Across the country, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) leadership roles and programs are being slashed at a troubling rate. According to Revelio Labs, the attrition rate for DEI workplace positions was 33% at the end of 2022, compared to 21% for non-DEI positions. This dramatic decrease comes after DEI roles increased by 55% in 2020 following demands for racial equity due to the social climate that year, reported by the Society for Human Resource Management. The noticeable fluctuations in the number of DEI positions within companies highlights the need for continued commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion across all levels of organizations.

With more than 30 years in the restaurant industry, I know firsthand how important DEI is for our industry. I began working in restaurants at just 15 years old and I never thought it would be possible for me to be a franchise owner until I started working for someone who looked like me and saw black franchisee representation. Now, as the operator of 21 Noodles & Company locations, I’m prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion at all of my restaurants so both my restaurant team members and the community feel supported to be themselves.

There is not one answer for how to implement DEI in the franchising industry, but there are a number of ways we can get started and create real change. As franchisees, we should prioritize DEI efforts year-round because it positively affects our team members, positively impacts our community and their opinion of our franchise, and in turn, it brings in guests who align with these values. 


Supporting Our Team Members

In my opinion, DEI efforts should always start by supporting team members because they are the most important part of our businesses and when our team members are happy, it is reflected in their service to our guests. At Noodles & Company, we have a wide array of programs to support all our team members. Noodles & Company has adopted the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance’s Pathways to Black Franchise Ownership program to support the goal of creating 100 new black-owned franchise restaurants by the end of 2023 and has implemented an internal Inclusion & Diversity Advisory Council. To stay accountable, the company now issues an Impact (ESG) Report highlighting milestones and progress the company has made to improve the team member experience, food, planet, and community. We have Noodles Resource Groups (NRGs) called PROUD and THRIVE, where PROUD focuses on giving the LGBTQIA+ community and allies a platform for discussion, while THRIVE focuses on giving BIPOC team members and allies a space for communication. Noodles & Company has created the opportunity for franchisees to have leadership within the NRGs as well with Marisa Kowalski, our Regional Director of Operations from Pasta Per Trio Inc., leading the THRIVE NRG.

The leadership at Noodles & Company understands the importance of education around diversity, equity and inclusion and has implemented an internal Inclusion & Diversity Advisory Council along with creating a diversity resource library, DEI training, employee resource groups (NRGs), and partnering with the MFHA to build cultural intelligence within its teams. Not only this, Noodles & Company has joined the CEO Action Pledge to support an open dialogue on difficult conversations, implement and expand unconscious bias education, share best-known D&I programs, and engage the board in the development of D&I strategies.

 These actions that Noodles & Company has taken to prioritize DEI in the workplace make me incredibly proud to work with them. With a majority of employed U.S. adults saying focusing on increasing diversity, equity and inclusion at work is a good thing according to the Pew Research Center, team members agree about the importance of DEI at work.



Making an Impact in Our Community

These efforts don’t just positively impact team members, they make a positive impact on our community. The best way to engage with community members is through joining already established local events or creating your own and inviting fellow residents. At my Noodles restaurants, we hold more than 50 fundraisers per year with local booster clubs, school functions, and local organizations where our team raises money for the community. Aside from hosting our own events, our Noodles & Company restaurants also join events that take place yearly. Each year, we attend the local Pride Month events in June and host and attend different activations for Hispanic Heritage Month, which kicks off yearly in September. This is our way of celebrating inclusion and diversity in our community and bringing back that sense of belonging to our restaurants.

By getting involved in numerous community events throughout the year, the groups we serve feel supported by our restaurants and see the important role we play in making a difference at a local level. 


Smart for Business

According to estimates from the United States Census Bureau, nearly four in 10 Americans identify with a race other than white. With a growing percentage of the population identifying as a person of color, prioritizing DEI programs is also smart for business.

The numbers show just how important DEI is to the American consumer. According to a Cox Business survey, 71% of U.S. consumers would spend more money at a small business if it supported a positive social cause. The survey found that this same percentage of consumers said, “It is important to them that the small businesses they visit practice diverse and inclusive hiring.” With a significant majority of American consumers placing a high value on diversity and inclusion, DEI efforts must be seen as integral to franchisees.  

Knowing that the majority of Americans care about diversity, equity, and inclusion, franchisees getting involved in community events and outreach can be used as a recruiting tool for new team members. The restaurant industry has faced significant labor shortages over the past few years and any efforts that can be made to find incredible team members are greatly appreciated.

While DEI positions are being cut around the country, I am encouraged by companies like Noodles & Company who are putting in the work to prioritize DEI in the workplace. By treating DEI efforts as an essential function of the business, we can work to encourage the next generation of diverse franchisees and further support our team members and community.