In The Foodservice Industry Gender Equality Is Almost A Reality For Women

Today, half of all U.S. restaurants are either owned or co-owned by women.

Since 2006, the number of women-owned restaurants has increased by 40%, compared to a 12% growth in overall restaurant business during that same period. In other words, restaurants owned by women grew at a rate three-times faster than the industry as a whole.

A major factor in this growth is the fact that the restaurant industry is a place where women have a relatively clear path to success. Inspirational stories abound of women starting at the bottom and moving quickly into management and ownership positions.

Some challenges and obstacles still exist for women, however. Larger banks are still hesitant to loan to women who have been in business for less than two years, forcing them to connect with non-banking lenders which provide capital at higher interest rates than most banks do.

And, despite the equal number of women in the industry, media still focuses on men. Time magazine's 2013 article “The Gods of Food” was ridiculed by just about everyone for its conspicuous absence of women, yet when questioned about it, they stuck by their assertion that only men showed the prowess needed to be “Gods of the Kitchen.” This inequality carries over to other forms of media as well: on the Food Network’s Chef & Hosts A to Z page, you will count 74 men hosts and only 40 women hosts.

That said, it is pretty obvious from the number of thriving women that they are ignoring the challenges and media slights to become not just merely successful, but dominating in the foodservice industry. Part of this flourishing is due to the fact that additional support and resources have become more plentiful. In many cases, these support resources are thanks to the women pioneers in the foodservice industry that succeeded despite the challenges and have come together to make it easier for the women that follow.

One prime example of an effective support resource is the Women’s Foodservice Forum. Founded in 1989 during the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago, this forum was originally known as the Women’s Council and was started by established women in the industry that saw a need to make sure women were given both the chance and resources to succeed. The WFF has launched education programs, competency assessments, and scholarship opportunities for women interested in exploring different areas of the food service industry.

Another asset for women determined to prosper in the restaurant industry is the Women’s Business Center program, established by The Small Business Association in 1988 to better help women overcome ongoing barriers to success. Today, there are Women’s Business Centers in almost every state. Their mission is to enable and empower women entrepreneurs through advocacy, outreach, education, and support. Through the management and technical assistance provided by the WBCs, entrepreneurs, especially women who are economically or socially disadvantaged, are offered comprehensive training and counseling on a vast array of topics in many languages to help them start and grow their own businesses.

Additional funding opportunities have also become more accessible. Fundera, a for-profit company established specifically to help women obtain business loans, is focused on providing women with the same funding prospects as men. Not only will this help women just starting out in the restaurant industry, but it will also benefit women who want to expand their company later on.

Programs and businesses like this have become more prevalent throughout the United States, resulting in the aforementioned growth of women-owned foodservice businesses. And as our country's focus on gender equality continues to grow, resources like these, while still amazing and helpful, will become less essential and more simply beneficial to help women succeed in one of our country's most widespread industries.

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