The foundation claims there was a 14 percent increase in representation of people of color on judging panels for the Restaurant & Chef, Book, Broadcast, and Journalism categories.

By Bridget Hallinan
Updated: February 25, 2019
Courtesy of the James Beard Foundation.

Last fall, the James Beard Foundation announced that it would be making some big changes to its awards process in order to “increase gender, race, and ethnic representation in the governance and outcomes of the Awards," according to a statement—an important step, since the foundation has received criticism for disproportionately honoring white male chefs in the past. Under new CEO Clare Reichenbach, several amendments have been made, including temporarily waiving submission fees for the Book, Broadcast Media, and Design Awards, as well as fees for first-time submissions to make entry more accessible. The changes also aimed to increase transparency in the judging process. Now, with the entry period over and semifinalist winners in the Restaurant & Chef Award categories set to be announced this Wednesday, February 27, the policy change results are in.

"At the beginning of the nomination process [in 2018] we introduced a new yardstick in terms of character and conduct," Reichenbach told Marketplace in 2018. "And you could really see that come to bear this year. So I think it’s about saying, 'Progress has been has been made. Let's not rest on our laurels. Let's make sure that we build on this.'"

In the Restaurant & Chef, Book, Broadcast, and Journalism categories, there was a 14 percent increase in representation of people of color on the judging panels, as well as a five percent increase in female judges, according to a statement. Representation among committee members across the Restaurant & Chef, Book, Broadcast, Journalism, Design, and Leadership awards also increased, with eight percent more people of color and five percent more women.

On the awardee/semifinalist front, there was a seven percent increase in representation of people of color in the Restaurant & Chef categories; on the other hand, female semifinalists were recorded at 34 percent, a six percent decrease from 40 percent in 2018, when more women and people of color were recognized than ever before. However, JBF notes that last year’s percentage increased from 40 to 46 once the list was narrowed down to the nominees, so we’ll see what happens when the final nominees are announced on March 27. As for entries, the Books category saw an 11 percent increase, 25 percent increase in the Broadcast category, a 10 percent increase in the Design category, and a whopping 31 percent increase in the Journalism category entries—42 percent of which were first-time entrants, according to the statement.

This also marks the first time JBF gathered anonymous, voluntary demographic data from entrants in order to set metrics for progress; hopefully, we'll see more progress come to fruition with each awards season.

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