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Falling into the gender gap

The decision to feature Jane Grote Abell in the latest installment of our Leaders column was a no-brainer. For an article with the goal of showcasing the restaurant industry’s brightest power brokers, the choice of Donatos’ courageous and compassionate chairman with 30-plus years steering the family business through growth, change and a wild ride driven by McDonald’s corporate machine, needs no further justification. The fact that she happens to be a woman is just icing on the cake.

When mapping out the rest of this issue, the editors and I did what we always do: pitch our best ideas, then follow up with a gut check to make sure we have a mix of gender and ethnicity among our story subjects that reflects the diversity in the industry. It’s a process, believe me, and we don’t always do it well. The Howard Schultzs and Phil Romanos of the world roll off the tip of the brain with little effort. If a male subject declines an interview, there are a hundred more with similarly compelling stories who are willing to go on the record. When our ideal subject is a woman, however, it’s just a fact that the backup is less likely to be as deep.

With the Women’s Foodservice Forum conference taking place in March, we had even greater incentive to ensure a fair and balanced book. Glance at the photos in this issue and you’ll see a 50/50 mix—two women and two men anchor our stories, but even that ratio required effort to achieve.

Why is that? Our criteria for choosing the operators we feature are, first and foremost, will their story be relevant to our readers, and do they have good ideas to share that will help other operators run their businesses better?

Expecting to find a wealth of female superstars in the traditional media has turned out to be a disappointment. Much has been written about Time magazine’s “Gods of Food” cover, for example, that failed to find any “food goddesses” to share Mount Olympus with the likes of David Chang, Rene Redzepi and Alex Atala. The tide may be changing though, with The New York Times and other media outlets shining a spotlight on the problem.

For our part, events like the WFF’s Annual Leadership Conference are critical to changing the tide. The conference, which I’ll be attending at the end of the month, is an invaluable opportunity to expand our mental Rolodex with sources and operators who deserve to be heard beyond the four walls of a hotel ballroom. As Grote Abell told me when I interviewed her for our story, “We’ve got great momentum. And everybody benefits when there’s a good balance between alpha and omega, masculine and feminine.”

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