Gordon Ramsay and Cultural Appropriation: Could It Have Been Avoided?

One of the benefits we often discuss for encouraging inclusion and diversity efforts is the ability to effectively understand and market to diverse groups. The days when white men controlled the vast majority of the nation's and the world's wealth are long gone. Companies that understand diverse groups have a better shot at getting a share of the spending power of the diverse markets they’re attempting to reach.

But even if a business believes it has a solid understanding of a group, regardless of the diversity of its organization, it may face backlash and accusations of cultural appropriation.

As Gianlucca Mezzofiorne reports in an article for CNN, that's exactly what is happening to celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and his new London restaurant.

Clever marketing or cultural appropriation?

"Ramsay's restaurant group is preparing to launch Lucky Cat, which promotional material describes as 'an authentic Asian Eating House and vibrant late-night lounge, inspired by the drinking dens of 1930s Tokyo and the Far East'," writes Mezzofiorne, who quotes food writer Angela Hui writing on Eater website saying she was "the only east Asian person in a room full of 30-40 journalists and chefs" and that the setting was "more seedy nightclub than Asian eating house." Ramsay was quick to push back against Hui's criticism accusing her of making derogatory remarks.

The things about cultural appropriation is that it is defined as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc., of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” Ramsay is clearly not Asian. And other critics pointed out that his "Asian" restaurant does not appear to have any Asian chefs.

Could this backlash have been avoided?

Accusations of cultural appropriation are certainly not new. They come up frequently in the context of music, sports, and fashion. Whether or not it's cultural appropriation for someone not of Asian descent to open an Asian restaurant is not the point of this post. Rather the backlash against Ramsay's restaurant raises the question of whether such backlash could have been avoided with a more diverse and inclusive management team that might have been able to predict and mitigate against some reactions.

We’ve long exhorted organizations to consider key employee demographics required for growth—ensuring that they are seeking input from people who represent the markets they intend to serve. Had Ramsay done that in this case, we believe the outcome would certainly have been far different. Don’t assume you know your market. Be inclusive!

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In Inclusion: STILL the Competitive Business Advantage, we continue our contributions to thought leadership on the importance of inclusion in an environment that has been roiled with new discussion—and new dissent—amid rapidly changing demographics, continually emerging technology and a global economy that is continually shifting to favor newly emerging market powerhouses. We're very gratified by the positive reviews already pouring in.

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