Shake Shack set big goals for diversity. At the Fast Casual Executive Summit, Idris Stover, director of diversity, equity inclusion and engagement, discussed how the restaurant made it work.
With the labor market remaining tight, hiring and retaining the right workers is a major challenge for restaurants, as well as maintaining a diverse staff. How can restaurants hire the right individual for the job? The answer is building a people-first culture that recognizes the power of diversity, according to Idris Stover, director of diversity, equity inclusion and engagement at Shake Shack
He spoke about how Shake Shack was able to both support diversity while creating a people first culture during a keynote at the Fast Casual Executive Summit held in Louisville, Kentucky from Oct. 8 to 10.
Cherryh Cansler, VP of events, moderated the discussion with Stover. She spoke about how Shake Shack has 11,500 team members across its 262 locations in the U.S. and 77% of its employees were people of color and 52% are women. However, when Shake Shack took a look at its leadership, the same diversity wasn’t there.
“We needed to do something different. We decided to need to get intentional,” Stover said.
She said that Shake Shack set actionable goals in the future to see a mixture of 50% women and 50% people of color in manager roles and 50% women and 30% people of color in higher, executive roles.
“We have seen some real progress since setting those goals. We had increase of 33% in women in Shack leadership roles and 18% of people of color. When you give something attention, you see results,” Stover said.
How’d it work?
When asked how the restaurant accomplished this, Stover pointed to a multifaceted approach with both recruitment and training.
On the recruitment side, Shake Shack expanded its search process and adjusted its requirements as needed, since many job descriptions have so many qualifications, Stover said, “it’s like looking for a unicorn.”
She also said they would have meetings with HR to discuss why they did or didn’t hire a particular person. She emphasized this wasn’t to get them in trouble but for them to explain their process.
“We hired the best talent regardless of the demographics,” Stover said.
With its team members, Stover said Shake Shack noticed that many times women and people of color did not apply for higher managerial roles. When the restaurant looked into the issue, it saw that many times there was a lack of confidence or employees didn’t feel they had the expertise or education.
To address this issue, Shake Shack began offering a 16-week training program.
“We started a 16-week program to help participants learn financial management, use Powerpoint, how to do presentations and leadership principles.” The sessions are “led by someone who understands the community” they are speaking to.
The strategy also extends to helping the various groups within the company understand each other. Shake Shack hosts a Stand Together series, which features topics related to the experiences of different racial and gender groups.
Making it work
However, in recent years, there has been a backlash against diversity, equity and inclusion efforts with companies. Stover said some of this was driven by how companies responded in the aftermath of 2020 and the deaths of several African Americans including George Floyd. Many people perceived the way companies spoke out about the deaths of African Americans as insincere or having the wrong motivations.
Another reason for the backlash is that many believe DEI efforts will lead to exclusion of some groups in favor of others.
“Some believe a commitment to diversity is a zero-sum game,” Stover said. “That’s a very dangerous way to think about it. Whatever you do for a part will benefit the whole.”
Lastly, Cansler asked Stover how restaurants that do not have the budget of Shake Shack can do DEI initiatives. Stover emphasized that restaurants should not copy Shake Shack’s strategy since it wouldn’t be “true to you.”
“Think about why it [diversity] should matter to your organization,” Stover said.
The first step should be to talk to your employees, Stover said. This could help identify problems that can be solved, perhaps as simply as setting clear policies.
In the end, Stover said restaurants should, “align it [diversity efforts] to your purpose. Don’t just think about the dollars, think about the impact.”
Bradley Cooper is the editor of ATM Marketplace and was previously the editor of Digital Signage Today. His background is in information technology, advertising, and writing.