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He’s OK She’s OK

He’s OK She’s OK

A look at how gender differences strengthen the Women’s Foodservice Forum

By Nancy Weingartner
As published in: Franchise Times

10312551_10203315016468983_4495935447591948617_nWarning: This article contains generalizations about men and women. Not all business women want to discuss their earrings or shoes before getting down to business and not all men want to make a decision before all the facts are in. Contrary to what early feminists wanted us to think—that men and women are the same—research shows there are differences between the way men and women work. There’s no right way or wrong way.

The first time Michael Archer walked into the welcoming reception at the Women’s Foodservice Forum, he discovered what it felt like to belong to a minority. “Here I am a 46-year-old, white male, and I’m diversity,” he says shaking his blond head in disbelief. “I’ve never been in that situation…except at home.” Archer, the president and COO of T.G.I. Friday’s U.S. business, lives with his wife, two daughters and a female dog, yet he admits he was still “blind to the glass ceiling” women claim keeps them from top positions in companies. Becoming a WFF male member—what used to be called a “Righteous Brother,” until someone complained about the moniker—has opened his eyes to, well, to women in foodservice. He and a number of other men in this women’s group say they are active in the organization because they don’t want their daughters to be limited in their choices in the workplace. Others were sons of dynamic women who overcame the odds to put food on the table and still attend school or sports events on weeknights.

“When there are glass ceilings that affects everyone,” says Charles Aeh, vice president of business development for Service Management Group. Aeh was raised by a single mother who had to climb off the corporate ladder and take a lower-level job with less travel and more manageable hours. His mom did double-duty to provide for Aeh and his siblings, but it had a trickle-down effect. Aeh says he had to take on additional responsibilities his friends from two-parent households didn’t, such as walking his sisters to school and checking their homework. But, while supporting a good cause is one reason to belong to the organization, there’s additional value in volunteering your time, according to Frank Steed of the Steed Consultancy, a former executive with Metromedia. “I’ve gotten business here,” he says, adding that serving on the executive committee of the organization has afforded him access to some of the top women in the industry. “Where else can you walk up to a (top) executive at PepsiCo and she’ll stop and talk,” he says, referring to Jane Sumner, vice president, foodservice, for PepsiCo, who is the incoming WFF chair. Like Archer, Steed also experienced some discomfort the first year he walked into a room “where no one looked like me.” “The flip side,” he points out, “is that women won’t allow you to not get involved…they won’t let you stand alone.”

Not all men, however, see the value in attending the annual leadership conference. “When men are made to come (by their company), they’ll hang out together,” Steed says. When he worked for Metromedia, he invited 50 men to attend the event. “We had to make them not sit together and talk about basketball scores,” he says, laughing. Perry Sholes, president of Progressive Human Resources Strategies in New Orleans, says it’s a relief to not always talk about sports. Women tend to get to know each other on a personal level before starting in on the business of the day—and Sholes doesn’t mind admitting that he’s OK when the talk turns to shoes or nail color. “That’s the equivalent of guys talking sports,” he says. Archer remembers when he first started attending the annual conference and someone advised him to bring comfortable shoes because there would be a lot of standing and walking around.

“Both pairs of my shoes are comfortable,” he told the woman, who most likely rolled her eyes. While women welcome men into their ranks, they aren’t always afforded the same treatment when they’re in the minority at male-dominated business events. The difference is that women are inclusive by nature. According to Suzanne Braun Levine, author of “Inventing the Rest of Our Lives: Women in Second Adulthood,” research shows that while men are traditionally hunters who work alone and are equipped with a “fight-or-flight response,” women were socialized to band together for survival, a behavior labeled the “tend-and-befriend” response. Women want to defuse situations, while men want to win. (Please note these are generalizations. Not every woman has maternal instincts, nor does every man want to invade a foreign country and take prisoners.) This difference in their survival skills also plays out in women’s desire to build consensus before making a decision.

The sports analogy has long been used as a reason why men do better with teamwork than women do. But, as more and more young women grow up playing on organized sports teams that gap between the sexes should begin to narrow. The problem is, says Alice Wheelwright, a past WFF chair and vice president of industry marketing for Ecolab, men choose teams based on the skills of the players, even if they don’t personally like them, while women often recruit people they like and get along with. Men want to win; women also want to win, but they want everyone to get along while they’re doing it.

The sexes communicate

In the ’80s, women in business thought they had to be like men in order to get ahead. Who hasn’t heard the stories about women wearing those floppy bow ties with tailored, sexless suits that mimicked men’s office attire? Now studies show women and men have different management styles, and that both styles have their strengths and weaknesses.

Women managers tend to empower their staffs more than their male counterparts, are more tolerant of differences and encourage openness, according to Joanna L. Krotz, co-author of the Microsoft Small Business Kit. In addition, they are more willing to explore compromise and solicit others’ opinions, she says.

According to the Web site Mars and Venus in the Workplace, an offshoot of the best-selling book “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” by John Gay, there are significant differences between women and men’s behavior. For instance, when someone is speaking, women will nod their heads to let the speaker know they are listening and to keep talking. Men nod their heads to indicate they agree with what’s being said. In that same vein, when men are under stress they retreat to their office and become overly focused on the problem. When women are stressed out, they like to talk it out and get reassurance they’re doing the right thing.

