Serena von der Heyde owns the Victorian House Hotel, Grasmere, and is a passionate advocate of embracing diversity and inclusion

I’d like to start with a disclaimer – I am not an HR professional and I speak only from the experience of being a small business owner with a huge intolerance for the unfair.  I have headed up our family hotel, the Georgian House Hotel in Pimlico, for 35 years, and have recently opened the Victorian House Hotel in Grasmere, after my husband’s family brought me to the area. We bought the hotel in Grasmere (previously the Oakbank Hotel) in 2019, so just before Covid lockdowns. We are a small team with just seven team members and have good gender diversity across the business with an even split of men and women in senior roles. My experience of applicants in Cumbria overall is that there is much less diversity compared to London. It is really important to us to have a team that is inclusive and representative of our guests. We believe more diverse teams drive better results and will attract more diversity internally as a result. The same applies to our guests in terms of seeing inclusivity - if our guests see our inclusivity with regards to sexual orientation, ethnicity, disabilities and religious beliefs then we will attract this and be able to provide a strong inclusive experience as expected from guests.

My obsession with diversity started when I began to get involved in industry events – why were there so few women leaders in hotels? This led me to co-found, and then chair what is now the DE&I (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) committee at UKHospitality, to help promote diversity within the industry. ​​​​It takes time to build a diverse team. This is something we are constantly striving to be better at across our hotels, particularly with regards to building a more ethnically diverse team. At Victorian House we are just starting on our journey, whereas at Georgian House we are starting to see some results from our previous and ongoing efforts. We calculate our gender pay gap and a variety of other stats that allow us to stay on track with our diversity goals. Most of these stats are not hard to calculate and are good indicators for the seniority of different groups in your business. For instance, if all my managers are men, then male average pay will be higher than female average pay.   

At Georgian House there is a negative gender pay gap of 83.7 per cent in favour of women. This has been achieved through the ongoing development of our team which has naturally led to promotions and development opportunities. This has enabled many women to reach supervisor and managerial positions within the business. We have also ensured that we have diversity when interviewing for roles across the business, proactively looking to recruit from more diverse talent pools. When recruiting for a new GM we had over 100 applicants, only three of whom were women. We widened our net to interview women with less experience but with the potential for the role. We have worked to remove barriers to career development, so we give flexible shift patterns and holidays for working parents, or tailor work duties to accommodate team members with health issues caused by age or pregnancy. We have recruited from many charities such as Mencap, Only A Pavement Away and Springboard. We are currently in the process of forming a partnership with Employers Domestic Abuse Covenant, a charity that helps women who have been victims of domestic abuse to get back into employment. At Georgian House over 50 per cent of our team members have been granted ongoing flexibility with regards to their shift patterns. In fact, 100 per cent of team members who have requested flexible working hours have been granted flexibility with their rota as an ongoing agreement.
We're also taking steps to recruit more creatively and provide training and resources for our team at Victorian House. Our aim is to replicate the culture we have achieved at Georgian House Hotel. Recruitment in Cumbria has been incredibly challenging, far more so than in London. The lack of public transport links, affordable local housing and seasonality to the tourism industry within Cumbria has certainly posed some challenges. We try to be creative and do everything we can to manage this, including providing taxis, additional levels of flexibility for the team's shift patterns and investing in team accommodation.

We would like to start to work with team members with disabilities, as we have done in London. We know from experience that our processes and team structure have to be robust to be able to do this well, and our young team at Victorian House Hotel is moving towards this. It takes time to shape a team, and knowing what we have learnt from Georgian House in London, we believe that we can create the same diversity in our Victorian House team. 

We have seen huge business benefits from our work to become more diverse. We attract new members to work with us because they want to be part of a work culture where inclusivity and caring sit front and centre, and we have guests who tell us that our culture and ethos is one of the reasons they choose to stay with us.  Punctuality, reliability and increased length of service are the hallmarks of our employees with disabilities. We have seen that the more diversity within our team, the better the decision making and the quality of discussion. We have more opinions, life experiences, and wider talents to share and this boosts the growth and profitability of the business.  Building an inclusive business has made it a wonderful place to work, truly kind and considerate, and this has increased our staff retention across the whole team.