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.”

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. 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 weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

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.

“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.

Content from our partners
With capacity comes opportunity
On the road to efficiency
Meeting skyhigh demand

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]