FAB is a three-day conference for women in the hospitality industry, with the hope of strengthening and propelling women and their businesses. This year’s conference wrapped up last week and boasted a roster of over 50 women representing a who’s who of the industry, including Boston chef and restaurateur Barbara Lynch, Katherine Miller of the Chef Action Network, artist and storyteller Jenny Dorsey, and Back in the Day bakery founder Cheryl Day.
Chef Preeti Mistry set a high bar for the conference at Sunday’s afternoon soiree with a rousing speech that touched on the need for women leaders to push for greater diversity and understanding of the communities they serve. The Oakland chef talked about the connection between the ecosystem of hospitality and immigration, Black Lives Matter, and even gentrification issues.
In short, social issues are not separate from the work we do, if we are in the business of servicing communities. he issues that concern our communities must also concern us as leaders and we should model our businesses to support that.
Mistry’s speech gave everyone food for thought and hinted at FAB’s attempt to be more intersectional – that is, mindful of the ways that different forms of discrimination work together – in their approach to programming.
Panels spanned from the operational to the inspirational. Below are just some of the takeaways from the conference.
Boundaries make good business. Women in Hospitality United hosted a collaborative Solution Sprint – a one day workshop focusing on crowdsourcing solutions for common barriers women face – for about 40 FAB attendees. This year’s sprints included topics on work/life balance, confidence in the workplace, and scaling small businesses. I acted as one of the facilitators, helping to unpack the topic of “not being taken seriously.” On the surface, the conversation appeared to be about respect, but further investigation made us aware that it was about setting boundaries. Boundaries are necessary for healthy business practices and assuring the labor of women does not become invisible.
Intentional mentors needed. “Pitch-It” was a hands-on workshop that allowed FAB attendees to apply for an opportunity to build their business pitch decks with the guidance of an industry leader. The experience gave participants real-time feedback and practice in business acumen by asking participants to form marketing plans and build projections. The lack of intentional/transparent mentorship was a consistent topic throughout the conference. This programming provided much-needed support in the form of business mentorship and showcased FAB’s efforts to present solutions where the larger industry lacks universal support structures.
Ask for MORE. During a panel about securing funding, women openly talked about self-funding and looking for investors vs. partnering with hospitality groups. Trudi Wagner, owner of Goat.Sheep.Cow in Charleston, encouraged women “to be bolder in your asks for funding,” noting that women generally ask for much more conservative numbers than men. She argued that it would ultimately impact the sustainability of women-led businesses if we didn’t begin to change our approach.
Vulnerability is a tool. Navigating change, regardless if it is triggered by promotion or closing of a business, can be so overwhelming, especially with social media and the pressure to always be “on.” Krystal Mack, a consultant from Baltimore, stated, “I feel like it’s my responsibility to be as open and vulnerable as possible, while still setting boundaries for myself.” Employing vulnerability can provide access to support, but more importantly, it forces us to remain aware of our mental bandwidths so we can navigate change less disruptively.
There’s no diversity or inclusion without intersectionality. As a whole, the hospitality industry is in a transformative stage, attempting to execute conversations on diversity, inclusion, gender discrimination, and now intersectionality. We can acknowledge the efforts being made and still recognize that more work needs to be done to uncenter our industry and conferences from the default of white, able-bodied, and cis. The usage of marginalized identities as credentials for expertise on issues that are systemic has become the go-to solution for disrupting the status quo. We have to ask if this method of “diversifying” spaces is sustainable and does it actually move the needle towards inclusivity? Research tells us no. Visibility is an access point; it does not equal access.
OpenTable’s Chief Revenue Officer Andrea Johnson spoke about gender equality and pay equity on a panel about intersectionality. In the same conversation, Kutina Ruhumbika of Major Food Group stated, “diversity and inclusion are not synonymous.” As FAB demonstrated, macro societal issues show up in our curated spaces, and more importantly, HOW we curate must be constructed for the most marginalized of our communities. Intersectionality is the acknowledgment that our identities aren’t isolated pieces, but a culmination of societal power structures that are interconnected in ways that leave some marginalized. By curating for the most marginalized we inherently begin to solve for inclusivity in physical design as well as content.
Photo Credit: Reese Moore Photography