What Does Successful Leadership Look Like in a ‘MeToo’ World? This Industry Is Starting to Figure It Out
The restaurant world is reshaping how to build relationships. Every entrepreneur can benefit from those insights
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Recent allegations of sexual misconduct have been levied against some of the food world's most visible stars. Workplaces around the country are assessing behaviors that have gone unchecked for decades, and the cultural shift we're experiencing as a result will be a defining moment for women and men alike.
Let's look at the food, beverage, and hospitality space, which has seen allegations against high-profile people like Mario Batali, Ken Friedman and John Besh. As the culture shifts, space is opening for both women and men to disrupt the traditional ways that work in this industry has always been done.
Hospitality is (has always been) about the guest experience. With increasing attention on the experience of the employee as well, there is a double opportunity to enhance the way relationships are built.
Though the hospitality sector is the inspiration for this post, the three applications below are universally relevant for reshaping the gender dynamic -- particularly for entrepreneurs and for those looking to innovate within already-established companies.
Redefining Leadership, Deliberately
Both women and men in the hospitality industry are putting more focus on defining their leadership style, and they're doing it deliberately. It's a move that highlights the difference between cause and effect, between being proactively at the forefront of changing behaviors or being swayed by it and, worse, continuing old ways without adapting to the cultural shifts that are permeating the industry.
How do we change things for the better, and do it in a productive manner?
"It comes from education," said Marlene Leslie, formerly vice president for food and beverage at Virgin Hotels, who has now shifted to hospitality consulting and executive coaching. "One of the great things about women that men can learn from is self-awareness. We're at the cusp of overcoming the old ways, and in order for this shift to be successful, men need to be more aware and more effective listeners."
Lesson: Proactively and deliberately define your leadership style so that it pays more than lip service to a "fair working environment." This includes everyday interactions and conversations as well as long-term strategies. Identify three specific opportunities where you can actively execute, such as reviewing salaries and setting an achievable deadline for pay equity.
Company Culture as Differentiator
It's no secret that the hospitality industry has a less-than-stellar track record for work-life balance and for employing women in high-profile, senior executive positions.
That will change, Leslie believes, but it will take time. What gives her hope are more organizations, and lifestyle brands in particular, recognizing that company culture is a differentiator. As attitudes begin to shift more in favor of practices such as flexible work schedules and virtual rather than in-person meetings, women will start to see that they can be high-level without having to choose between work and family.
Lesson: Advocate for a shift of focus to deliverables, whether it takes 50 hours or five hours to get there. Ninety percent of the time that Leslie's clients have proposed such an arrangement to their superiors, she says, the response has been, "That's a great idea. Let's do that."
Aggression and Intimidation Not Required
Restaurant kitchens are largely populated by male cooks and executive chefs, and leadership habits such as aggression and intimidation are common and even perceived as required in order for employees to advance. Some stereotypes around women stem from their trying to adapt to these habits, even when they aren't authentic to their personality.
"Women are very intuitive, creative, resourceful, and we need to own those qualities rather than downplay them," Leslie said. "Rather than adapt to their surroundings, I work with women to embrace their voice and be confident in their ability to solve a problem or challenge convention about why something isn't working."
That voice can be particularly useful within hospitality, as the emphasis continues to grow on heightening the guest experience. That requires the key skill of empathy, and the motivation to shape memories. The value of that can't be underestimated.
Lesson: In addition to deliberately defining their leadership style, Leslie identified two other actions that women can do to succeed on a bigger scale. The first is learn how to delegate, and the second is to use their voices to challenge the status quo.