Comment: encouraging women in F&B

Sarah-Jane Grant talks about ‘boss ladies’
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Female business leader, Women, F&B industry, Gender equality

As a female business leader, I’m an advocate for all affirmative actions that encourage higher numbers of women to enter the workforce; specifically, the F&B industry. Recently, we’ve seen tremendous groundswell and grassroots support for gender equality. Whilst it is easy to acknowledge the many social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, how do we keep the momentum going and bring about real change in the way women work, are hired, and progress in food-related careers?

A recent survey from Green Hasson Janks found that while women in the F&B industry are not yet filling leadership roles as often as men, there can be real benefits for companies that ensure women hold their fair share of leadership roles and are given the opportunity to influence the industry’s future. As consumers, women are seen to be driving the tidal wave of consumer interest in natural, organic and non-GMO products. Men have traditionally dominated most aspects of the F&B industry, with women holding less than 25% of the total leadership roles. More ‘female-friendly’ positions like human resources and marketing scored slightly better than other leadership roles.

Encouragingly, women are perceived as an emerging force, with 42.6% of responses citing consumer trust and public image as a top benefit of having women leaders. Other key benefits include industry relationships, industry understanding, supplier relationships, and relatability as a spokesperson and media relationships.

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It is true that women-led businesses face unique challenges, including raising capital, gaining investor trust and closing deals. It shows that the credibility women leaders bring to consumers has not yet fully translated to the financial market.

A number of industry experts, including Sabrina Merage, principal at Echo Capital Group, have spoken about their experiences in F&B. According to Merage: “The perception that women aren’t as aggressive as men is still a stigma in places like fundraising for start-ups. I think this is totally untrue; women have other advantages, including finesse. The stigma is still there, but it is beginning to diminish.” Another interviewee, Nicole Fry, managing partner at First Beverage Group, added that “perceived credibility can still be an issue — women can be seen as having less depth of experience”.

Here are my top five strategies that I would encourage other female business leaders to take on with me. First, focus on career progression. Let’s ensure we offer clear goals and mentors. Next, revisit people policies, where we need to ensure enough female candidates walk through the door. Third, mindset matters. A lot. We need to ensure that corporate style is flexible and female-friendly. Fourth, diversity should be baked in and shared. Let’s demonstrate progress — such as an inclusive workplace culture and high levels of collaboration, feedback and care. Finally, lead by example and be positive mentors for females in business.

Together we can!

Sarah Jane-Grant is one of the region’s most respected design experts. Passionate about F&B, she has successfully guided the Dubai arm of LXA as director over the past five years. Email her at sj.grant@wearelxa.com, or tweet her @LuxeSJ.

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