Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Business
23 July 2021updated 08 Sep 2021 4:41pm

Natalie Campbell: Business “doesn’t get it” on race and diversity

The social entrepreneur on diversity in business and what Covid-19 means for the hospitality industry.

By Emma Haslett and Phil Clarke Hill

Over a year after the murder of George Floyd forced the discussion about diversity and discrimination into the boardroom, Natalie Campbell, the co-chief executive of British bottled water maker Belu, says, “I don’t think [businesses] get it when it comes to race.”

In this video interview, Campbell, who has worked on improving sustainability with brands including Marks & Spencer and Virgin Media and was an adviser to the Royal Foundation, says businesses are guilty of making promises they don’t keep. Since Floyd, “everyone wants to talk about race”, she says – but diversity in boardrooms has not improved.

“Everyone has a statement alluding to what they’re doing to make their workplaces more equitable or more diverse or more inclusive,” she says. “It’s not making a difference, because it’s just words at the moment, it’s not action.

“People now know that space occupied by people that all look the same, sound the same, have the same education, have the same work life experience… that environment probably isn’t conducive to super-high performance. And I don’t want to say just all men, because actually, all women – it’s the same thing.

“There are lots of spaces in places where actually it’s very advantageous to be a woman.”

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Businesses are making improvements in limited areas, but understanding of diversity needs to extend beyond gender and to other sections of society. “People are delivering when it comes to gender, specifically to binary gender – so more women around the table,” she says.

Content from our partners
Why public health policy needs to refocus
The five key tech areas for the public sector in 2023
You wouldn’t give your house keys to anyone, so why do that with your computers?

“I don’t think they get it when it comes to race. They do not get it when it comes to disability. And they do not get it when it comes to looking beyond binary genders. I don’t think they even get it when it comes to looking at youth.”

Meanwhile, in the week the hospitality sector had its long-awaited “freedom day” on 19 July, Campbell says the pandemic provided a unique opportunity to Belu, which relies entirely on restaurants, pubs and hotels, and donates 100 per cent of its profits to WaterAid.

Campbell, who started at Belu at the beginning of March 2020, says the company’s sales dropped from £6m to nothing during her first three weeks in the job. “It was one of those moments where you can run in terror,” she says. Instead, the company took the time to reconsider its long-term strategy.

She says it’s vital the hospitality industry “stays open and stays safe”. She says the government must ensure “venues aren’t opening and closing and there isn’t that yo-yo effect, and they can get to a capacity that means they are viable businesses”.

[see also: Why supermarkets are struggling to prevent empty shelves]