I'm with Her: Women and Leadership

By Lisa Elbert | Antoinette Bruno


Lisa Elbert
Antoinette Bruno
CEO Jodie McLean of Edens speaking at the 2016 WCR conference in Los Angeles
CEO Jodie McLean of Edens speaking at the 2016 WCR conference in Los Angeles

In sheer numbers, women dominate the worlds of higher education and business. But when it comes to postions of power, influence, and leadership, the numbers are less than inspiring. At the 2016 Women Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR) conference in Los Angeles, Jodie McLean, CEO of Edens, laid out the statistics and offered solutions to help empower women in business. 

Sixty percent of all college graduates are women, 40 percent of all MBA graduates are women, and 52 percent of professional occupations are held by … wait for it … women. And by 2030, women will control over two-thirds of the nation’s wealth. However, the presence of women still falls short of men in certain aspects of business—and the culinary industry is no different. 

Women make up:

Additionally, female executive chefs earn roughly $20,000 less than male executive chefs, which begs the question: Why do pay and equity gaps remain? Why do women occupy fewer than seven percent of executive chef roles when more than half of culinary school graduates are women? McLean believes that the barriers women encounter accessing capital and a lack of business mentorship and training are major factors. "Access to capital for women in the culinary industry is no different than it is in technology, real estate, or any other business," says McLean. "It's all about the network and the ask. Less than 10 percent of venture capital goes to women or women owned enterprises. Small business loan approvals are significantly lower for woman than for men: 31 percent compared to 50 percent."   

McLean encourages women to go beyond just honing culinary skills, stating that it's imperative to invest in business skills, as well. She encourages women to understand recruiting and retaining talent, operations in both front and back of house, marketing and the efficiencies needed to operate multiple stores, and, most importantly, how to raise capital.

The Global Leadership Forecast reports that:

  • Companies performing in the top 20 percent financially have nearly twice the amount of women in leadership roles compared to those in the bottom 20 percent.
  • Companies that increase the number of women in corporate leadership by 30 percent translates into a 15 percent increase in profitability

And According to the National Restaurant Association and U.S. Census numbers:

  • 33 percent of restaurant businesses are majority-owned by women (and restaurants owned/run by women grew more than three times faster than the overall restaurant industry in recent years)
  • Of nearly 50 percent of all restaurant businesses in the United States, women have at least 50 percent ownership

“The stats on women-owned businesses are impressive," McLean says. "But the disheartening part is that on average they employ less than 1 person (as compared to the overall rate of 2 employees)." And their revenues are about 38 to 40 percent of industry averages, reinforcing the notion that while some of these numbers are great, there’s still more to be done to achieve real change. The cottage businesses that women are running do not have influence over corporate culture or policy.  

Women are good for business, and for your restaurant’s bottom line. The numbers bear it out. Where the work remains to be done is in leadership on a larger scale, and faster. It takes 23 years for a woman to become a CEO, and only 15 years for men. McLean says there needs to be a paradigm shift. Will your kitchen be a part of it? 

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