Breakthrough Ideas for Women in Foodservice

Women in Leadership Roles
Women in Leadership Roles

For the past five years, I’ve worked for an iconic brand where a female is the face of the Company. You know her as Wendy – the young, red headed girl with pigtails and freckles. And it’s refreshing to see Wendy’s face – a female face – every day when I come to work. 

As we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day this week, I’m spending it with 50 of my Wendy’s colleagues at the Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF) Annual Leadership Development Conference in Dallas. Together with thousands of other women – and a few men – in our industry, we’re celebrating women in leadership positions while also navigating the difficult conversation of gender equity in the workplace. I’m coming away from it both hopeful and now armed with powerful tools and a community of colleagues championing the same vision.

Women in Leadership: The Time is Now

The theme of the conference was Break Through, but I didn’t quite understand what that meant until the end of the first day. I work in a department of communications professionals who are mostly women. My manager is a woman, and her manager is a woman who sits in our C-suite. WFF made me realize that my work environment is not typical.

As WFF opened on Sunday, we learned from their research partners at McKinsey & Company a few sobering facts:

  • In the food industry, only one in five C-suite leaders is a woman.

  • In fact, only 19% of women in the food industry make it to the C-suite at all.

  • For every 100 women promoted beyond entry level, 130 men are promoted.

  • At current rates, it will take more than 100 years to reach gender equity in the C-suite.

Years ago, WFF asked the question: how do we fix this? We as women cannot wait 100 years to reach gender equity at the senior leadership level. As a woman who cares about the development and advancement of other women, this week I asked myself the question: how can I help?

The content at WFF was inspiring, and I walked away with several ideas about how I can take the Break Through concept back home, and together, with our Women of Wendy’s network, advance women’s leadership skills and positions at Wendy’s:

1) Challenge your comfort zone to tap into your full potential

We all have things that scare us. But what if we did them anyway? Women can’t be afraid to speak up, challenge themselves, or ask for more responsibility. If we stop thinking about the worst-case scenario, and start thinking about the best thing that could happen as a result of taking a risk, we’ll be able to help move the needle in women’s favor.

2) Think differently about what’s in front of you to create different value.

Innovation does not come quickly – sometimes it needs a moment to breathe. When we are busy, we double down. We work harder and we work longer. Instead, think about how you can work differently, whether that means tapping someone outside your network for advice or approaching a project from a different angle.

3) Communicate with confidence

If you want a different job, raise, promotion – whatever that “next step” may be – you’re going to have to communicate why you have earned it with confidence and clarity. Start your own “fan file” with work you have published, positive feedback from peers, or annual reviews. Memorize your accomplishments and be your own advocate.  No one knows your success story better than you, so don’t be afraid to tell it. 

4) Focus on the future

A highlight of the conference was our closing speaker, former First Lady Michelle Obama. She encouraged us to focus on the future and know that the change we are driving is not just for us, but for the daughters who will come after us. As women, we may find it hard to advocate for ourselves, but we are fierce when acting for others. 

We still have a lot of work to do in the foodservice industry. I noticed it the first day during the opening panel at the conference. Of the six executive-level panelists, five were men. Five. Five men on a panel at a development conference specifically for women where the theme was Break Through and focused on gender equity. I understand why it was done – these men are leaders of industry groups that are committed to advance women in leadership positions. But still, only one woman? We need to be the force that drives change.

I’m proud that Wendy’s had such a strong presence at the WFF Conference, which included a number of my male colleagues who are champions for advancing women in foodservice leadership and four of our senior leadership team members. Seeing our dedication to the development and advancement of women gives me hope that we will reach gender equity long before the year 2118.

I’m leaving the conference feeling confident in the strides we’re helping to drive not only at Wendy’s and in our industry, but across the workplace. And that young, red headed girl with the pigtails and the freckles? That face – the face of Wendy’s – will be my daily reminder that we need to always Break Through not only for ourselves, but also for our girls.

What else would you expect from a brand named after a girl?