In response, the company announced that its senior leadership was working with an inclusion expert, Dr. James Pogue, on anti-bias training. The company has vowed to keep “diversity and inclusion front of mind” in its hiring, a spokeswoman said, and to create “safe forums for everyone at U.S.H.G. to have uncomfortable, challenging conversations surrounding race and bias.” (This reporter’s husband has worked for the restaurant group in the past.)
Ms. Ettarh said those kinds of discussions are just as important as hiring more Black workers. “I think white leadership is so concerned with hiring Black people, but they have to shift culture,” she said.
Owning up to the past should be part of the process for restaurants in general, she said. “They’re being quote unquote, transparent about what they want to do to be better, but they’re not being transparent about how they failed all the Black people who worked for them,” she said. “I think in general, fine dining doesn’t do a good job of supporting its workers.”
Some women aren’t waiting for the industry to change.
Catina Smith, the founder of Just Call Me Chef, a two-year-old national organization for Black women in the hospitality business, has members in 10 cities, and hosts in-person events in addition to an online community connecting women all over the country.
Ms. Smith, 34, who has been a line cook in Baltimore and now works there as a private chef and chef instructor, said she created the group after being struck by the scarcity of Black female chefs in the kitchens where she worked. “In my last kitchen job it was all white men, and nothing felt like it was truly for us,” she said.
Ms. Smith plans to hold the group’s first conference next June in Baltimore, with a mission of unifying Black women in hospitality. The goal isn’t to focus on what has been denied them, but to celebrate their skills and talents, and provide mentorship for young cooks.
“We’re not crying because we can’t get into these spaces, we’re just saying what it’s like for us,” she said. “We don’t want special treatment. We just want the opportunity.”