Adnams Case Study
In 2020, Adnams Southwold, the Brewer, Distiller and Wine Merchants with operations across hospitality, retail and manufacturing made a bold move to take a public stance on racism by supporting Open to Everyone, Closed to Racism (OECR), a membership organisation set up to help businesses speak out against racism and educate their teams and customers.
From the seaside town of Southwold in East Anglia, Adnams, who employ 525 staff across 27 sites with turnover of £51m, could have been satisfied with hiding behind the fact that they are situated in a non-diverse part of the UK but instead they decided to take action.
“It was clear we could speak up on our anti-racism stance, so when we were approached by OECR with a really simple way to do so, it really helped us to be more proactive”, says Adnams Director of Culture and Performance, Sadie Lofthouse.
OECR gave Adnams the resources to help them create a deeper understanding of racism so they could take on the role of educating stakeholders, employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders and the local community with greater confidence.
Sadie believes this has really changed the Adnams business inside and out, creating conversation and action which has elevated awareness of the issue for everyone it’s touched and has been a key part in developing the Adnams ESG agenda.
Where to start
Adnams started by holding a series of facilitated but free flowing ‘Diversity Conversations’ with every employee, allowing a forum for open and honest conversations which helped solidify the company’s stance. The series helped employees understand some of the myths about racism, they enabled prejudice to be confronted constructively and created curiosity about a topic people can feel nervous about addressing. Sadie says, “there were times that were ‘uncomfortable’ but on the whole the feedback from the team was very positive”.
When OECR was rolled out in Adnams retail and hospitality venues, a very small number of customers complained about Adnams making its voice heard on the issue, but this was insignificant compared to the support from customers and staff. Adnams employees have spoken of the pride felt in wearing the OECR badges and when explaining to customers why they were wearing them.
Everyday competing business priorities and the massive impact the pandemic had on hospitality and retail could have meant that championing anti-racism and embedding this into the business wasn’t a priority, but Sadie disagrees, “I’m not saying it wasn’t a challenge to keep proactively placing our anti-racism stance high on the company agenda, but we knew we had to keep it at the forefront of our values. Having the focus on anti-racism meant we didn’t just think about Covid, sanitising and furlough but also about building the business for the future”.
Sadie says, “We intend to keep the momentum going in every way possible. The important thing is that it’s not seen as an HR initiative that comes and goes and is taken off the shelf again in a few years and dusted down. This runs through all aspects of the business; recruitment, induction, training, well-being, L&D - it has to be a thread that runs through all that we do”.
Advice - Go for it!
With businesses in recovery, staff shortages and customers expecting brands to prove their values, what advice would Sadie give to other business leaders looking to start discussions about anti-racism with their staff and customers?
“Go for it! Set the scene carefully so that everyone understands what it is and what it isn’t and explain why you’re doing it and why it matters. Make the space a safe one for all concerned. And be prepared for some uncomfortable ‘ouch moments’ but don’t let that deter you. We can all always be better”.
And what’s next for Adnams as they strive to create a more inclusive environment for customers and staff? They are scaling their diversity and inclusion efforts overall and are currently rolling out a new iteration of their Employee Forum – a conversational platform to continue education and learning. Adnams is also collecting data and monitoring diversity to be able to tangibly show the positive changes in the business.
For future employees and customers, Adnams is also working with the University of Creative Arts Epsom to better understand what belonging means to keep the business purposeful for the next generation.