With 1.3 million additional jobs to fill in the restaurant industry over the next decade, including growth of more than 11% in management positions, it has never been more vital to find and groom executive and line leader talent. What attracts employees to your business, the kind who energize management and boost momentum? To answer that question, look at who you hire and how you chart their success. A primary way to achieve this is by investing in demographic groups that have high leadership ability but historically limited opportunity, such as women, high school students and multicultural applicants.
Leading industry associations have extensive learning to share on welcoming and advancing such talent. The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) asserts that creating a career development path for high school students encourages much needed and capable employees to develop their talents in foodservice rather than in other industries. The Women's Foodservice Forum (WFF) says giving women executives the opportunity and support they need to move up in the company not only adds leadership ability, it brings valuable new perspectives less often heard on management teams.
There is a huge upside for companies that invest in the advancement of executive women. According to one study, companies with more women in senior management enjoyed better return on equity and total return to shareholders. It is vital for companies in the foodservice industry, where female consumers make many of the buying decisions, to have women in leadership roles. Any company selling a product or serving a meal in America will benefit from elevating talented executive women in the chain of command.
Nevertheless, a tremendous gender gap still exists in corporate management representation and pay.
"The talented female is going to have lots of choices of companies to join," says Fritzi Woods, former president and CEO of the Women's Foodservice Forum. "It is a great time for women to advance because of shifts happening in the workplace and the skill sets they bring to leadership." She notes that executive women have proven well-suited for the collaborative style of management that is replacing the hierarchical structure of the past.
What does it take to attract, retain and develop women executives? A company should have a strategic commitment that makes the importance of including and advancing women in management very clear, according to Woods.
"From the highest level throughout our company, harnessing the business acumen of more female executives is a stated vision that we measure against and have strategies for," states Susan Gambardella, vice president of the Coca-Cola global account team serving Wendy's.
Woods points out that in addition to having a statement on advancing women, the company has to live up to it. "You should see women in the company in leadership roles, women on the board, women leading initiatives," says Woods.
"You must have your senior leaders reinforce it every day throughout the organization," adds Gambardella. "Senior leaders are accountable for being role models, walking the talk and reaching throughout the organization so that the glass ceiling does not perpetuate itself."
To advance women executives, a company should help them gain the "three Cs," as Woods puts it. They are Content, providing the knowledge and relevant education that builds essential management skills; Competence, measuring and building strength in core leadership competencies critical for advancement; and Connections, the important strategic alliances, relationships and networking, both within and outside the company, which help elevate careers.
"Probably the most critical way women are derailed is through lack of strategic connections," says Woods. "They need supporters who know their skill sets well enough to advocate for them to get that promotion."
The key management skills that executive women need for career advancement are stated in the 12 Core Leadership Development Competencies on the WFF website. They include driving for quantifiable and measurable results, building high performing teams, coaching and mentoring others and taking initiative to find new opportunities and challenges.
In addition, executive women can gain experience, confidence and connections by taking leadership positions in industry associations as Gambardella, a member of the WFF board, has done.
"Some of my best learning has happened outside my company responsibilities, working with the WFF," states Gambardella. In 2004 she chaired the organization's leadership and development conference, which had more than 2,000 attendees.
"It was an unbelievable experience for me from a strategic thinking, operational planning and communications standpoint," says Gambardella. "Seizing opportunities like these are critically important for developing and stretching yourself."
Coca-Cola is a longstanding partner of the NRAEF, WFF and other foodservice industry associations that provide information and expertise about the critical topic of talent acquisition.