It’s the eve of Women’s History Month and mere weeks after Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first female vice president of the United States. For Tricia Powers Dambrauskas, executive vice president of B&G Restaurant Supply, it’s an especially appropriate moment to reflect on female leadership of the past, present and future.
Her mother, Gloria Powers, founded the equipment dealership in 1981. Now with two young daughters herself, Dambrauskas already sees the effect that strong female leaders have had on them and their friends. “The kids aren’t playing ‘house’ or ‘school.’ They are starting businesses, from dog-walking or babysitting businesses to charitable organizations designed to donate revenues from car washes to specific charities,” Dambrauskas says. “These are young children! Imagine the power of a 6-year-old girl who understands what revenue is and who is accustomed to leading.” Dambrauskas is one of the many outstanding individuals on our Women in Leadership 2021 Panel. We asked these 10 prolific leaders in foodservice E&S (and two more from crucial industry associations, see “Group Chat” below) to share their perspectives, stories of adversity, time-tested advice and more.
What We Asked
WHAT KIND OF ADVERSITY HAVE YOU ENCOUNTERED in your career? How did you overcome it?
IN MANY SEGMENTS OF THE E&S INDUSTRY, few women occupy the c-suite. What needs to happen to change this dynamic? Whose responsibility is it to do the work?
WHAT DO YOU HOPE OTHER WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY take away from seeing you and other leaders like you hold positions of leadership in the E&S space?
HOW CAN MALE LEADERS BE EFFECTIVE CHAMPIONS and allies for women in this industry?
WHAT RESOURCES HAVE BEEN MOST VALUABLE to you as a woman working in the E&S industry?
WHAT’S THE BEST PROFESSIONAL ADVICE you’ve ever received and/or what advice would you (or do you) give women entering the field of foodservice E&S?
CEO and President
ON ADVERSITY: “In this industry, and the trades in general, women are often not highly valued or respected as competent or capable to contribute much to such a male-dominated type of work. This challenge definitely limits our opportunities for growth or a seat at the table in some cases. The adversity has, in the past, had an underlying dismissive and minimized tone. Thankfully, over the last 10 years, that has shifted and I believe there are more women in leadership positions throughout the industry. It can be seen on association boards, the makeup of leadership teams and executive level personnel, and even technical staff. In order to overcome the adversity, you can’t give up. Try hard not to take it personally, continue to believe in yourself and your capabilities. Hold your head high, do your job and do it well. Look for and seize opportunities to grow. Let’s continue to normalize women as leaders, and do it together.”
HOW MEN CAN BE ALLIES: “By shifting mindset. Let’s celebrate differences, see other’s strengths and weaknesses, not a generalization based on gender. By letting go of old stories that may have been planted by parents or peers, we can begin to see value and worth in otherness, in those unlike yourself, and that’s a beautiful thing with boundless possibilities. Be willing to recognize, accept and embrace our own challenges and weaknesses. When we can bravely and vulnerably do this, suddenly we are able to see at our core, how very much alike we all are after all.”
ON ADVERSITY: “Adversity that I’ve encountered is how to drive growth in a recessionary economy. I overcame it by collaborating with my team to identify white space, keep up with ever-changing customer preferences and align with distributor partners to expand revenue streams.”
ON WOMEN IN C-SUITES: “Women have always played pivotal roles in creating opportunities in business as well as the E&S industry. We will need to work collectively to decelerate the gap of women in management positions and on corporate boards. This will include a cohesive effort by current c-suite leaders to recruit, promote and retain women, especially at the mid-level levels, to help draw from a broader pool of talent, thus creating a pipeline for the c-suite roles. Once women reach the c-suite, we need to work together to provide mentoring and sponsorship to aid their development, in areas of risk-taking, resilience, agility and managing ambiguity.”
