Cracks in the Glass

By 
Paul King, Editor

Women in the foodservice industry will readily acknowledge that they have made great strides in the last 10 to 15 years toward breaking through the "glass ceiling" that has long symbolized the separation between women and the top levels of the corporate ladder. Despite their advances, however, many women believe there is still a long way to go, and they say that the next move is actually up to them.

FoodService Director - Women - glass ceiling - Linda Lafferty - Amy GreenbergMona Milius remembers what it used to be like as a foodservice director in the male-dominated university foodservice segment. The dining services director at the University of Northern Iowa recalls walking the exhibit hall of a trade show some years ago with a male employee.

“We stopped at one booth and the man at the booth began talking to my colleague as though I weren’t there,” Milius says. “He told the exhibitor that I was the foodservice director and he really should be talking with me, and the man actually turned his back to me and continued talking with [her co-worker].” The memories may linger, but such scenes are occurring with less frequency as women assert themselves more in the foodservice industry.

“When I first entered the industry over 30 years ago it was definitely an ‘old boys’ network,” recalls Deborah Girvin, director of nutritional services for Good Samaritan Hospital, Dayton, Ohio. “Many of the restaurant industry conventions I attended were mostly men, and many of the dietetic conventions I attended were mostly women. Now there are significantly more women in the restaurant industry at all levels. I think women receive a great deal of respect in our environment now, and our voices command respect.” Jean Petke, senior employee services coordinator for Eastman Chemical, Kingsport, Tenn., agrees. “We are seeing many more women in management positions,” says Petke. “In addition, professional organizations like the Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF) and the Women’s Council of the Society for Foodservice Management (SFM) are having a significant impact in the industry. Women in these organizations are taking a very professional approach to the issues without being labeled radical feminists.”

Collegial environment: Julaine Kiehn, director of dining services at the University of Missouri, notes the college environment is changing, as well.

“I think women are gaining respect, and women are being considered for more leadership positions,” Kiehn says. “Our vice chancellor is female, and the person overseeing our $325 million residential life master plan is female.”

Indeed, a growing number of corporations and institutions are becoming more “female-friendly.” For example, General Mills has set up individualized development and succession planning programs for women. At Pfizer Inc., nearly a third of the managers and executive are women, and memberships in Pfizer’s various women’s networks have grown markedly in the last two years. Also, sales managers’ bonuses are tied to the number of women applying for leadership positions.

Corporate commitment: Compass Group recently made a commitment to improving opportunities for women within the corporation through the creation of the Women’s Leadership Network (WLN). Vince Berkeley, chief diversity officer for Compass Group, says the program is designed to attract, develop and retain women at all levels. “WLN’s mission is providing networking and educational activities focused on the career advancement of Compass women,” Berkeley says. “Our objectives are in tandem with our corporate goals of attracting, developing and retaining talented women.”

However, statistics and surveys indicate that the playing field is still far from even. Even though the National Restaurant Association says that 53% of restaurant industry employees are women, research company People Report notes that only 39% of assistant managers, 27% of general managers and 22% of corporate executives are female. In addition, a Gallup survey for the Women’s Foodservice Forum revealed that, compared with other industries, women in foodservice “feel less included and less valued.”

Sally Minier, vice president and manager for U.S. dining services for Lehman Brothers, acknowledges that only “small changes” have been made in corporate dining. “Women are being considered for more senior roles now,” Minier says, “even if they don’t ultimately get those positions.” Consolidation hurts: Minier, who also is the current president of SFM, says that a shrinking market is partly to blame.

“Because there has been so much consolidation in the noncommercial segment, there are fewer seats to be had and few women role models,” she suggests. “The commercial segment has been more successful at recruiting and promoting female talent to take on senior leadership roles.”

FoodService Director - Women - glass ceiling - Linda Lafferty - Amy GreenbergAnother woman in corporate dining notes that the culture of “doing more with less” hurts women more than men when it comes to advancement.

“It is difficult for women, especially those with children, to put in extended hours on a regular basis and not have it affect the home,” she says.

And then there is simply the history of the business culture as a male bastion. Diane Hardy, director of food and auxiliary services for the University of Richmond, believes that even if the climate has changed, habits haven’t.

“I think that what continues to happen is that you have leftover bad habits from men,” says Hardy. “There is unintentional exclusion, for example. Traditionally, in a man’s world, a group of guys would go out to lunch. Now, when a female joins the group, she’s not invited to go with the guys. It’s not intentional; it happens by default. That’s what has to change.”

Sorting it out: Dee Pettit, vice president of marketing for Compass Group, says she’s disappointed to see women leave the industry due to lack of opportunity. But she also believes that the issue will eventually sort itself out.

“We have not made the achievements I think some had hoped, and I have seen too many women exit foodservice because we have failed to address diversity and advancement,” Pettit says. “But organizations that are slower to progress will be outpaced by other companies. Change will occur especially when it starts to hurt retention and attraction of talent.”

Tough choices: So as the industry slowly changes its attitude and approach toward women, women must begin to ask themselves the hard questions: What can I do to help myself, and how badly do I want it?

“Our biggest challenge lies within ourselves,” says Victoria Vega, regional director for New York-based Restaurant Associates. “We can’t just assume if we work hard we will be rewarded. We have to ask for what we want. We have to negotiate for it.”

