This month marks the 25th anniversary of Women’s Foodservice Forum’s advancement of women working in the foodservice industry. “Ultimately, helping advance the progress of women is a business imperative… and much more," Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, said during keynote remarks in Orlando, Fla. "Because empowering women creates a more just society. It also spurs growth and sows the seeds for long-term peace and prosperity.”
As a highlight of the 2015 Annual Leadership Development Conference, the Forum featured Barrie Schwartz of the New Orleans, La. Hub of the Global Shapers Community. She spoke about her experience shaking up the New Orleans culinary scene with food trucks through her creative culinary production comapny, My House NOLA. After falling in love with New Orleans during a 2010 visit, Barrie moved there a year later from Detroit, Michigan. Her entrepreneurial spirit and experience working with talented food entrepreneurs around the city inspired her to start her own business promoting and supporting the culinary landscape from the ground up. As founder of My House NOLA, Barrie works across New Orleans with nonprofits, government officials, and businesses as a liaison between the community and food vendors. Additionally, she has been a part of changing the food truck legislation with the New Orleans City Council.
Barrie's nature as a leader, networker and facilitator has enabled her to build a successful and beloved brand and carve a niche in the city that she loves. Barrie was recently named to Gambit's 40 Under list, and One's to Watch in New Orleans City Business in 2014. Additionally, Barrie is a manager of the soon-to-open St. Roch Market.
Drawing from her dynamic story of leadership and entrepreneurship in the foodservice industry, Barrie outlined her vision for the future of women’s leadership in business and the Millennial generation’s expectations for leaders.
Here are her insights:
A Millennial Among Foodservice Giants
Before arriving at the Women’s Foodservice Forum’s 2015 Annual Leadership Development Conference, I wondered what I could bring to this group. In my mind, this was a conference for seasoned and experienced woman professionals.
I'm the opposite – an unseasoned and inexperienced 25 year old. However, now that I am reflecting and back at home, I am thinking about the symbiotic relationships I formed and the nature of the panel in which I participated. I was brought to Orlando as a panelist to speak about Millennials in the workforce. I was joined by Douglas Baker of Ecolab; Steve DeSutter of Focus Brands, Lorna Donatone of Sodexo North America, and Additionally, two other inspiring Millennials.
Acknowledging the Generation Gap
The first question was for the CEOs: “What are you doing within your company to engage and retain Millennials?” Everyone answered with creative steps their respective companies are taking to retain young employees.
I explained how I believe that before we talk about retention we should be talking about recruitment.
The fact that I was thinking about recruitment and the CEOs were thinking about retention marks a profound difference between my generation and generation before me.
Looking to work at a large company is not something I have considered. I want autonomy. Granted, this is not because I am knowledgeable about the opportunities or workflows, but because a stereotype exists among my generation about "working for the man."
A Change of Perspective – Bridging the Generation Gap
I see autonomy as a path I carve and a lifestyle I shape. Only during the conference did I come to the realization that the women before me, by working their way up in their respective companies, created opportunities for young women like myself to have the confidence and power to start out on an untraditional path.
Looking around, I saw women who have worked at their respective organizations for over 20 years. I cannot imagine the climate that surrounded them when they started their careers. It was far different than today. They were trailblazers.
I realize that I held a misconception of "working for the man." By working from the ground up within their companies, they too have created autonomy, and thereby, created a way for my generation of women. They made it possible for me to make my mark in the previously male-dominated entrepreneurship space. That takeaway will leave a mark on my future and role as a leader as I work to carve a path for the next generation.
Building a New Understanding – The Bonds That Unite Us
Before I arrived at the conference, I concentrated on the fact that for over three years I have bootstrapped and grown my small business in New Orleans from the ground up. I saw this as a huge obstacle, and it is. But, I did not think about obstacles women in the corporate foodservice business face. I am, to state the obvious, a much smaller operation than those represented at the conference. While I once saw differences and gaps, I learned that my fellow participants are striving for the same goals as I am, yet all in our own unique ways.
As a young entrepreneur, I have learned about bootstrapping my business, being the face of my company, shamelessly self-promoting, managing finances and time, and much more. As I look into my future, I realize the benefits of working with a team and having a mentor who teaches me some of the "harder" skills I have yet to perfect. We can always learn more,and it never hurts to look at things from multiple perspectives.
I went to the conference to represent the insights of my generation. But I ended up taking home more insights from the women who have come before me than I could have ever imagined, and as a result gained a new determination to strengthen the bonds that unite us.
Barrie Schwartz is founder and director of My House NOLA and a Global Shaper in the New Orleans Hub.