In commemoration of Women’s History Month, we’d like to focus on some incredibly impactful women who have made their mark on the food industry. By illuminating the stories of these women in a series of blogs, we hope to continue to advocate for equality and diversity at the highest levels of the food industry — not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because strong female leadership is a competitive advantage.
Like many other businesses, the food industry was traditionally male-dominated when FoodMix’s roots were planted over 30 years ago. Ironically, most food purchasing decisions were made by women at the time – yet their voices were absent in the boardroom. Today, more and more remarkable women are breaking through the glass ceiling in food processing, food retail, foodservice and affiliated industries. To name a few of the shining stars that opened doors, there’s Julia Child, Ina Garten, and Martha Stewart, who produced books, shows and products that helped redefine America’s perception of chefs. More recently, we have figures such as Alice Walters (a Berkeley, California, restaurateur who helped usher in the farm-to-table movement), Indra Nooyi (former CEO of PepsiCo), and Roz Brewer (former group president of Starbucks).
Take foodservice as an example: The stats are alarming when you look closely. Let’s look just at kitchens – history and logic, perhaps old-school biases as well, would lead you to conclude that women are a force in the commercial kitchens of the country. Sixty-three percent of entry-level restaurant workers say they are female, and 69% of mid-level workers are women. As you get to the senior leadership, however, that number drops to 38%. Even more alarming is the less than 7% of women who hold executive/head chef positions.
Closer to home, here at FoodMix, we pride ourselves on the role women play at our agency and at our amazing client companies. We are surrounded by brilliant, powerful women who constitute more than half of our leadership team and play pivotal roles in our agency. Some of the incredible figures that help us run like a well-oiled machine are our President, Sara Hagen; our VP of Client Development, Nadine Baarstad; our Group Account Director, Rachel Hansen; our Creative Director, Melanie Sawyer; and our Social Media Manager, Sharon Ponti.
Further, there are a number of incredible women at our client companies such as Megan Teates, Executive Vice President at Affinity Group Southeast; Robin Hart, Senior Marketing Manager at Affinity Group; Mindy Kopacz, Vice President at Affinity Group; Megan Jacobsen, VP of Sales and Marketing at Gills Onions; Emily Wood Bowron, VP of Strategic Marketing at Red Diamond Coffee & Tea; Chef Melissa Chickerneo, Corporate Executive Chef; and Chef Ina Pinkney; that inspire us daily. These are just a few of our colleagues who impact the foodservice industry with their work every day.
Being a young woman of color emerging in the food industry, I’ve had the opportunity to admire the work of the women who have laid the groundwork before me and of those close to me. While the glass ceiling is something that is omnipresent, I continually feel hopeful for the future. Consider me an optimist, but I’ve had the privilege of learning from some of the best women across many industries who have mentored me endlessly and have made it their mission to set me up for success despite the glass ceiling. Because of this, despite the work to be done, we are making leaps and bounds, and I am both inspired and empowered by those I have worked with and continue to work with.
One example of something that makes me proud and hopeful is the work we’ve recently done with our partner and client, Smithfield Culinary. Our strategy brings attention to the way women have always brought traditions and new, inventive ideas to the table in our She Brings the Heat campaign. Highlighting the growing popularity of innovative and inspiring women chefs leading the way forward for others in the foodservice industry really showcases the dedication to making diversity, equity and inclusion not just mission statements written on a piece of paper, but an integral part of our values and work at FoodMix.
While this story is far from complete, we continue work for a future that is female.