“Men respond to encouragement; women respond to reassurance,” the Web site says.

And, while men like to talk about themselves, they don’t always like “sharing.”

Steed tells about an ice-breaker at the WFF’s summer meeting in June. The idea was to tell a stranger three things about yourself from high school. “I was uncomfortable (trying to decide) what I was going to share,” Steed says. While he had trouble coming up with three things he didn’t mind confessing to a stranger, the women in the room had trouble limiting their lists, he says.

During his stint on the executive committee as the sole male representative, Steed learned a lot about the difference between the way men and women come to a decision. The education has served his 35-year-old marriage well, he says, laughing. “All those years my wife wasn’t asking for my opinion, she wanted me to listen,” he says, shaking his head in mock amazement.

Steed told his successor to the executive committee, T.G.I. Friday’s Archer, to “listen.” Men, he says, want to solve problems and to quickly call for the question. Women like to discuss all sides of the issue, to let everyone have their say. And while at times Steed wanted nothing more than for the group to make a decision, he came to appreciate the “richness of conversation as they go over and over” the possibilities. He admits taking the circular route led the committee to some interesting ideas that would never have surfaced had they taken the more direct—albeit quicker—path.

According to WFF member Jeffery Tobias Halter, author of “Selling to Men; Selling to Women” and a corporate trainer, “women communicate too much information for men.” In fact, he says, women communicate three times as much information as men, using their whole brain, while men tend to stay on the left side of the brain, where logic and facts and figures rule.

This can be a problem, he points out, because a woman can sometimes throw out an idea that’s ignored, only to hear a man repackage the idea in fewer words and get the group’s approval.

Women are the better problem solvers, Tobias Halter says. Men will make a decision based on 80 percent of the data and then “defend it to the death,” he says. Because women will look at the idea from all angles, often ad nauseam, this appears indecisive according to men.

The problem is not that women and men have different styles at work, he contends, but that “business has gotten along treating everyone the same.

“That doesn’t work when there are two genders and four generations (in the workplace),” he says. “You have to manage people where they are (not where you think they should be).”

With more enlightenment shining through at progressive companies, women shouldn’t have to change who they are, Tobias Halter says. It’s all about awareness—for both men and women.

Which is part of the Women’s Foodservice Forum’s calling, and why it’s important to include men in their vision. Being a true “Righteous Brother” involves more than just showing up at events and networking. It’s supporting the women on their workplace teams and seeing that women are given opportunities to advance, says Wheelwright.

The roots

Ironically, the Women’s Foodservice Forum was the brainchild of a man—Peter Berlinski, who was editor of Restaurant Business at the time.

In the late ’80s, his publication got involved in social issues concerning the restaurant industry, and wrote stories on such diverse subjects as food banks and minorities. Their coverage received the first President Bush’s “Thousand Points of Light” Award, given to individuals, organizations and businesses that made an impact on solving social problems in their communities.

One of the stories the magazine ran that sticks out in his mind was about a woman who became a Dairy Queen franchisee so she could donate the proceeds to a women’s shelter. She even went so far as to hire some of the women from the shelter as workers.

In addition, Restaurant Business covered the issues surrounding women and the glass ceiling in foodservice.

At the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago, Berlinski organized a roundtable event for the top women in the industry to discuss the issues of women in foodservice. “We had the top females at McDonald’s, Friendly’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and we were going to write a cover story on the issues,” he says.

At the time, being a part of that roundtable was risky business. “The women didn’t want to be seen as activists, they were climbing the ladder,” Berlinski says. To reassure them that their participation wouldn’t be misconstrued by their company hierarchy, Berlinski says he called the presidents of the companies himself to ensure they were OK with the roundtable and subsequent article. No one turned him down.

At the end of the discussion, however, the women decided one roundtable on the issues wasn’t enough to accomplish anything. Berlinski threw in the financial support of his magazine and the WFF was born.

“Those 12 women were courageous,” he says. “They were the first to stand up. Now (membership in the WFF) is a plum. Everyone wants to join.”

Men are important to the forum, Berlinski says. “It needed men for diversity, so it’s not a single-note (organization),” he contends. “As an editor I had a big network, it was easy to get men to support it. The president of companies were open to this.”

Like the present day Steed and Archer, Berlinski says he at first was stymied by the everyone-gets-heard discussions around decision making. “Men don’t look for consensus,” he says, adding, “As editor, I make the decisions.”

But rather than be put off by the differences in communication, he says, he “found that refreshing.”

Helping launch WFF “was my proudest business achievement,” he says.

From its beginning as a one-time roundtable in 1989, the organization has grown to 2,200 members with professional staff manning it. Its research has helped the industry understand where women are coming from and where they want to go, and their educational events show women how to gain the skill sets they need in order to move up in their organization, how to be better leaders and how to do their job more efficiently.

And it’s stayed true to its mission “to develop leadership talent and ensure career advancement for executive women.”

A fairly new program is designed to ensure the needs of executive women—those in top management and especially in the C-suite (CEO, CFO, COO) are being addressed. Additional resources for this group are a board-readiness program and Corporate Board Link, a matchmaking service for board positions.

While men play an important role in WFF, should a man ever be considered for the chair position?

“I think it should be a woman,” Frank Steed says. “As soon as there’s a woman in the White House, there can be a man running WFF.”

Stranger things could happen. Just ask Hillary Clinton.