Ceri Gott: "everyone should feel safe at work"

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Ceri Gott on Hawksmoor's progressive HR policies

Related tags Hawksmoor Human resource management Steak Ceri Gott Women

The director of people and performance at Hawksmoor on creating progressive HR policies to support female hospitality workers.

We hear you recently launched specialist training sessions on dealing with sexual harassment... 

We have always had training sessions on managing difficult situations, including unwelcome comments and behaviours from customers, although thankfully these are rare at Hawksmoor. The training is delivered by our head of HR, so we run through our policies but it’s also interactive, and there are exercises in which people share their experiences, talk about how they made them feel and discuss and practise ways of responding to certain difficult situations. We find that doing it with men and women together works well, particularly when it comes to the subject of ‘banter’.

What else do you have in place? 

After #MeToo, we also ran discussion groups in all of the restaurants. They were really successful, so much so that we have made them an annual event. One of the most interesting things that came up was recognising that everyone has a different ‘line’ of what feels acceptable, and that’s okay. People need to have awareness and respect for that line, and support each other. Everyone should feel safe at work. We have a clear policy that any sort of harassment is not acceptable and that managers and the business will have their backs. 

Tell us about how HR at Hawksmoor is structured... 

It doesn’t sounds like a headline-grabber, but for any business looking to tackle sexual harassment ‘structure’ is absolutely crucial. Fundamentally, our structures are designed to support people. In all of our managers' job descriptions it’s made clear that supporting staff is a massive part of their job. We have two managers in every restaurant who are responsible for HR, one for front of house and one for back of house. It’s important for staff to know that there’s someone they can go and talk to who is there for their welfare. We also have the external HR team to support people if they feel they can’t talk to someone in their restaurant. This is communicated really clearly from everyone’s first day. 

Do these managers have specialist training?

Yes. We have specialist training in place to help them manage different situations. We train people in active listening and mediation skills. In addition to this, everyone at Hawksmoor also has access to a hotline providing confidential counselling and advice. Having really clear policies - including an anti-harassment policy and a disciplinary policy - is very important too. We have a clear commitment to fair treatment, and it applies to everyone in the business. I talk to each employee about it personally when they join.

What is Hawksmoor’s approach to kitchen ‘banter’?

A joke is not a joke if it makes someone upset or causes offence. We try and encourage an adult-to-adult environment. If someone is not happy about the way someone else is behaving we encourage people to try and have that conversation themselves, but only if they feel they can. If that’s difficult, we’d get a manager involved to mediate. Our kitchens are inclusive places. Many of our chefs are male but we have a lot of female chefs and an increasing number of female kitchen porters. 

What is the procedure when customers behave inappropriately towards female staff?

It’s difficult to generalise as it depends on the situation. In some cases the right thing to do would be for a member of staff to stop serving a certain table or section. If it’s something more serious a manager might intervene and make sure that the behaviour stops. The managers at the restaurant are very confident when it comes to dealing with this sort of thing. 

Does Hawksmoor have policies in place to protect female staff when they finish late?

We have a policy of cabs on expenses for the person locking up. It’s essential that people feel safe at work and also getting home from work. This is something we’re continuing to think about; we’re actually reviewing our policies on this at the moment, including whether to introduce things like having a buddy system whereby people leave the restaurants in pairs. 

What can the wider hospitality industry do to improve? 

For me the main thing is getting the basics right – treat people well, look out for one another and keep talking and listening. My background isn’t in restaurants. I worked as an economist in the civil service before joining Hawksmoor 10 years ago. When I first started, I was shocked to hear people’s stories about how they had sometimes been treated working in the industry, by both customers and their fellow employees. But Hawksmoor has always been a nice, inclusive place to work, and I’ve worked hard to make sure people are treated as well here as they would expect to be by a good company in any industry.  We just received a “world class” 3 star rating as one of the Best Companies to work for in the UK, in our 10th year in the list. I hope it speaks volumes about what a fantastic industry hospitality can be, especially given the year we’ve had. But the truth is that the basics of what make a good job - including decent pay and benefits, progressive policies, career development and a good culture - always require careful thought. You can always improve – so that is a constant focus for us at Hawksmoor.  

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