In their own words, Women in Hospitality United was “born of the #MeToo movement and the belief that there is an urgent need for evolution” in the hospitality industry. Their mission? To make the workplace safer and more equitable for women and other marginalized people at all parts of the workforce in the hospitality space.

As part of NationSwell Live, we’re amplifying their efforts to assess and meet urgent need amid the COVID-19 crisis. We recently spoke to Kutina Ruhumbika, a member of their board, about how they’ve stepped up to meet the moment and help women in the space. Here’s what they had to say.  

NationSwell: Could you please introduce yourself?

Women in Hospitality United’s Kutina Ruhumbika: My name is Kutina Ruhumbika, I’m currently the Vice President of Human Resources with Major Food Group based here in New York City, and I’m on the board of Women in Hospitality United. 

Women in Hospitality United was founded during the #MeToo era movement. The founders saw a need for the dialogue around equity in the restaurant industry for women and those that are underrepresented. They saw the need for that dialogue to evolve considerably. And so initially the focus was on equality and equity for women, but it has since evolved to looking at a broader landscape for those that are underrepresented. 

NS: How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted the communities you serve?

WiHU: We’re still gathering and fact-finding data to understand, but a lot of the businesses affected are small businesses. Most of them are owned by women, they’re owned by minorities. For so many of them, this is their livelihood. And for so many of them, this is their sole revenue stream. They have employees that are depending on theml. When restaurants are closing, when hotels are closing, and you can’t no support your employees and your community and your families — it’s certainly been devastating. So we’re all looking at ways to support and uplift those communities.

NS: What are some of the ways you’ve taken action?

WiHU: We circulated a survey to better understand the needs of all who are impacted in the populations that we represent. We have a strong Facebook following that’s consistently sharing with us feedback around what’s happening with their peers and with each other. And we’re currently now in the process of work on action steps towards what will be the most impactful. I think now that we’re settling into understanding what this is, it’s clear that this is going to be around for a while. Let’s think of long-term solutions that could have long-term impact.  

NS: What have you learned from the survey so far that’s helped you hone how you’ll take action?

WiHU: Not just the survey — the conversations. We are women. We talk to each other, we talk to like-minded individuals and we’re hearing some common things. Some of it is the fear of what’s next. Fears around how their business will thrive, or how they’ll bring it back to life. And then I think some of the other things that we’re hearing, like concern from undocumented workers. They are struggling, underrepresented, and because of circumstances, their voices may not be as loud and as bold as others. And so we’re starting to see a common theme there too as well, just in regular day-to-day dialogue.

NS: How can we help?

WiHU: Definitely follow us. We are about to relaunch our Instagram page and all of our social media channels within the next few weeks. We’re about to embark on an incredible journey to raise funds to help support our community team, so look out for that in the next few weeks. 

And the dialogue we have with our followers on social media is super important. You know, we just don’t want to just shoot out information; we want to receive. Just listening to the needs of the people that we talk to on a regular basis and understanding what’s happened, the community, what’s happening to our friends across the industry. The more we do, the better we’re able to come up with solutions are impactful for our industry. 

NationSwell Live is a one-hour event on June 26, 2020 that will convene organizations like Women in Hospitality United that have been at the frontlines of COVID-19 response for communities with some of the most urgent need. Together, we’ll take meaningful steps towards offering help at a time when so many need it. Find out more here.