“Women have to support each other,” Vega adds. “Every time a woman succeeds in our organization or in our client organizations it increases everyone’s chances of succeeding, so we need to be networking with each other.”

But Northern Iowa’s Milius sounds a note of caution. “Do women of the next generation want to lead foodservice organizations?” she asks. “Are they willing to invest the time it takes to develop careers? If they aren’t, we may be facing a shortage of women leaders.”

‘SFM, We Have a Problem’

FoodService Director - Women - glass ceiling - Linda Lafferty - Amy GreenbergAmy Greenberg, senior vice president at Citigroup Executive Services and a past president of the Society for Foodservice Management (SFM), was the catalyst for the formation of the SFM Women’s Council in 2004. Here, she outlines the council’s conception and its accomplishments thus far.

“The idea came from a president’s council meeting at SFM’s Critical Issues Conference in 2004. Julie Flik and I were the only women at the meeting, and I realized that SFM just wasn’t doing enough around women and women’s issues. Shortly after that luncheon, I wrote an e-mail to all the past presidents and I said, ‘We have a problem.’ Even though the foodservice industry is comprised of 50% men and 50% women, [in 2004] only 30% of SFM members were women, only two of 15 board members were women, and since 1999 there hadn’t been a woman president. That was pretty stark.

Without exception, everyone e-mailed back and said this is a great idea. Once I had the philosophical endorsement from the past presidents it gained traction after that. Julie Flik, Debbie Benedetti and Sally Minier joined me in the effort and it’s been full steam ahead ever since. At the 2004 SFM conference in Baltimore we publicized that we were going to have a kickoff meeting and we were overwhelmed by the response—over 60 women showed up. Our vision was for women in SFM to attain leadership positions within the organization and in the foodservice industry. We believed if we provided women with the tools to succeed in more senior roles within their own organizations they would then be able to translate those skills into leadership roles within SFM.

The idea has taken off like wildfire. Men as well as women have been enthusiastic about our efforts and uniformly supportive. After two solid years and many, many hours of conference calls and organizing, we’re at a point where things are gelling. Our steering committee meets once a month, as do our subcommittees: educational development, mentoring program, resources and alliances and a recently established sponsorship committee. Early on we determined not to reinvent the wheel, so we set out to create and cultivate some strategic alliances and partnerships, especially with the Women’s Foodservice Forum. That alliance was formalized last August.

Our ultimate goal is to see as many women in senior roles, both in SFM and the industry, as males. I think we’ve accomplished some of those things. If you look at the SFM board now, you will see many more female faces. We have Sally Minier as our president and we have another women president [Kathy Sanders] lined up. Perhaps ultimately, we’ve empowered women themselves to throw their hats in the ring, to remember that they’re just as capable as their male counterparts, that their voices will be heard, and to get involved.”

The ‘Lovable Bulldozer’

FoodService Director - Women - glass ceiling - Linda Lafferty - Amy GreenbergMost women can relate stories about the mentors they’ve had in their professional lives. Few mentors, however, are as colorful and larger than life as Aimee Moore, PhD, a retired dietitian who markedly influenced the career of Linda Lafferty, director of food and nutrition services at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Lafferty, herself possessing a doctorate, affectionately recalls her relationship with Dr. Moore.

“Besides my parents, probably the most influential mentor I’ve had was Dr. Aimee Moore, one of the first RDs commissioned in the Army during WWII. She served in mobile Army hospitals erected just behind the front lines in North Africa, and then followed the troops into Europe after D-Day. She was a “take no prisoners” type of manager. She got things done and was years ahead of her time in many aspects of our industry. She pioneered computer assisted foodservice management systems in the early ’70s and was an advocate for specialization in dietetic practice and board certification of specialization in the ’70s. Today, in ADA, we are still deliberating specialization. At least computers are a way of life!

After finishing my master’s degree and a couple of years of practice I decided to go for my PhD. Marion Spears encouraged me to go up to the University of Missouri, and that’s where I met Aimee. I got really intrigued by what she was doing, plus she herself was such a dynamic person. She was tall, she was large, she was assertive. If Aimee were in the room you knew it. She spoke up when issues were being discussed and you knew where she was coming from. She listened very carefully to anything that was being said, and when she had something to contribute it was usually a significant contribution. As graduate students, we called her the ‘loveable bulldozer.’ When Aimee said ‘goal,’ she had a strategy to get there and if there were obstacles she managed to take those obstacles out.

The environment she created for the graduate students and the people working in her department at the medical center was such a stimulating one for learning and questioning. And she was so networked with the dietetics profession. I met more ADA leaders in her living room than I did at ADA conventions. When they would come visit she would invite all of the graduate students over and we sat there having pizza and beer or eating out in her backyard and debating issues in dietetics. It was just so stimulating. It went way beyond book learning.

The relationship she established with her graduate students was almost parental. It was nurturing and yet it was professional. You never forgot who she was. She brought you in as a colleague, but because of her stature, her competency and how well she was respected in the field, you knew you weren’t her equal. She was Dr. Moore. When I finished my PhD, she said, ‘Now you can call me Aimee.’ And the first time I tried, I almost couldn’t say it.

Aimee taught me the importance of networking to get things done. She taught me how not to be a ‘shy violet’ in the conference room, how to critically analyze issues and speak out. She also taught me the importance of mixing work and play. She always reminded us to have fun.”