As fast-food chains rushed to assemble forums and diversity task forces in the wake of protests following the death of George Floyd, Papa John's was already two years into its reckoning on race. In 2018, then-CEO John Schnatter was ousted at the company, after the founder used the N-word on a company conference call.
In the aftermath, Victoria Russell became Papa John's first chief of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Over the past two years, she has helped the chain diversify its board and leadership, form eight employee resource groups, and created a supplier diversity policy. "Listening to our team members affords us the opportunity to evolve our DEI strategies and communicate openly next steps and action plans," Russell tells Business Insider.
Starting to fix Papa John's dual problems of a racist culture and reputation had an undeniable effect on Papa John's business. Sales plunged in the aftermath of Schnatter's scandal. Now, they are reaching record highs, with sales up 28% in April, May, and June.
Russel says that as other companies make statements and launch diversity initiatives, her advice is "to be thoughtful, intentional, sustainable, and authentic in the messaging you craft and next steps. We have taken the approach to acknowledge where we are on this journey and the work we must continue to prioritize."