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Meet Lorraine Copes, founder of Be Inclusive Hospitality

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Lorraine Copes is the founder of Be Inclusive Hospitality and has worked in the UK wine trade for the last 18 years. Here she shares her experiences as a black woman and talks about how her organisation is working to help increase racial equality in the UK hospitality sector and encourages us to sign up for the Colour of Wine webinars taking place this month.

Tell us about Be Inclusive Hospitality…

I set up Be Inclusive Hospitality at the end of 2019. It is a not-for-profit organisation with a mission to drive education, amplify voices, build a strong community and accelerate racial equality in the UK drinks trade. Our mission will be delivered through three key pillars:

  1. Partnerships: we are working closely with business leaders to create and implement strategies for change heavily supported by training.
  2. Learning and Development: the lead initiative is our Elevate Mentorship Scheme, but we want to expand this to include sponsored or funded professional skills development.
  3. Events: we plan to host a series of events every month aiming to amplify voices and drive education through understanding.

Our community consists of more than 300 members made up of both BAME professionals and allies, and we all champion change through taking action.

What inspired you to set up this organisation?

Throughout my 18 years working in the UK drinks trade, there has been a lack of representation for BAME people at all levels. My background is as a procurement leader within the pub, contract catering, casual dining and fine dining sectors. I have worked for brands such as Gordon Ramsay, Shake Shack and Corbin and King. Procurement is a very outward-facing role and I regularly attend industry events - such as exhibitions, awards and tastings – where there is always a very noticeable lack of ethnic diversity. Within hospitality, diversity appears to be reserved for junior head office or operational roles and is completely missing at a leadership level.

I found that the diverse voices and talents that do exist within the sector are generally invisible and/or inaccessible. I also recognised there was not a single organisation within the sector which focussed on tackling racial equality. Be Inclusive Hospitality’s mission is to educate and influence the sector at all levels. We recognise that inclusion and belonging cannot be mandated so our programme of formal and informal events aims to support the drive for change at all levels.

How important are role models in accelerating racial equality?

Role models are a small part of the process but not enough to truly accelerate racial equality. Business leaders are the real gatekeepers for change. They have the decision-making power to bring about change by ensuring that racial equality is a business strategic objective with targets and accountability. Without buy-in from business leaders, our initiatives will have minimal impact because cultures are created top down and not bottom up.

BAME in Hospitality

What has your own experience in the wine industry been like?

My personal experience, as a black person and a woman, has been one of feeling like an outsider. I often find myself in rooms filled with people - none of whom look like me. I have found that wine experts have a way of creating mystique and complexity around wines which creates barriers for those who do not have the same level of wine education. I have often attended wine events and found others unwilling to engage with me until they realise who I work for.

How has taking a WSET course helped you?

Taking a WSET course (Level 1 Award in Wines) helped me to grow my confidence and my knowledge of wine in all areas including the supply chain and the production process. With a WSET qualification under my belt, I now feel more equipped to cope with the - sometimes uncomfortable - environments I find myself in. I really enjoyed studying with WSET and intend to carry on with my educational journey next year.

Tell us about The Colour of Wine webinar series…

The Colour of Wine is Be Inclusive Hospitality's three-part online panel discussion created to amplify and share perspectives from previously unheard voices. In the discussions, we explore the experiences of black and Asian wine professionals, and they share their thoughts on how they would like to see the industry evolve and become more inclusive. The final 20 minutes of each event involves the panellist pairing an English sparkling wine with foods from their heritage and a short Q&A. The second episode in the series will stream live on YouTube on the 16th September at 8pm BST, and the final episode is on the 30th September at the same time. You can register for tickets on Eventbrite – please do join us!

How optimistic are you about improving diversity and inclusion in the UK drinks industry?

It is so difficult to make a judgement call at this moment in time - most companies seem to be at the very beginning of their journey. I will only be able to take a proper view when I see actions being taken and tangible outcomes. Only time will tell…

Register for the second episode Be Inclusive Hospitality’s webinar “The Colour of Wine” here.