That’s why FOCUS and other companies in the industry have started looking outside the foodservice world for executives to fill top roles. Cole says this shift gives her hope that more women and candidates of color will make it to final interview rounds and—if they’re the best person for the job—onto the executive team. “I’ve interviewed more potential candidates of color for top executive positions—CMO, VPs—in the last six months than I had probably in the last two years, and half of them are coming from another industry,” she says. “If you open up your mind to a different set of experiences and backgrounds, maybe that will accelerate the number of candidates of color and women who get into the prospect pool.”
After relocating its headquarters to Newport Beach, California, in 2018, Chipotle began working with small women- and minority-owned recruiting firms to build a more varied network of potential executive candidates. “Everyone says, ‘We want the best talent,’ and they want it as soon as possible,” Andrada says. “So typically the first talent they get exposed to is likely within their network of people. And if they’re not already diverse, then that’s the lens they come from.”
She encourages her hiring managers to take as much time as possible to search for a pool of candidates filled with all genders, races, sexual orientations, and work experiences. If an executive meets with six final candidates for a position, Andrada makes it a point for that slate of individuals to contain equal representation of women and minorities. “It’s a matter of helping leaders open their eyes to see that there is diverse talent out there,” she says. “We just need to be meeting them.”
Not only is it critical to look outside the box for more varied leadership, but it’s also necessary to change the job descriptions and requirements themselves to appeal to a more diverse applicant pool. “It requires a reprioritization of what the most important skills are,” Ingoldt says. “It’s focusing on the cultural and unique contribution that each person could bring based on their background and what they value versus simply bringing tactical skills.”
At health-focused Modern Market, the key to diversifying has been hiring based on values, in addition to skill and experience. “We’ve always looked at, Do we like this person’s values? Do we think they’re smart and will do a really good job?” Pigliacampo says. “If you have a company that has a health-mindedness about it, our observation is that there’s an absolute ton of females that are more connected to how important health and wellness are than men. That right there attracts women to our brand.”
Real and lasting change also requires buy-in—better yet, a true passion—for diversity from the topmost leader. That’s why WFF has made it a priority to engage CEOs and other brand execs on the topic of diversity, encouraging them to become committed to and champions of diversity within their organizations. Gibson says that when CEOs are engaged and see benefits, they can be advocates for more diverse leadership—and that can rally the rest of the organization.
Once leadership is fully on board and a brand has found the right people who fit its values, the next step is creating a company culture that values the differences and unique perspectives these individuals bring to the table, rather than trying to make everyone fit a certain mold. “Diversity is hard, and it’s impossible to maintain without a really strong belief around inclusion, cultural appreciation, openness, empathy, and emotional connectedness,” Cole says. “People come from very different places, and if they’re not curious about each other and don’t look at each other as the shining value they are, then it doesn’t work.”
Part of creating a more inclusive culture also requires companies to take the needs of women who are both executives and working mothers into account—an effort that’s gaining ground and helping to level the playing field for females in the industry. “Early in my career, I noticed that many of the women in leadership around me were either single or married without children. But I always wanted to be a mom, so I knew I would have to find a way to have both a career and a family,” says Ingoldt, a mother of two. Fortunately, Jack in the Box has provided the support she needs to be both a present parent and a successful leader, thanks to maternity leave support, flexible paid time off, and the ability to telecommute if and when necessary.
“Being able to have a flexible work-life balance that considers families is one of the things that’s been very challenging for women in the workforce in general,” Pigliacampo says. “But just the fact that you can work from anywhere now on a laptop benefits women [executives] greatly.”
Though many in the industry believe there’s still a long way to go in making the face of foodservice more diverse, the shifting demographics in America—coupled with brands’ concerted efforts to bring more perspectives to the table—leave them optimistic about the future of leadership diversity. “The old guard is getting ready to retire, and it’s only going to create space for these up-and-coming innovators who happen to be diverse to make their way to these larger companies,” Chipotle’s Andrada says.
Ingoldt’s vision for the future? That diversity is so commonplace in the industry that companies no longer have to work toward it.
“Brands across categories—within foodservice and otherwise—now see diversity as the world that we live in and important to being successful as a brand,” she says. “I’m very optimistic that it will continue to evolve, and that this won’t be a conversation that we necessarily need to spend so much time on in the future, because it will just be the norm.”