Workforce Update: Carving a space for diversity and inclusion in hospitality

Holly Addison 22 Aug 2023

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This piece originally appeared on MCA in April 2023.

Staff shortages in the hospitality sector have seen record highs as of late. For the first time since records began, there are more job vacancies in the UK than unemployed people, according to the latest labour market figures. This has been driven mainly by a near-fourfold surge in vacancies to around 1.3 million since the summer of 2020, when economic activity resumed at the end of the first lockdown.

In hospitality, at the end of May, there were over 80% more vacant roles than the same period in 2019. This was compounded by the sector creating almost 300,000 new jobs within 12 months. Statistics had shown an average rate of 10% vacant requisitions across the sector which equates to a shortage of around 170,000 workers plus an estimated further 150,000 temporary, seasonal and agency staff.

As we take a look at the labour challenges currently facing the hospitality sector in the UK, executives and leadership teams must consider how diversity and inclusion are playing a role, and which may be transient, situational, or are fundamental shifts that are here to stay.

Mindset shift

Perhaps the biggest factor since the onset of the pandemic that still exists today is the change in attitudes around work ethic. People have had a new taste of control over their work-life balance and don’t want to relinquish it. Much of this taps diversity by touching on varying lifestyles, from parenthood to office accessibility and socioeconomic background. There is also a disconnect between business leaders wanting things to ‘return to normal’ and not realising sentiments of the workforce have permanent changed. Although there may well be an increase in appetite to return to work in a physical environment, social gatherings will be largely on their terms, with any strict mandate to return completely to pre-pandemic working conditions resisted.

Talent leakage to other sectors


Hospitality has always had an image problem. Three in five young people say they see hospitality jobs as short term, with few realising the opportunities available. However, despite the perception of long, anti-social hours and poor pay, we could extol the virtues of there being no barrier to entry and opportunity for rapid career progression as well as a fun and relatively informal working environment. Social mobility has become more important as a dimension of diversity and many employers in other sectors are removing the requirement for a minimum level of education or qualification to start their careers. CVs are being anonymised and education and personal details being removed in order to create a level playing field and promote diverse hiring. This creates more options for non-graduates as well as increased competition for the best talent. As we consider potential solutions and strategies to mitigate the current and future labour challenges, in addition to highlighting developments in the sector, can hospitality executives look to learnings from other industries? 

The Great resignation

Priorities have changed. The pandemic sparked the trend of employees leaving the workplace due to long term illness, early retirement or complete lifestyle changes. Vacancies are not fueled by demand for labour, but because the workforce is shrinking. Things may improve as ‘Covid-savings’ dwindle, forcing more people to return to full time work. Brexit has of course had a significant impact on the availability of labour, particularly in London. To a degree, the volume of international staff was masking the underlying issues. We saw a spike in diversity initiatives from the creation of Chief Diversity Officer positions to implementing team activities aimed at inclusion and education. In reality, hospitality businesses are taking note, but some are still operating outdated staffing models and have been slow to react.

A look ahead

Which of these changes transient and which permanent? It looks like most are here to stay. The industry must adapt and rethink some of its traditional staffing models with four areas of opportunity. 

  • Innovation – Modernizing business models with regard to understanding this new workforce’s desires and motivations, from cross-training to hybrid work and tenure.  
  • Engagement and reward – When pay reaches a peak, other bonuses can keep employees feeling valued. These potentially include non-monetary rewards like purpose, values and ESG principles tailored to the company’s stakeholders and mission towards diversity. 
  • Technology – Tech serves as an incredibly valuable tool in the hiring and onboarding processes. It can be used to train at an employee’s own pace and cater to various learning methods.  
  • Expanding the talent pool – The labour crisis illustrated the opportunity to recruit more diverse workforce through less typical candidates. DEI initiatives promote fresh thinking to create more inclusive cultures that will drive innovation and build engagement.    

    Diversity and inclusion have rapidly become business-critical, and although it’s prioritized high on the agenda, there is still much work to do. We’ll continue to see developments in the foreseeable future across hospitality, from food and beverage to lodging and more. 

Holly addision

Holly Addison

Holly co-leads our global product, sales and marketing practice and also our Board, CEO and general management practice. Specialising in CEO and C-level talent that drives growth, with a focus on digital transformation, leadership succession and value creation, Holly is best…

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