Women in Foodservice | December 2013 | By Mary Avant

The Women of Foodservice

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Top women executives like Cheryl Bachelder are changing fast food for the better
Cheryl Bachelder was named CEO of AFC Enterprises in 2007 after serving on its board of directors. She has more than 30 years of experience in brand building and management, including with KFC and Domino’s Pizza. Shannon McCollum
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Lesson No. 3: Play to your strengths

Though women are finding their way to the executive office in nearly every industry, they’re primed to shine in foodservice—an advantage they should leverage at every chance, female leaders say.

Specht says many women are inherently caring, nurturing, and great with people, all traits that translate especially well in the restaurant industry. They’re also natural connectors and communicators, as well as collaborative and empathetic, Cole says.

“We keep the family together. We find a way where there is no way,” says Monica Boyles, vice president and general manager of McDonald’s Greater Chicago region. “We’re all about inclusion and keeping everybody in the bubble.”

Not only do women easily connect with team members and colleagues, Cole says, but they also have a knack for bonding with and understanding the consumer, especially those in the Millennial generation. “It is a huge advantage because of the way Millennials work today, because of needing to be open and sensitive and having your antenna up to the way the consumer feels and the way employees feel about a brand.”

Since women often make the majority of family-related decisions, Boyles says, female leaders understand what drives the family and can anticipate women’s needs as consumers. “Because of the woman’s connection at the home, at the root of the family, I think we have a unique advantage that others may not have to be able to foretell the future in a way that maybe hasn’t been done before,” she says.

Though Bachelder says women should leverage their inclination toward hospitality and the ability to create positive environments, she believes they should also take some cues from their male counterparts. Just like the title of a book sitting in her office, Bachelder says, women must “think like a lady, act like a man, and work like a dog.”

“This is an industry where working hard matters,” she says. “And if you do it out of your own authentic self, I think you can do it very well.”

Lang says it’s helpful to combine feminine and masculine traits in the workplace by being both tender hearted but tough minded when it comes to business. “Tender hearted meaning showing care and respect and compassion for others, but tough minded meaning being willing to make tough decisions that are in the best interest of the business,” she says.

Still, playing to some of the stereotypical female strengths—like empathy, organization, and intuition—doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to use them as a crutch, Specht says. “Don’t be a victim,” she says. “Put the fact that you are a professional in the restaurant industry first, and then put the fact that you’re a woman second.”

Lesson No. 4: Strive for harmony, not a perfect balance

Thanks to the flood of conversation sparked by the growing presence of women in the workforce—and certainly thanks to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling book, Lean In—many women have been inundated with talk about how to create the perfect work-life balance.

However, many executives interviewed for this story say a “perfect” balance simply doesn’t exist, adding that the scales often tip toward different sides of the work-life spectrum from day to day.

“In those stressful times when you’re under pressure and you know you have to put in the hours, you do what it takes,” Lang says. “But then other times, when there’s maybe not as much pressure, take advantage of those times to spend some quality time with your family, with your kids, or even just have a bit of down time for yourself.”

Rather than reaching for the virtually unattainable perfect balance, Cole says, it’s wiser for women to seek harmony between their work and personal lives. “Find something you love to do for work, because it makes it a lot less difficult when work and life intertwine,” she says.

Boyles says striking a fairly even balance between personal life and work life is a tricky, but sometimes attainable, goal for women in the industry. “I believe you can have it all, but I don’t think you can do it all,” she says, adding that delegating is a necessary skill for leaders. “You have to get smarter about how you get things done and what you personally need to have your hands on and what you can have done by others.”

Boyles acknowledges that, at times, the quick-service industry can be all-consuming for leaders, making it challenging to carve out time for oneself, family, and friends. To ensure she’s making time for herself and her loved ones, Boyles has her assistant schedule personal events in her calendar just like any other business meeting or commitment.

Instead of thinking about it as a balancing act, Bachelder likes to put the work-life juggle in terms of a “purpose”—one that must align in both her work and home life.

“My purpose statement is to develop purpose-driven leaders that exhibit confidence and character in all aspects of their life, and interestingly, I think that’s my role as a mother to my three daughters,” she says. “Once I understood the purpose for my role in my family and my role at work, I felt they weren’t all that different and they weren’t at odds.”

She says connecting her home and work lives through a singular purpose helps eliminate the conflict and guilt many working mothers have.

“What kills women … is trying to meet up with everyone else’s expectations of what the right work-life balance is, and that’s quite exhausting and it’s quite impossible to achieve,” Bachelder says. “I encourage women to figure out why they do the things they do, so that the only test of their day is whether they’re living their life to the purpose that they’ve chosen and feel called to.”

Lesson No. 5: Know yourself and your purpose

Establishing this purpose Bachelder speaks of not only allows female leaders to more easily juggle the responsibilities of work and personal life, but also to see themselves more clearly, creating a sense of confidence and authenticity both at work and home.

Boyles says it’s crucial for women to be comfortable in their own skin in the workplace, and says having a personal mantra or mission helps make this simpler. “You have to decide in the role that you’re in: What’s the vision? What are you trying to get done? Then live that vision and make it inspiring,” she says.

Lang says not only does authentically envisioning and projecting yourself foster self-confidence, but it also inspires trust from your team and others around you. “If you’re willing to share who you are and what’s important to you and what sort of inspires you, then your team members and your employees are going to be willing to rally behind you and get inspired by you and motivated by you,” she says. “Then you can align everyone toward a common vision.”

Bachelder says figuring out who you authentically are and bringing that to work in a self-assured manner is essential for executive women, adding that the downfall of many female leaders is that they spend too much time trying to live up to others’ expectations or mirroring their leadership styles.

“But when they do bring their authentic strengths and their values to work, they perform better,” she says. “They’re more comfortable in their own skin, and the organization sees it, feels it, and embraces them more quickly than if we try to be someone we’re not.

“My wish for women,” Bachelder adds, “is that they would reach that point of authenticity and self-author their leadership story as soon as possible.”

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