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Report: Gender gap widens in key food industry leadership roles

The findings come as the Women’s Foodservice Forum gathers in Dallas to drive change

Hiring and promotions are the two biggest levers for changing the representation of women in the workforce, yet women remain underrepresented across the corporate pipeline, according to the 2018 “Women in the Workplace” report by McKinsey & Company.

“Since 2015, the first year of this study, corporate America has made almost no progress improving women’s representation. Women are underrepresented at every level, and women of color are the most underrepresented group of all, lagging behind white men, men of color, and white women,” the report states.

The annual report is based on information obtained from 64,000 employees at 279 companies including such restaurant chains as Starbucks, McDonald’s and Panera Bread. The report breaks out data by segments, including foodservice – where progress among women in top leadership roles is backtracking compared to last year.


Denny Marie Post, president and CEO of Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc., said it is frustrating to see the industry “go backward” in top areas of focus, including the C-suite.

“In order to effect real change, we need to focus on moving women through the pipeline,” said Post, who is also chair of the Women’s Foodservice Forum. “We start out in such a great place. We all need to work together to move women into more management and leadership roles.”

The Women’s Foodservice Forum, or WFF, which uses the report as a benchmark for its initiatives and to spur dialogue on the issue, is hosting its annual Leadership and Development conference March 10-13 in Dallas. This year, WFF plans to pilot the industry’s first Gender Equity Index to track year-over-year progress within companies.


“We are at a critical inflection point in our drive for gender equity,” WFF leaders wrote in the program guide welcome letter. “Our industry’s most influential leaders are engaged, committed and on board. They have moved gender equity to the top of their agendas, making it a critical priority and tracking progress against that goal. It is up to all of us to harness this momentum, move urgently forward and drive change.”

The letter is signed by Hattie Hill, President and CEO of WFF, as well as Post.

Post’s company, Red Robin, is one of only 10 brands in the NRN Top 100 that are led by women. Others are Taco Bell, Panda Express, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, In-N-Out Burger, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, Auntie Anne’s, White Castle and Boston Market.

Highlights from the 2018 study include:

  • In the food industry roughly 53% of entry-level positions are held by women, up from 49 percent last year.
  • But as women rise through the ranks in foodservice, there’s a steady drop off. In fact, the rate of leadership roles for women has declined year over year in four categories: manager, senior manager/director, vice president and C-suite.
  • For example, women represent 18 percent of the food industry’s C-suite executives in 2018, down from 23 percent in 2017.
  • On the issue of sexual harassment, a higher proportion of men and women in the food industry agree that incidents of harassment are addressed quickly at their company compared to all other companies. However, there’s a perception gap about the resolutions. The survey said 54% of women think reporting an incident would be effectively and fairly addressed, compared with 76% of men.
  • Across all companies surveyed, only about one in five senior leaders is a woman, and one in 25 is a woman of color.
  • Across all companies, first promotions are the most inequitable. Women are 21% less likely than men to be promoted to manager. Black women are 40% less likely than men to be promoted to manager.

The McKinsey survey, in partnership with, looks at the state of women in corporate positions in North America, and includes information obtained from 279 companies across multiple sectors including foodservice, consumer packaged goods, manufacturing, energy/utilities, financial services and health care. Of those, 62 companies were referred by WFF.

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @FastFoodMaven

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