How the HR chief at Restaurant Brands International holds all of its executives accountable for diversity and inclusion

Jeff Housman
Jeff Housman is chief people and services officer at Restaurant Brands International.

  • Jeffrey Housman is chief people and services officer at Restaurant Brands International.
  • Housman has made DEI a priority. All senior executives are now held accountable for DEI goals.
  • Food service overall has a diversity problem. People of color are often concentrated in lower ranks.
  • This article is part of our “HR Insider” series about HR leaders and their noteworthy strategies.

The value of human resources at Restaurant Brands International has always been “pretty clear” to Jeffrey Housman.

But the pandemic made Housman appreciate even more the “role HR can play in supporting people,” he said.

RBI is a 6,300-person company whose brands include Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes. About 100 restaurants belong to RBI (most restaurants within RBI brands are owned by franchisees). Housman, RBI’s chief people and services officer, joined RBI from Burger King Corporation in 2016 and has climbed the ranks since. Housman was named one of Insider’s 2021 HR Innovators.

When he took on his current role, in 2019, Housman led RBI in doubling down on its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Now every senior executive is responsible for cultivating DEI and for making RBI a place where all employees can do their best work.

The foodservice industry overall has been criticized for its lack of diverse representation at the top. According to a 2014 report from the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance, ethnic and racial minorities represent 50% of all hourly employees, compared to 31% of general managers. The report looked at 60 brands, including Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, but didn’t include Restaurant Brands International.

RBI has publicly recognized the challenges. A statement published on RBI’s website in July 2020 read, “We acknowledge that we do not have enough diverse employees in our company and in leadership positions,” adding that, “By openly acknowledging our shortcomings, we are creating urgency for action.”

RBI makes DEI every executive’s responsibility

One of the first DEI initiatives Housman’s team spearheaded was a change to the interview process. RBI hiring managers now ask job candidates in their first interview what diversity means to them, and how they’d champion diversity if they joined the team.

And at least 50% of all candidates in the final interview round must be “from groups that are demonstrably diverse, including race.” This goal is tied to bonuses for the entire leadership and executive team at RBI. Chipotle, McDonald’s, and Starbucks have also said they’re linking diversity targets to executive compensation.

Housman’s team accelerated their efforts to build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace in 2020, a year in which many business leaders vowed to address systemic discrimination in their workplaces.

RBI released a diversity report that highlighted where the organization was falling short. Leadership, for example, was mostly white and male. Thirty percent of senior leaders were women – an improvement from the year prior – and about 43% of senior leaders were non-white. RBI’s total workforce included 40% women and 47% non-white employees.

Housman’s team led other efforts around inclusion in 2020. Leadership talked about subconscious bias in staff-wide meetings and ramped up training around implicit bias.

Housman is cautiously optimistic that RBI will be able to achieve its DEI goals. “We still have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to be,” he said. “But in 2020 we acted on our D&I strategy and made really good progress.”

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New Trump rule could cost waiters more than $700 million in lost wages, allowing employers to take more of their tips to pay other workers

GettyImages 1225593339
A new Trump administration rule could cost tipped employees more than $700 million in lost wages each year.

  • A new rule published by the Department of Labor on Tuesday would allow restaurant owners to take employees’ tips to pay “back-of-the-house” workers, such as cooks and dishwashers.
  • An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute found that change could cost workers more than $700 million in lost wages.
  • The regulation also allows employers to required tipped employees to perform more “non-tipped” labor, such as cleaning.
  • “It’s really, really clear this is about the interests of corporate executives and shareholders,” Heidi Shierholz, an economist at EPI, told Business Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A new regulation rolled out in the final days of the Trump administration will allow restaurants to pull tips from their waitstaff to pay cooks in the back, putting more cash in the pockets of ownership while forcing front-of-the-house staff to do more work for less money.

Employers, to this point, have been allowed to pool tips and share them among employees who typically receive them; for example, servers giving a share of their earnings to hosts and bussers. The 148-page regulation put out Tuesday by the Department of Labor would expand that, allowing restaurants to pay the wages of prep cooks and dishwashers with money earned by those waiting tables.

The rule also does away with a so-called “80/20” rule: previously, tipped employees – who can earn as little as $2.13 an hour in wages from their employer – could not be asked to spend any more than 20 percent of their shift performing non-tipped work, like rolling silverware or cleaning the workplace. The new standard is “reasonable time” spent doing such things.

“It’s totally ambiguous and makes it extremely difficult to enforce,” Heidi Shierholz, director of policy at the center-left Economic Policy Institute, told Business Insider.

The Trump administration’s stated purpose for rule is equality.

Cheryl Stanton, administration of the wage and hour division at the Department of Labor, said the rule “could increase pay for back-of-the-house workers, like cooks and dishwashers… reduc[ing] wage disparities among all workers who contribute to the customers’ experience.”

But this achieved not at the expense of those running the business but at the cost of others employed there.

In a 2019 analysis, EPI estimated that allowing employers to pocket workers’ tips would save the former more than $700 million a year – and cost the latter the same amount. That, and doing away with the “80/20″ rule,” would also encourage those employers to rely more heavily on tipped labor. Why pay cleaning staff the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour when tipped employees, who cost a fraction of that, can be asked to perform the job instead?

“It’s really, really clear this is about the interests of corporate executives and shareholders. Like that is what’s driving this,” Shierholz said. 

“If there really was a strong interest in reducing inequality and raising the wages of the lowest-paid workers, they would be pushing tooth and nail to raise the minimum wage,” Shierholz added.

Indeed, “there is a direct way to do this,” Shierholz argued, “instead of saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to raise the wages of the lowest-paid workers by taking from the wages of the second-lowest paid workers.'”

It is notable that it was not advocates for labor but rather their bosses that lobbied for the change. 

Read more: EXCLUSIVE: Jared Kushner helped create a Trump campaign shell company that secretly paid the president’s family members and spent $617 million in reelection cash, a source tells Insider

“The foodservice industry supports the department’s proposed rule,” lawyers for the Restaurant Law Center and the National Restaurant Association said last year when the change was being developed. They billed it as an act of deregulation – and end to bureaucrats “trying to micromanage restaurant work.”

The new rule, however, does not take effect for another 60 days – that is, until the next administration. It is possible, but not clear, that President-elect Joe Biden and his team could postpone its implementation while working to rescind it.

A spokesperson for the Biden-Harris transition team did not return a request for comment.

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