March 7, 2018

Rajczi SuzanneThe foodservice distribution industry is not alone in having few women throughout its organizational ranks - women are underrepresented in many industries. This gender gap persists despite research that proves increasing the representation of women will boost profitability and competitiveness. A new white paper from IFDA's Women’s Leadership Committee, Recruitment and Retention of Women: Enhancing Inclusion and Diversity, contends that while achieving a more inclusive workforce requires senior leadership to commit time and resources, the result is a significant return on investment.

The timing of this white paper coincides perfectly with the current cultural movement’s emphasis on increased equity for women in the workplace. One of the primary goals of the IFDA Women’s leadership committee is to educate IFDA members on the advantages of hiring, developing, and including women on their company’s leadership teams. Until diversity is treated as a business imperative, true progress will not happen.

Here are ten strategies to increase gender diversity at your organizations.

1. Start at the Top
Success comes from strong cultures and it starts at the top. There needs to be dedication to the value of diversity, not just lip service. The executive team sets the tone for the entire organization. The managers and supervisors are likely to model the behavior of their leaders. Hold executives accountable to ensure progress is being made and deal with any hurdles that might arise.

2. Use Hard Data
Diversity goals and programs to reduce gender inequality are typically based on general data or cursory surveys. Companies need to seek data to understand their specific problems and then build tailored equity programs. The data needs to explore questions such as "When are women dropping out?" and "What about our company culture that has limited women’s growth and opportunity?" When a solution is implemented, companies need to measure outcomes of both behaviors and advancement.

3. Drop the Diversity Goal and Get Specific
Goals are frequently set using the word diversity, such as "we are committed to diversity in our upper management," instead of specifics: "we are working to ensure there are more women and people of color in our upper-management roles." You need specific objectives in order to benchmark them against measurable outcomes and evaluate performance. Otherwise, it can be too easy to just keep repeating the mantra without making any real progress or change.

4. Eliminate Sexual Harassment
Companies need to be serious in eliminating sexual harassment. The best plans for company success can be interrupted if the prohibition of sexual harassment is not taken seriously and addressed. Many organizations have a plan but how effective is that plan? If the plan is watching a video as part of a new hire check list, once the employee views the video, is that sufficient?Actions speak louder than words. For the message and the practice to be implemented, real conversation on the topic should be part of the new hire discussion and reinforced everyday throughout the company.

5. Create Recruitment and Retention Plans
Success in recruiting and retaining qualified female candidates for all position levels rest on the organization’s training and development programs. For entry-level positions, considerations may be given to part-time, on-the-job training, internships, and shadowing opportunities for expanded learning. For leadership development, consider such programs as the Women’s Foodservice Forum and IFDA’s recent webinar series. Consider stretch assignments for future leaders including association engagement, committee assignments and challenge opportunities.

6. Increase Female Representation In Recruiting
Having female employees present when recruiting signals to potential candidates that you value gender diversity. The same can be said for imagery and word choice in communication materials. For younger generations, the values of the company matter. If diversity is a priority for your company, share this on the company webpage, in marketing materials, and include it as a recruitment talking point. More importantly, provide potential recruits with concrete ways in which you are actively addressing equality.

7. Reduce Bias During Interviews and Performance Evaluations
Much literature exists on how to actively prevent bias from coloring hiring decisions and performance evaluations. Consider your word choice, body language and respect for the person. It is important to consider the role of bias in the process. For example, conducting panel interviews and joint evaluations reduces individual biases and helps better evaluate each candidate’s potential.

8. Mentorships
Many companies do not have formal mentorship programs, but providing guidance on mentoring and creating programs to facilitate mentoring can significantly support a sense of inclusion and provide help in career planning and in developing leaders.

9. Increase Diversity in the Intern Pool
Being strategic in selecting diverse candidates for internships helps these individuals gain valuable exposure and further grows company candidate pools. In this respect, an employer is able to engage the intern in the culture of the company to make sure the opportunity is a good fit.

10. Strategic Succession Planning
Taking succession planning and diversity seriously creates a focus for developing new leadership that puts the needs of individuals first. Providing individuals with exposure to different opportunities and providing them with a clear promotional path helps set the stage for developing successful leaders. Challenging individuals to take on leadership roles can only happen if current leaders are challenged to expose and teach individuals about these roles.

Diversity will not be solved through a recruiting push alone. It's up to us to find ways to hire, inspire, empower, encourage, and support women and diversity in our industry. There needs to be a concretive effort, helmed by top management, to actively assess company-specific issues, create programs to address company-specific issues, advocate an inclusive environment at all levels, establish accountability, and evaluate efforts. Diversifying the foodservice distribution workforce, and promoting women in leadership roles will result in overall benefit for the industry.

Suzanne K. Rajczi is the Chief Executive Officer for Ginsberg’s Foods Inc. located in Hudson, NY. During her 34 year career with the company, Rajczi was the Chief Operations Officer served as Vice President of Merchandising and has worked in various sales, procurement and marketing positions.