Nearly 26 years ago 14 women came together in Chicago to discuss the state of women in the foodservice industry. From that initial meeting emerged a vision to bring opportunities to more women and change the male-dominated face of leadership. What also emerged was the creation of the Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF), the premier leadership development organization whose mission is focused on advancing women leaders and driving growth for organizations and individuals.
Today, WFF serves thousands of individuals—both men and women. In addition, foodservice is a $1.2 trillion industry, second only to the United States government. Moreover, 80% of food buying decisions are made by women.
But it’s not just the foodservice industry where women have this level of influence. Market estimates related to total purchasing prowess of women varies, ranging anywhere from $12 trillion to $15 trillion of the annual $18 trillion global consumer spending. That’s a powerful economic voice and one that could be better leveraged by companies who want to remain competitive in future.
According to a report by Catalyst, the U.S. non-profit organization focused on expanding opportunities for women in business, nearly 52% of managerial or professional positions are now held by women and more women are obtaining MBAs than ever before in history.
While women make up almost half of the workforce in many parts of the world and momentum might indicate that women have achieved equality, there are only 24 female CEOs in the Fortune 500 companies (Catalyst). Men still make up approximately 95% of Fortune 500 CEO positions, the majority of corporate boards and heads of states. (Catalyst March 2015). These statistics indicate we have a long way to go to achieve gender parity.
Why Men Matter
The gender debate is not exclusively a women’s issue but an overall leadership and talent management challenge. Gender diversity will be the primary competitive advantage for companies who want to succeed in the future.
The fact is, we have many women advocates promoting the benefits of women in leadership. In the media, the most vocal promoters are influential women such as Sheryl Sandberg, Arianna Huffington, Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama. However, for women to achieve equal representation in leadership roles, it’s important that they have the backing of men as well. Yet, too often men are an untapped resource in gender initiatives.
Inclusion starts with understanding other people’s realities. Since men are the majority when it comes to leadership positions, it’s imperative to engage them in understanding how to create a more inclusive and gender-balanced environment. For this reason, organizations must make a concerted effort to enlist both women and men to work together as allies in changing the organizational norms and structures that perpetuate gender gaps.
Catalyst research found that before an individual will support efforts to right an inequality, he or she must first recognize that the inequality exists. The research findings also indicated that men who were more aware of gender biases were more likely to say that it was important to them to achieve gender equality.
Therefore, part of the conversation between men and women has to acknowledge each other’s strengths and differences. We also have to celebrate and manage those differences. In acknowledging those differences, it’s also essential for companies to understand that women can generate powerful results without mirroring male expectations or style. Men leaders should have confidence when they assign a talented woman a tough or complex assignment, even if she doesn’t approach the work or drive results in the same way as her male counterpart does. To male leaders, this may feel uncomfortable at times, but the best leaders recognize the immense and inherent value of varying perspectives, strengths and temperaments.
Diversity Leads to Better Business Performance
We know that strong, smart women in leadership roles contribute to better business results, innovation and a healthier corporate culture. A thriving business culture also encourages diverse viewpoints and varied ideas about what it means to lead. When we improve the prospects for women in leadership, the business benefits.
Increasing opportunities for women also boosts the economy. As much as 20 percent of the country’s growth in productivity over the past half century can be attributed to fallen barriers in the workforce for women and other groups who had previously been excluded.
In the business arena, Thomson Reuters reported that the average stock price of gender diverse corporate boards outperformed those with no women. In addition, Catalyst found a 26% difference in return on invested capital (ROIC) between the top-quartile companies (with 19-44% women board representation) and bottom quartile companies (with zero women directors).
It’s also been proven that talented women leaders change the work environment for the better. They deliver improved financial results, drive retention and productivity and they deepen and broaden the talent pool. There are a number of examples in the foodservice industry where women leaders have significantly impacted business performance. For instance, Sally Smith, President and CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings took the company public in 2003 at $17 a share and the stock price recently rose to nearly $180 a share. Another example is Cheryl Bachelder who became CEO of Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen Inc. in 2007 and since then has completely transformed the chain increasing the company’s net income by 47%. These women have made an astounding difference to their company’s bottom line.
Mentoring versus Sponsorship
How do companies produce these kinds of wins in their own venues? One way is to build solid mentor/sponsorship relationships. Many women explain how mentoring relationships have helped them understand themselves, their preferred styles of operating, and ways they might need to change as they move up the leadership pipeline. By contrast, men often tell stories about how their bosses and informal mentors have helped them plan their moves and take charge in new roles, in addition to publicly endorsing and sponsoring them. Without this kind of sponsorship, women are not only less likely than men to be appointed to top roles, but may also be more reluctant to go for them.
Other Rules of Engagement
During a recent Women’s Foodservice Forum panel discussion Salli Setta, President, Red Lobster explained to more than 100 CEOs and presidents how her company is addressing female leadership development. According to Setta, the following rules of engagement are important for executives to take the LEAD in developing high potential females in their respective companies. They include:
- Listening to emerging female leaders to understand their goals, aspirations and developmental needs
- Empowering by mentoring in the moment and provide real-time feedback, coaching and development to maximize their impact right away
- Advocating by actively participating in talent discussions and recommending them for challenging assignments and roles
- Developing connections by levering your network to help them develop connections that will enable them to uncover new insights, acquire new skills and gather feedback that will help them advance their careers
Working Together to Create Gender Diversity
Women are driving the economics of this world and must have a more prominent voice to help drive innovation, collaboration and create a competitive advantage for businesses. As competition for talent continues to increase, gender parity is not just a women’s issue, it’s an overall talent management issue that all companies are facing. Eliminating gender disparities and building an inclusive environment will require everyone’s involvement—both strong women advocates and men allies. Creating a gender-balanced workforce is good business and everyone in the company ultimately benefits.