which featured:

BARBARA KANE | Consultant (Moderator) ASH HANSON | Chief Diversity & Sustainability Officer, Aramark HELENE KENNAN | Global Head of Food Programs, Guckenheimer/ISS ERICA LEE | Sr. Human Resources Director, FLIK Hospitality Group TONY TENICELA | VP of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, NORAM, Sodexo

By bringing their stories to the forefront, I hope that those in attendance will be more mindful and more aware of experiences like these in the workplace – and even open the door for more opportunity for all those in industry. After the event, I was reading a few articles on the subject of DE&I and a stat by Forrester peaked my interest: Workplace belonging leads to a 56% increase in job performance. Whether you participated in the event or just read that statistic, showing that you genuinely care that all your employees belong in the workplace is extremely important for your company and of course, the employee’s wellbeing.


Wow! I’m so proud to know these dynamic SHFM Young Professionals … they nailed it! Sharing anything isn’t easy and sharing something extremely personal and potentially hurtful is even more challenging. But, if there is one thing I can share as former history teacher, it’s if you don’t share these moments and learn from them, history repeats itself. So, before I dive into my reflection on this incredible session, I have to applaud the three speakers for discussing critical diversity and helping our SHFM create a more inclusive culture in our industry. I really hope everyone in the room found value in your experiences.

EDWARD LO | Vice President of Sales, Volanté Systems ZEE MOUSSA | Culinarian & Owner, ZeeTheCook Culinary Studio MBOONE UMBIMA | VP, Brand Strategy, David Rio San Francisco

I want to take a minute to share a piece of Mboone’s story (pictured above). She discussed moving around a lot as a child and recalled changing her accent to fit into her surrounding community more. Rather than embracing what made her special and different, Mboone tried so hard to fit in, until one day she had a change of heart and stepped outside that comfort zone.

Hearing all these stories, but Mboone’s in particular, made me want to be a better mom. Although my daughter, Olivia, is only 3, it is important to teach her that equality and empathy are important; that you can’t always see what makes people “different;” and that the important thing is to always accept and love everyone else, even if they do, see, and believe things differently.

Being different is beautiful.
Being different is something to be embraced.
It is a strength.
It sets you apart.
And to my Olivia, be the one that stands out.

Some Additional Thoughts

I’m not an expert about ED&I and simply provided my thoughts and takeaways on SHFM’s Young Professionals Summit. However, below are some references that might be helpful in continuing the conversation within your home or in the workplace. Thank you once again to the organization; moderator Barbara Kane; and the event committee, including my cousin and colleague, Ivan Weiss.

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