In an effort to learn more about the importance of equity in the workplace and better understand what can be done within the hospitality industry to move towards positive change and an equitable future, we asked Lauren Darnell, Executive Director of MiNO Foundation in New Orleans, to share her knowledge on the subject.


What is the difference between equity and equality?

Equality is the idea that everyone receives the same treatment, opportunity, and access. The root of the word equality comes from equal or equivalent, meaning the same. Equality is treating everyone the same regardless of the need. Equality is good in theory, but it can fall very short assuming everyone has the same needs or is starting from the same place. Equity is actually required for equality to be possible. Equity means the quality of being fair or impartial. Equity is being able to support based on needs. Equity at Made In New Orleans Foundation shows up in all of our work in how we serve, how we listen, how we consider partners and how we deliver and build our programming. Equity is the lens through which we do our work. It is a dynamic, responsive way of approaching business. Each person we work with may need something different, to treat everyone equally in theory wouldn’t account for the systems that affect said people we are serving. We don’t assume, we ask, we assess and we listen.


Why should equity be a priority alongside diversity and inclusion?

We must prioritize all three to make real progress. Equity is the context in which diversity and inclusion will thrive. They are ingredients to the whole -- distinct but not separate. Diversity and inclusion without equity ensures that diverse thought and talent are included but doesn’t mean power dynamics shift or there is a fair distribution of power. Equity is the consistent lens through which we are viewing our work, our impact, checking our awareness and in search of bias, power distribution, and fairness.


What are the benefits of creating an equitable work environment?

Safe place and space. Harmony. Pioneering spaces where people want to work and contribute. Spaces where people are seen, heard, and acknowledged for their labor and contributions. Equitable work environments have diverse thought, talent, and experiences, management, leadership and not only look diverse, but it is felt amongst staff and patrons. It permeates your business and the people who support your business thrive because of it. Equitable environments are collaborative, innovative, problem solving, and driven by collective will. Businesses that foster equitable work environments benefit from higher retention rates, employee job satisfaction, growth and success.


How should a restaurant approach the process of creating a more equity-driven business?

Get assistance. Asking for help is the best way to start. An equity assessment or equity audit of your business will help you thoroughly review and identify the areas that need attention and have room for growth. Educate yourself and staff, provide educational resources, training and be willing to be reflective while remaining open-minded. This is not a problem that can be solved overnight, it is a process and requires seeing all aspects of your business, from reviewing compensation and benefits to examining access to training and promotions. Creating an equity-driven business is an ongoing process of assessment, cultivating adaptability and resiliency through an equitable lens.

This process will be uncomfortable! But it isn’t impossible. If you are willing to get messy in the assessment, willing to look within, you will have fertile ground to create for the future of your business and team.

What should you include in an equity audit of your business?

Everything. You have to look at every aspect of your business.


What steps can a restaurant take to achieve these goals?

Businesses are a collection of people working towards a common goal. Sometimes this is forgotten when in the throws of working to move the business forward. The culture, values, and mission are shared and lived everyday. Equity, too, is a process that is lived, it comes into existence as a practice not a theory.

Each organization is different, but I think the first step in this process is getting to the why of the work by going through an audit and seeking assistance. If racism and anti-racism, intersectionality, and systems of oppression aren’t a part of the conversation it will be only a superficial change that will not be sustainable. The deep work of equity is personal, it requires recognizing your own bias and becoming aware of systemic racism, discrimination and the reckoning with the history of this country. We compartmentalize and separate ourselves as if we exist outside of systems, but it is all connected. We are all connected, these systems work to separate us based on the unequal power system. It is a process of learning and unlearning, as you personally become aware and this informs your business and steps to be taken.


What mistakes do you see businesses making along the road to equity? 

Rushing. Hurrying to get to a final arrival. It is common to think that by focusing on diversity, by simply hiring more Black or people of color that your business is more equitable and that the work is done. It’s not enough, think about your organization as connected, who are your purveyors, your vendors, is there equitable distribution of who you order from, are you contributing and being inclusive in the entire ecosystem. This is a long process that requires ongoing commitment. It can’t be solved overnight. We are not separate from the issue and barriers to equity within our organizations. It matters as a leader where you are seeing from and the lived experience that informs that seeing.

What are some actionable ways to ensure you are creating an equitable work environment?

We are in a very real state of racial injustice, social injustice, labor exploitation (including wage discrimination), health and wealth disparities, and violence upon Black and Brown people. All of these issues are tied to the very deep history of inequity as our slave-owning founding fathers wrote “all men are created equal.” This history is long and nuanced. As we continue to step forward carrying the history, whether or not we are subject to violence or disparities based on the color of our skin, it is our responsibility as human beings to break down this unequal and harmful system.

There is an opportunity in every challenge for growth. Any step toward undoing this unjust and unfair system is a step in the right direction. Systematic change will require businesses to champion causes that see everyone as a human worth fighting for and take steps however small, but mighty, forward. Your work can help lead this change.

Equity is to be embodied, rooted at the core of your business. It demands intentionality. One powerful place to begin, is to personally reflect. Sit down with your team, listen, ask questions, and get feedback; get clear on why you are doing this work. Go through an equity audit of your business. Examine if fair compensation, living wages and benefits for employees are equitable. Examine your organization’s hiring practices, how jobs are advertised, where positions are advertised, the company standards, policies, the promotion and opportunities for advancement, the culture, customers, communication internal and external, formal and informal practices amongst staff and management, how are advancement opportunities made available. Are all heard, seen and considered, valued? Once this process has begun, the development of a strategic work plan is critical. Seek assistance and don’t be afraid to misstep. You will. The purpose is to learn from this work and move forward with awareness.

Where can managers find more information around creating a more equitable work environment?

You can find more information on our website or reach out to us directly at [email protected].

We also recommend Race Forward who in connection with the Center for Social Inclusion have a tool kit for Restaurants. Our MiNO Equity Program partners Beloved Community have an equity audit on their website that is available. We also support sessions, workshops and ongoing training with a hospitality focus with the Racial Equity Institute.


About Lauren Darnell

Lauren Darnell Lauren Darnell is the Executive Director of Made in New Orleans Foundation (MiNO). Since 2018 she has been envisioning a transformative vision of the future of the Hospitality Industry. MiNO at the individual level, provides educational resources, individual mentorship and culinary scholarships, and business coaching. At the industry level, they amplify the voices of professionals of color and provide support to hospitality companies that are seeking to eliminate bias and disparities in their organizations. 

As a certified Adult and Children’s Yoga Instructor, Lauren has been working with people since 2009 at all levels to support personal development, whole life health and wellbeing. Lauren is experienced in nonprofit leadership, facilitation, strategic planning, developing partnerships and creating results-driven programming. In 2012, she returned home to New Orleans via London and New York to launch her own non-profit that delivered over 5,000 hours of trauma-sensitive yoga to over 10 schools locally. From her work with Son of a Saint mentorship program, she fortified their mental health program and developed game changing partnerships. Lauren’s skilled in establishing strategic partnerships to advance program offerings with limited resources and in creating evidence based programming with a grassroots approach. Lauren is committed to facilitating conversations about growth and freedom. She has trained in the UK with the Concorde Institute and assists in training and programming with The Space Body Mind Consulting in Como, Italy.

Lauren holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Women’s Studies from University of New Orleans. Lauren serves on the New Orleans Food and Policy Advocacy Committee as Co-Chair of the Business Development working group. When not working on developing the MiNO Foundation or giving back to her community, she can be found spending time outdoors with her vibrant young son, Tenzin.