More than half of women surveyed feel that opportunities for women in foodservice have improved just slightly, not at all, or have, in fact, declined over the past five years, revealed the Catalyst study commissioned by the Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF) entitled, Women in Leadership in the Foodservice Industry. This groundbreaking study also unveiled key barriers to advancement and strategies to succeed expressed by both women and CEOs within the industry.

“Since two out of three women surveyed aspire to advance to senior management within the foodservice industry and expect to do so within the next five years, it’s important to understand the barriers standing in their way,” said Barbara Timm-Brock, WFF Chair and COO of Cinnabon/AFC Enterprises.

The study indicates that both women and CEOs feel that lack of mentoring is the most important obstacle facing women today. The top four barriers identified in the study are:

  • Lack of mentoring;
  • Exclusion from informal networks of communication;
  • Failure of senior leadership to assume accountability for women’s advancement; and
  • Male stereotyping, and preconceptions of women’s roles and abilities.

According to the study, the most successful strategies that help women overcome these types of advancement barriers are the same for all women, regardless of level and/or race. They are:

  • Consistently exceeding performance expectations;
  • Developing leadership skills inside the company;
  • Demonstrating effective people management skills; and
  • Seeking out difficult or highly visible job assignments.

Exceeding performance expectations also was the top success strategy in Catalyst’s 1996 study of women at the vice president level and above in the Fortune 1000. However, women in foodservice emphasize the importance of developing leadership and people management skills, while women in the Fortune 1000 stress developing a style that men are comfortable with.

In addition to these success strategies, both women and CEOs stress the importance of operations experience. CEOs emphasize that to advance to the senior levels, employees (both men and women) have to demonstrate their ability to run the business. The best way to prove that ability is through operations. Women respondents also agree that operations experience is critical for advancement to senior management. Senior-level women, however, emphasize that lack of operations or line experience is the main barrier for women in foodservice. Currently, only fourteen percent of survey respondents are in operations.

CEOs feel giving women high visibility assignments is critical. Many also believe in identifying and developing high-potential employees. Both of these action items ensure that successful women are recognized within the organization and given opportunities to shine.

CEOs also feel that cross-functional or developmental job rotations are key for anyone wanting to advance to senior levels, as it facilitates their ability to master many aspects of the business. Most CEOs also indicate that recruitment practices that emphasize female candidates are successful in advancing women. However, none feel that women’s lack of opportunities for visibility is a barrier.

The organizational approaches identified as most important by the women surveyed, focus on developing employees within the company and providing professional training. Women working for operators and those working for suppliers/affiliates generally agree on the most important company approaches. Nonetheless, in-house leadership training is more important to women working for operators.

Less than half of the respondents believe that opportunities for advancement have improved somewhat or greatly in the past five years, and this opinion does not vary by ethnicity or race. Senior-level women, however, have a significantly more positive outlook on women’s opportunities compared to mid-level women. Women working for operators and those working for suppliers/affiliates share a similar outlook on opportunities for advancement.

Although CEOs, as a group, do not strongly believe that there is an inhospitable corporate culture for women, the study indicates that responsibility for advancing women rests both upon company leadership and on women themselves. Women report their companies are not demonstrating sufficient accountability for advancing them to the highest levels. However, they also believe that women need to articulate clearly their career interests and push for operations assignments and high visibility.

As a point of reference, Catalyst’s 1996 study of women executives in Fortune 1000 companies found that stereotyping and corporate culture being inhospitable to them were major obstacles to advancement.

Seventy-six percent of women surveyed in the foodservice study call for companies to meet the needs of professional women. On the other hand, seventy-four percent of the women also say they, themselves, must deal with adapting who they are, and work to overcome preconceptions about women’s abilities to manage the business. Sixty percent of women say that advancement in their company depends upon putting career before personal or family life. They also emphasize the importance of relying on support from others.

“Now that we’ve seen the research results, the WFF is more committed than ever to partner with the industry to create solutions to the barriers identified in this study,” said Timm-Brock. “We also aim to develop real tools for implementing the proven success strategies on an industry level.”

To that end, the WFF is currently forming an Advisory Group comprised of top CEOs within the industry, including Michael Kaufman, President, Metromedia Restaurant Group; and Ralph Russo, President, Sara Lee Coffee & Tea Company.

This Group will serve as an ongoing counselor and partner with WFF to achieve mutually beneficial goals for the industry. They also will provide WFF with insight and direction on possible tools WFF can provide to CEOs and their companies to facilitate change.

The first of these tools will be the WFF Top-to-Top Summit planned in conjunction with the WFF 2001 Annual Leadership Conference, March 25-28 in Dallas, TX. The Summit will gather together senior executives from the foodservice industry, and facilitate a forum for dialogue and discussion on the state of the glass ceiling in the industry. The goal is to provide concrete actions and examples that executives can take back and execute within their organizations.

“We strongly believe that WFF and The Advisory Group will create a powerful learning environment that will enable more effective approaches for women and organizations,” added Timm-Brock. “We look forward to the CEO involvement and hope it fosters a stronger commitment of action within the industry. Together, I am confident we can create more success for women and the foodservice industry at large.”

Founded in 1989, the Women’s Foodservice Forum engages the foodservice industry to develop leadership talent and ensure career advancement for executive women. For more information, contact Anne Rukavina, WFF Marketing Director, at 312.644.6610, ext. 3393 or visit our Web site at