One of the great gatherings of women in the food industry is the Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF) Leadership Conference. It was my great honor to attend last week’s 2017 event, where thousands of women – and men – meet to network, learn, and discuss challenges facing the foodservice industry. The conference covered topics ranging from leadership development to industry issues. Among the industry speakers were executives from the National Restaurant Association, Kellogg, Darden Restaurants, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews, and even Suze Orman who offered financial advice to the audience.

WFF’s theme this year was, “Ignite Leadership with Speed and Purpose.” That is an energy-filled concept, and they certainly delivered on it during the event. And what better theme is there to support the issues we see confronting the foodservice industry? Foodservice faces marketplace disruption from technological, societal, and political changes.  The industry’s success depends on how we accept and address these challenges. The cost of maintaining the status-quo is too high and organizations must transform now with speed and purpose.

Here’s an exciting fact I learned during one of the general sessions: Companies with more women leaders generate greater revenue and experience decreased turnover. The speakers on the “Male Champions for Women Leaders Panel” are ensuring this trend takes hold across the foodservice industry, too. This session included John Miller, President & CEO of Denny’s; Dave Pace, President & CEO of Jamba Juice; Nigel Travis, Dunkin Brands Inc. CEO; and Thomas Zatina, President of McLane Company, Inc. The panelists talked about how they personally support and help women flourish as leaders in their organizations.

Several WFF sessions I attended touched on the results of and responses to these issues. Here are a few points that really made an impact on me. Notice how several of these highlight the shift to a modern commerce environment.

  • Recognize that the speed of change has accelerated. As technologies and new platforms disrupt the economy, many executives are scrambling to adapt instead of preparing to evolve.
  • Take methodical pauses to allow time for insights and development of appropriate strategies.
  • Don’t just react. Reacting isn’t the answer. Busy-ness isn’t the answer. Focus on what’s essential – lead with speed and purpose to achieve what’s most important.
  • Aim for transparency when addressing disruptions. Transparency builds trust.
  • Embrace diversity. It’s not only about race or gender. Diversity requires acceptance of different ideas, perspectives, expertise, and backgrounds, too.

Of course, not everything during the Leadership Conference was specific to foodservice. There were many inspiring talks and career-building sessions for women. Among the many takeaways, these are the ones that resonated most with me:

  • You must own your future. Don’t wait for the future to happen or you risk getting left behind.
  • Own your ambition and don’t apologize. Ambition can sometimes be hard for women. But, we are making strides. Organizations like WFF and PROS with strong diversity and leadership programs certainly make it easier to own your ambition!
  • It’s no longer sufficient to just go faster, you must change to get better. The only constant is change, and change is happening exponentially.

I encourage both women and men to attend the next Women’s Foodservice Forum Leadership Conference in March 2018 in Dallas. It’s more important than ever to embrace diversity in foodservice. People from different verticals and areas of expertise will continue bringing new ideas. That’s why it’s an exciting time to work at PROS. We’re a company that understands the uniting influence that diversity can have; even in the face of marketplace disruption.