What insights were learned at the Women’s Foodservice Forum Executive Summit? Some of the key takeaways were: be devoted to your purpose, avoid “check the box’ management, you must go digital, give junior staff members a seat at the table. These are just a few of the things learned from the WFF conference.

Libby Sartain, former Chief Human Resources Officer for Yahoo! Inc. and Southwest Airlines, kicked off the 2018 WFF Executive Summit with an infectious smile and a contagious message… catch the inclusion bug.

Libby Sartain, WFF 2018

Diversity is critical. But, if we focus on the numbers alone will we ever get it right? When you walk into the cafeteria what do you see? Does the table composition remind you of the lunch scene from Mean Girls? What you see often says more about your culture than the numbers. Having the right gender and race ratios isn’t enough.

The effervescent solutions?

  1. Devotion to purpose. Always point out the purpose of your organization so those at every level have no question about what you’re here to do.
  2. Recruit and retain like a marketer. Many companies are focusing on employment brands, but it’s important that the promises made can be kept. Make sure that the experience you’re selling potential employees matches the day to day reality.
  3. Avoid “check the box” management. Focus on organizational belonging. Beliefs should translate to behavior and you should reward those employees who positively engage in an inclusive way.

The definition of culture according to Libby Sartain: How work gets done in your company.

39 percent of women say their managers ensure that a diversity of voices can be heard

Kathy Walters picked up with some real talk for real times. She reminded the crowd that we’re all responsible for the success of WFF and the collective mission. So, how do we get more traction and make progress faster?

As a marketer, I can certainly appreciate her first point:

  1. Go digital in a big way. We won’t win one meeting at a time; we need to approach the mission with big data. Grow the database. Attract with content. Leverage digital technologies and capabilities to expand our audience and amplify our message.
  1. Bring on the men. WFF attracts about 3,000 attendees to the Annual Leadership Development Conference. Most of those attendees are women. What if we add 3,000 men? Men who wholeheartedly believe in gender equity and join the mission for advancement of females in leadership roles, for pay equity, for mentorship and sponsorship. This could be a powerful mission.
  1. Pull them up. Kathy also took a tough position and asserted that she hears a lot of talk about “lean in” but she doesn’t see a lot of action. No one is leaning in. She finds herself telling talented women who feel under qualified that they are enough, they have the talent, they don’t need training – they need to take the opportunity. She encouraged other leaders to do the same, “Just pull them up.” Don’t wait for women to lean in. We’ll continue waiting too long. You know where the talent is. Pull them up.

WFF Executive Summit, July 2018

Day two kicked off with a panel from Yum! Brands:

  • Greg Creed, CEO
  • Tracy Skeans, Chief Transformation & People Officer
  • James Fripp, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer

The trio discussed their candid approach to culture and how change isn’t always popular, but when it’s necessary you can’t let that stop you. Send the message and spread the word.

  1. Leading is emotional, and that’s ok.
    • Do you know the names of your employees’ spouses, kids, pets? Do you know their favorite colors and favorite movies? Get to know the people around you. You’ll be surprised at what it does for the culture.
  2. Make culture ratings part of individual performance metrics.
    • Embracing the culture is as critical as delivering on business performance objectives. Yum! Brands rates their employees on a Culture spectrum of: lacking, learning, living & leading.
  3. Give junior staff members a seat at the table.
    • Bring a promising team member to executive meetings…but don’t swear her to secrecy. Encourage her to go back and talk about what she heard and learned. Transparency and honesty should be at the foundation of every great culture.


Sara Bowen and Rossann Williams

Sara Bowen and Rossann Williams brought the Starbucks Pay Equity story to life. Sara, for me, was the most inspiring speaker of the conference. Her passion is captivating and authentic.

Sara spoke about systemic pay bias and what it takes to break the cycle. She encouraged the audience to watch out for an overzealous focus on the number. She advised that behavior is what you really want to change. Get the starting pay right. Stop basing salaries on prior salaries (in some states it is illegal to even ask), because that perpetuates the disadvantage. Get merit pay right. Set aside budgets for pay equity adjustments. Measure your progress.

I think we all agree that fairness in the corporate setting matters to employees. In fact, it matters more than a lot of other things. Pay fairness matters more than actual pay.

One hire can throw off the balance. Vigilance is required to cultivate and continue a culture of pay equity. The work will never be done, but it will always be worth it.

What does your company stand to gain by achieving pay equity?

I always enjoy the opportunity to catch up with old industry friends and make new ones at WFF events. Thanks to all the women and men in attendance for making the conference time well spent:

WFF Attendees

Stacey Kearin, Marketing Director – Foodservice @ Land O’Lakes  |  Lisa Fisher, VP of Sales @ Chobani  |  Jennifer Schiffman, VP of Marketing @ Blacksmith Applications 

WFF Attendees

Marissa Jarratt, SVP Marketing, Innovation and R&D @ Dean Foods  |  Cindy Judge, President & CEO @ Sterling-Rice Group  |  Jennifer Schiffman, VP of Marketing @ Blacksmith Applications  |  Amy Shipley, Managing Director & Partner @ Sterling-Rice Group  |  Joan Axelrod Siegelwax, Sales Management Executive 

PHOTO CREDIT: WFF event photos