WFF: It's Not Only About Gender

The WFF, a non-profit leadership development organization based in Chicago, has intensified its mission in recent months by contracting the Gallup organization to re-analyze its business statistics through the prism of gender, according to Alice Wheelwright, chair.

Initial results indicate that when a corporation forms gender-diverse management teams, the entire organization profits. In other words, Wheelwright said during a recent interview with ID Access, gender-diverse leadership teams enhance corporate business performance.

"They're going to drive your business performance," she said. "The WFF wants to enhance the industry's performance by bringing more women into senior leadership positions."

Specifically, the study found that women feel more engaged in their workplace then men, which, Wheelwright observed, surprised many ceos who were shown the results. Furthermore, WFF women were even more engaged than the national average.

"We have an environment and an industry in which women are engaged. They have chosen to work and they are coming to work and they love what they are doing," she said.

"We found that when men and women sit on gender diverse teams in equal proportions, all boats rise."

On the other hand, continued Wheelwright, who is vice president, industry marketing, Ecolab, St. Paul, MN, foodservice women's feeling of inclusion was far below the national average, indicating that there is an absence of emotional attachment to their jobs. They are not confident of their growth opportunities in foodservice.

"However, women who had high engagement and inclusion scores were on fire. They were advocates for their companies, bosses, brands and women in the industry," she said. "We found that when men and women sit on gender diverse teams in equal proportions, all boats rise. Both women and men feel more engaged."

Nevertheless, she cautioned, the results do not mean that so-called affinity groups are not good ideas or should not be overlooked. "In terms of work teams driving the business, gender diversity helps you have better business performance," she said.

Wheelwright said for the first time in its 18-year history, the WFF, whose founding was spearheaded by Jeffrey Berlind, then publisher of Restaurant Business, has convened a long-range planning committee that will pursue the goal of empowering women in the foodservice industry for the good of the foodservice industry.

With post-baby boomer population cohorts smaller than the post-World War II generation, companies in all industries will experience the detrimental effects of a shortage of employees, she explained. Consequently, America will need more talent than it has now, she said.

"The lack of talent to grow those businesses means we have a crisis on our hands," Wheelwright pointed out.

The situation is more accentuated when looking at the foodservice industry, which, Wheelwright admitted, is not among the sexiest in society. As a result, attracting and keeping workers is challenging.

FOODSERVICE REQUIRES MORE TALENT TO DRIVE BUSINESS Citing statistics provided by the National Restaurant Association, she said that today 53% of the operators' workers are women and in 10 years, the percentage will increase to 62%. The foodservice industry is the second largest employer in the country but it's going to require many more people to drive businesses, she added.

"We're not leveraging our white and multicultural female talent, which is the crux of where this fits with the WFF," Wheelwright said.

In its efforts to fulfill its mission, the WFF unveiled a "Roadmap to Results," which is divided into the following components:

  • WFF Vitality – Strengthening the WFF to ensure it continues to serve its community. In line with this, the WFF switched from being managed by an association management organization to hiring its own staff. "We needed people whose focus is 100% on WFF," Wheelwright said.

  • Executive Readiness – Building personal competence and confidence. Wheelwright said that WFF conferences have been empowering women and improving their 10 core competencies. "The WFF can open up women's minds to new opportunities," she said.

  • Organizational Readiness – driving business performance through gender diverse leadership.

  • More Women in Top Jobs – The WFF has set "two bold goals" for the industry: Three at the Table, meaning that three members of corporate boards should be women, one of which a female of color, within three years; and 20/20 Vision, meaning that foodservice companies should have gender parity on their boards by 2020.

    When asked how has the corporate role of women evolved in the course of her 17-year vocation as a WFF activist, Wheelwright called the existence of more than five women ceos in the industry headway but since "we can still count them, we don't nearly have enough gender parity that we're looking for."

    DISTRIBUTORS TO BENEFIT FROM WFF MEMBERSHIP It is Wheelwright's conviction that the entire foodservice supply chain would benefit from participation in the WFF. Distributorships, in general, she said, have a lower than industry average of leveraging female talent.

    Sysco Corp., Houston, and U.S. Foodservice, Inc., Columbia, MD, the top two firms in the industry, are among the most active and supportive distributorships. Others, including marketing groups, are involved to greater or lesser degrees. Some 26% of the WFF members consist of suppliers and distributors.

    "Word is starting to spread through the distributor community that the WFF is something that it needs to take a look at," she said.

    One of the benefits of membership for a distributor would be to learn about transforming the company to one where women would feel welcome and valuable, Wheelwright said.

    "The second reason is that your customers are there. The operator segment is a huge part of our membership base. By supporting the WFF, you're showing the industry that you support the operators, your customers. That's why manufacturers and suppliers are there," she pointed out. "You build relationships and when you make a business call you already have the trust, contacts and relationships that build other things."


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