Leading rice brand Ben’s Original has launched a scholarship scheme to help black hospitality workers further their careers.
Seat at the Table Fund – established in the US in 2020 – has made its UK debut in partnership with not-for-profit organisation Be Inclusive Hospitality.
It aimed to “advance diversity in the food industry by addressing racial inequality in access to opportunities” it said. It is open to applicants who identify as black and have two years’ experience in hospitality. Applicants will be required to provide 300 words on how the scholarship will help to further their career ambitions.
The fund will offer 15 places on selected courses offered by Leiths School of Food & Wine, London.
Courses range from short specialised courses that take a couple of days – such as food styling and knife skills – to longer accredited professional courses, which run over a 10-week period and include chef skills, plant-based essential cooking and nutrition in culinary practice.
Successful candidates will also be offered three hours of mentorship over three months through Be Inclusive Hospitality, which was “proven to provide support, knowledge sharing and personal development” it said.
Applications close on 30 September 2022, after which successful applicants will be chosen by a cross-organisation panel (made up of Mars Food, Leiths and Be Inclusive Hospitality) with finalists announced by the end of October. Classes will take place through to the end of the year and into early 2023.
While 17% of UK hospitality workers were from ethnically diverse backgrounds, the majority were working in lower paid jobs, said Ben’s Original.
This was “especially true” of black hospitality workers, who were “one of the groups least likely to be in the highest paid roles” it added.
Research by Be Inclusive found black hospitality workers were also least likely to have access to opportunities that would support career progression, such as a coach, sponsor, development scheme or qualification.
This pointed to “something systemically inequitable” and had informed Ben’s Original owner Mars Food’s understanding of where it “should focus to help remove barriers” it said.
Mars Food Europe regional president Dave Dusangh said everyone deserved “equal access to opportunities so we can all develop, progress and succeed in a career we love”.
However, there were “still barriers that exist within society that mean this isn’t always the case for everyone and through our Ben’s Original Seat at the Table Fund we hope to create more equitable opportunities to help change that” he added.
Be Inclusive Hospitality was “thrilled to be partnering on this initiative”, said CEO Lorraine Copes. Seat at the Table was “perfectly” aligned with “our mission to accelerate race equity within the industry”.
Leiths MD Camilla Schneideman said: “Over the years we have learned that training and qualifications are the key to unlocking exciting new careers, not only because of the skills you learn but also because of the confidence that comes with knowing that you are qualified for the job.
“Students who join Leiths consistently tell us that the inclusive atmosphere in the school allows them to be themselves. There is no one-size-fits-all career in the food industry, and our mission is to help our students find the path that fits their aspirations and lifestyle.”
It comes after Ben’s Original rebranded last summer from Uncle Ben’s, following accusations of racism against its logo and name.