4 Star Reps
ON ADVERSITY: “We all face some level of adversity, regardless of gender. As a woman, I’ve had encounters with people who chose to behave inappropriately, but that’s a reflection of their character, and it does not reflect mine, nor does it define me. Depending on the circumstances, I either rise above it and let it serve as the fuel to push me ahead, or I make an adjustment that will help me in the long run—reinforce a skill, modify a behavior, change a goal. Adversity will always exist, so I try to face it head-on and do something constructive with it. Though it hasn’t felt good at times, it has made me stronger.”
ON WOMEN IN C-SUITES: “Having a homogeneous leadership team will not drive innovation or change; it will perpetuate groupthink, trading efficacy for harmony. Organizations need disruptors to the conventional group decision-making process, putting female candidates in a prime position to offer alternative viewpoints and improve outcomes. Aspiring female leaders have the responsibility of working to obtain the skills and experience needed for a leadership position, and organizations have the responsibility of increasing and promoting diversity, correcting gender inequality in management positions expeditiously.”
Cha Nye Farley
Vice President, Construction and Facilities
ON ADVERSITY: “I have been extremely lucky in that the companies I have been employed by have totally believed in me. Outside of my company, however, I have sat at tables where people assumed my male colleague was the one in charge and only later realized they had made a mistake. When I was younger, I would ignore this behavior and choose to not work with them in the future. When it happens to me now, I am much more forthright—I state that I am the decision maker and if they have a problem with that, we aren’t a good fit. It is much easier to speak up now.”
ON REPRESENTATION: “As an Asian woman, a woman of color, in a very male-dominated industry, I think representation is extremely important. I ask potential new vendors three questions: How many women are in leadership positions, what is the percentage of women in nontraditional roles—construction project managers versus other positions such as accounting—and what is the company doing to support women’s growth within? I know that many will come back and state that the best person should be the one to get the job and I agree with that sentiment, but how do we get women to even think that these roles are possible? I hope that my presence gives women an opportunity to see possibilities for themselves.”
Elite Foodservice Solutions
ON WOMEN IN C-SUITES: “There are a lot more women in E&S c-suites now, compared to when I first entered the industry in my early twenties. Social awareness will continue to help shape the dynamic, and as we continue to invite more women into the industry—women that bring passion, engagement and a drive for the c-suite—that number will grow exponentially.”
ADVICE FOR ENTERING THE FIELD: “I don’t think it gets much better than this industry. The people that drive it are in it for their love of food, hospitality and experience. Put in the work. Push yourself past your comfort zone. Keep listening, learning and growing. Ask for what you want and then make your own way. Most of all, love what you do.”
Angela S. Petitti
Gary’s East Coast Service
ON REPRESENTATION: “I think we lead by our actions. I think it is incredibly powerful to women to see other women in a decision-making position. We need to know that our opinion matters and is taken seriously. Actions always speak louder than words.”
ADVICE FOR ENTERING THE FIELD: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way. Lead: I think as women we need to understand that it is OK to lead by making the hard decisions and taking full responsibility for them. Follow: We should build a great team and follow their advice. Get out of the way: Sometimes we need to step aside and allow others to shine.”
Senior Vice President, Design and Construction
HOW MEN CAN BE ALLIES: “They can mentor women and be supportive, provide advice and guidance and share their knowledge. There are a lot of things you need to be successful that you don’t learn in school.”
ON RESOURCES: “The most valuable resources were working with people I could learn from. This ranged from plumbers and electricians in the field, to equipment manufacturers, to the best foodservice consultants, to high-level executives in the hospitality, design and construction business.”
ADVICE FOR ENTERING THE FIELD: “A wise man once told me ‘You don’t have to love everybody you work with.’ People are different or sometimes have a bad day. Don’t take it personally and keep your eye on your goals.”
