March marked the 25th anniversary of the Women's Foodservice Forum's advancement of women working in the foodservice industry. The Coca-Cola Company Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent gave the keynote address at the group's Annual Leadership Development Conference in Florida, saying, "Ultimately, helping advance the progress of women is a business imperative... and much more. Because empowering women creates a more just society. It also spurs growth and sows the seeds for long-term peace and prosperity."
Barrie Schwartz, a young New Orleans woman, also spoke at the conference. Schwartz is CEO and founder of My House NOLA, which organizes food truck events in that city; manager at St. Roch Market; and a member of The Global Shapers Community. She talked to attendees about her experience in the New Orleans culinary scene, what she’s learned about the women who have come before her, and her vision for the future of female leadership in business from the all-important Millennial perspective.
A Generation Gap
The 25-year-old Schwartz, who has been recognized widely for her impact in New Orleans, acknowledges a generation gap between herself and more established foodservice CEOs, particularly with regard to the approach companies are taking toward younger workers. "The first question was for the CEOs, 'What are you doing within your company to engage and retain Millennials?'" she says, "Everyone answered with creative steps their respective companies are taking to retain young employees. I explained how I believe that before we talk about retention, we should be talking about recruitment."
Schwartz says that looking to work at a large company is not something she has considered. As a person with an entrepreneurial spirit, she wants autonomy, but she also says that among her generation there is a negative stereotype about "working for the man." It was only during the conference, however, that she came to realize that the women before her, by "working for the man," created opportunities for young women like herself to have the confidence and power to pursue a less traditional path.
"At the end of the day, no matter where we work or what we do, we must all think about what motivates individuals to work, how can we make sure to give women autonomy and how to achieve a high quality of life." – Barrie Schwartz, CEO and founder of My House NOLA
"Looking around, I saw women who have worked at their respective organizations for over 20 years," she says. "I cannot imagine the climate that surrounded them when they started their careers. It was far different than today. They were trailblazers."
"By working from the ground up within their companies, they too have created autonomy, and thereby, created a way for my generation of women. They made it possible for me to make my mark in the previously male-dominated entrepreneurship space. That takeaway will leave a mark on my future and role as a leader as I work to carve a path for the next generation."
Communication Is Key
Schwartz admits that before arriving at the conference, she didn't think about the obstacles women in the corporate foodservice business face, but after delving into a different point of view, she sees how much she could learn from those women — and how much they could perhaps learn from her. "At the end of the day, no matter where we work or what we do, we must all think about what motivates individuals to work, how can we make sure to give women autonomy and how to achieve a high quality of life."
And that's where deliberate thoughtfulness and communication between the generations come in.
Photo Credit: Justin Shiels