Inside Denny’s decades-long DCI journey
After the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in early 2020 and the resulting protests against systemic racism and demands for police and political reform, many companies have pledged to support diversity, fairness and inclusion (DEI). According to Bloomberg research, 87 companies made racial justice claims after Floyd’s murder. Of these, nearly two-thirds are committed to changing their hiring practices and half are committed to improving diversity among managers and executives. Now American companies must keep those promises.
Whether you’re just starting this journey or refreshing an existing DCI strategy, pack a bag, download your favorite podcasts, and don’t forget your toothbrush. It’s going to be a long journey.
Ours began in 1994, when Denny’s settled a discrimination lawsuit in some of our restaurants. We don’t believe in hiding from this shameful part of our history. It is more productive to discuss it openly and honestly. By sharing the steps we have taken to rectify the mistakes of the past and become what we hope to be a model organization for DCI, we can hopefully help others do the same. We’re not perfect, and we never will be, but every day we work to do better at this and live up to our aspiration to be “America’s Restaurant for America Today.” ‘hui’. We have learned a lot in two and a half decades of work, and we want to share those lessons.
Building a diverse workforce
To be a successful DCI practitioner in 2021 and beyond, your workforce must be diverse across all levels. For Denny’s, that means representation everywhere, from our board of directors to our franchisees to our restaurant teams.
Multicultural groups are represented by two thirds of our employees, including half of those at restaurant management level. Our board of directors is made up of 55% people of color and 44% women. We can still improve, of course. For example, our officer team of 20 remains predominantly white men, made up of 15% people of color and shortly increasing to 20% people of color. But we are building a stronger and more diverse pipeline for future promotions at our highest levels. Several years ago, we set targets to hire 50% women and 40% people of color at managerial level and above and have averaged this rating for several years in a row. This effort is complemented by annual pay equity audits to ensure equal pay regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or any other protected basis.
How did we do this? By fighting prejudice and expanding our research efforts. For example, there is some fascinating research on gendered language in job descriptions. When we started looking at our vacancies from this perspective and tweaking them to be more gender neutral, we opened doors for candidates who otherwise might not have been. motivated to take on these roles.
We have also made an effort to reduce or eliminate affinity bias, the desire to work with someone who looks, thinks and acts like you, which is often coded as “cultural conversion.” One strategy on this front was to first diversify our recruiting teams and hiring managers. We also shared Francesca Gino’s research and insights on the need for “rebellious talent” – those who refuse to comply. We’ve helped people in decision-making positions understand how diverse backgrounds, backgrounds and thinking help a business innovate and grow.
We have found enormous value in promoting people from under-represented groups from within. For external recruitments, we have broadened our vision of the talent pool. Too often we see companies claiming that there just aren’t enough qualified candidates of color. This is unequivocally wrong. For example, Kauffman Fellows has published excellent research highlighting the gap between black and Latin working-age populations and their representation in startups. At Denny’s, we’ve found it extremely helpful to build relationships with higher education institutions and organizations, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), colleges and business schools.
Create an inclusive business ecosystem
It is also important to have a diverse supply chain. Consumers today hold companies accountable not only for who they hire, but with whom they do business. And partnering with businesses belonging to multicultural groups, including people of color, people with disabilities, veterans, women and / or members of the LGBTQ community, leads to the same kind of innovation, growth and outperformance than that of a diverse employee base. In fact, some of our most popular menu items are a direct result of our various suppliers bringing us new products and flavors. These include our Classic Pancake Syrup, Breaded Boneless Wings, and Buttermilk Honey Chicken Sandwich. The business case is clear: The Hackett Group 2017 study showed that companies that don’t have diverse vendors are more likely to experience lost revenue.
With an inclusive supply chain, you also create a pipeline of direct investments to the communities that your DCI strategy is designed to benefit from. Your business partners can grow and hire additional staff themselves, creating a virtuous circle. Denny’s has invested over $ 2 billion in under-represented suppliers since we launched our program in 1993 and we regularly hire small businesses and local minority-owned contractors as consultants.
Partnership with others
For every lesson you learn in DCI, there are two that you still need to learn. So no matter how well you do, you need to recognize the shortcomings as well. As we strive to be a leader on these issues in the corporate world, we have forged partnerships with organizations focused on racial justice as well as with individual civil rights leaders.
When we first partnered with the late Coretta Scott King, we helped raise funds for the Reignite the Dream Fund and helped expand the National Civil Rights Museum. But she has also helped shape the corporate values that Denny’s holds to this day, including our “non-negotiable rules to follow” that inform our training, customer service and corporate culture. And she introduced us to partners such as the late NAACP President Julian Bond and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and National Urban League President Hugh Price, among others, to help us identify new franchisees, new suppliers and best practices to improve our corporate culture. We recognize the need to be constant learners if we are to make continuous progress. These conversations help shape strategy and turn words into action.
Businesses should also use their platforms to help others. Philanthropic efforts improve employee morale, boost recruitment and retention efforts, and communicate to consumers that your organization wants to leave the company in a better place than you have found. When you donate, you need to think and act with strategic intent, choosing causes that match your brand’s purpose and serve diverse communities. Our goal at Denny’s is to nourish people, which includes nourishing bodies, minds and souls and extends beyond our customers. That’s why we’re working with No Kid Hungry to raise funds to help end child hunger in America and in St. Jude to help find cures for childhood cancer and other life-threatening illnesses and why we created the Denny’s Hungry for Education ™ program to provide scholarships through our various national partner organizations including HACU, USPAACC, Tom Joyner Foundation, NGLCC and Partners for Youth with Disabilities.
A continuous journey
DEI is a long journey because the goal is always to improve and progress, not to find a comfortable stopping point. Leaders in this space need to be comfortable with constantly criticizing themselves and looking for loopholes in their strategy or implementation. Most recently, we analyzed our own agenda and set out a plan for the next five years to move forward in all of the areas we have outlined above.
To ensure accountability, we have set specific goals and 10 DCI board members and 10 senior executives are responsible for achieving them. They are responsible for building buy-in from top management, including the board, creating safe and collaborative spaces for employees to have difficult conversations and measure our success.
Each of the six business resource groups we offer – self-directed, employee-led groups of volunteers to promote DCI within Denny’s – is chaired by a senior executive or vice president who is on or has a direct access to our C-suite and pension. Without this element, we risk employees feeling like they are screaming into the void – letting off steam rather than using their voices to create change in a constructive way.
We strive to judge progress through data, not anecdotes. Establishing transparent KPIs and creating measurable goals such as diversity benchmarking and supplier diversity goals creates motivation and accountability at the individual and organizational level.
It’s time to act
The past year has been a wake-up call for the United States, whose strength has been felt in the business world. According to the Axios Harris 100 survey, which examines the drivers of corporate reputation, 81% of Americans agree that large companies, with resources, expensive infrastructure and advanced logistics, are even more vital for the future America than before the pandemic. 2021 is no less a pivotal year, especially for diversity, equity and inclusion. Employees, customers, partners and investors expect organizations to grow more and more quickly. It’s time to understand how your organization can play a bigger role in creating a more equal and just society.