Tricia Powers Dambrauskas
Executive Vice President
B&G Restaurant Supply
ON WOMEN IN C-SUITES: “My mother, Gloria Powers, started our company B&G over 35 years ago. We have never had an issue hiring or retaining strong women into our organization because of it. I’m sure that holds true in any organization with a female leader at the top and the reason is because all employees recognize that there are no limits to what women in these companies can do, which in return, attracts and breeds ambition. If there is a female leading the company, then it’d be natural that there are also women in leadership positions throughout the company. The men in the organization are inherently comfortable with female authority, which removes a key barrier to women climbing the ranks of an organization. Why would any company want to limit their success by not supporting half of the population to reach their full potential? Once you create the culture of promoting and supporting female leaders, the whole organization will inherently rally around them and the determined will thrive.”
ADVICE FOR ENTERING THE FIELD: “The same advice that my parents gave me when I graduated high school: ‘You will have a successful future ahead of you.’ Believe it and strive for it, and don’t let anything stand in your way.”
A La Carte Foodservice Consulting Group
ON REPRESENTATION: “I hope that other women see that it is 100% possible to have a family and succeed in your career goals. When I was in grad school, I often went to women-in-leadership panels and four out of five of the women were not married and did not have kids. Now, I am by no means saying that every woman wants children, but for those that do, know that you can have both. You will sacrifice some sleep and alone time will become rather limited, but you can have both. I proudly brought twin babies into this world four months before purchasing the company I had been working for the prior eight years. It was a long year and each day after has been equally long, but I refuse to have to choose between a career and a family. I love both too much.”
HOW MEN CAN BE ALLIES: “I think male leaders can be effective champions and allies for women in this industry by seeing and feeling no bias. If a woman is the best candidate for the job, hire the woman. In my mind, the goal for women in the industry is to be treated no differently than our male colleagues in the industry. If we are sitting at the table with you, it means we are equally qualified to be there.”
Founder and Owner
ADVICE FOR ENTERING THE FIELD: “Set your vision. Stay your course. Do what you say. Be a good listener. Ask questions. Take action when needed. Have fun doing it all!”
ON RESOURCES: “Though perhaps still considered a bit peculiar for a MAS consultant, my collaboration and support from equipment manufacturers has been of immense value. Their knowledge and willingness to discuss the connection between menu execution and equipment choice is peerless. Insights gained as a result of project work with design consultants is invaluable. How concept and menu development informs design strategy are inextricably linked. And, of course, the friendships with all of my women colleagues are an endless and critical element of not just support, but insightful and intelligent input whenever needed. There is an emotional connection with these phenomenal women of foodservice.”
Early on her career, Tracy Mulqueen, president and CEO of FEDA, had a formative experience that she says challenged her sense of her own value. “My boss [at the time] told me that my male peer, even though in the same job as I, the same age, and with the same experience—yet not performing as well, according to my boss—‘needed’ a higher salary than I did because he had a family to support and I was still single with no children,” Mulqueen says. “I continued to learn in that position over the next two years, then took a job leading an organization. Needless to say, I became a big proponent of performance-based promotions and raises.”
Deirdre Flynn, executive vice president of NAFEM, says that few women occupied c-suite roles within the association and NAFEM member companies when she first began to work with NAFEM.
“Louise O’Sullivan, the first female president of NAFEM in 1991, broke down those barriers, but it was her talents as a company president, her stature in the industry and her engagement with the industry that made the difference,” Flynn says. “That’s change. Today, of 16 directors on the NAFEM board, 25% are women—and again, they happen to be women. They’re elected by their peers to the board because they are recognized by the industry as being smart, talented leaders—just like their male counterparts.”
Male allies play an important role, Mulqueen says. “I’ve been very lucky to work with really great male leaders who have been role models for me and supported and stood by me when I needed to move forward with difficult decisions on behalf of organizations,” Mulqueen says. “That can mean everything for a female leader who, no matter how experienced and knowledgeable, still sometimes faces those who think women should always play a secondary role to men. Male leaders who dismiss and challenge this thinking are important allies for women in the industry.”
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