The keynote address at the inaugural Food Service Management (FSM) Summit called attention to the need for additional opportunities for women to ascend to leadership positions within the restaurant business while emphasizing the importance of mentorship and advocacy on their behalf.
James, founder and CEO, Zoel Productions—a New York City-based media production company—kicked off the event, which was held at the Omni Amelia Island Resort in Fernandina Beach, FL. In her address, entitled “The Power Of Food & Film: Connect With Your Community,” James touted her documentary “A Fine Line,” as well as the ongoing MAPP initiative focused on mentorship and advocacy.
While acknowledging that less than 7 percent of head chefs and restauranteurs are women, James detailed some of the progress that’s been made, particularly in the wake of the pandemic.
“We explored why are there so few head women chefs and restaurant owners? In essence what we saw is that the same issues for those findings apply to most industries across the board. Finally, today we’re having these conversations and the national dialogue is front and center. It took a global pandemic for us to get here, but we’re here and there’s no avoiding it anymore,” she said.
James further elaborated on the impact of COVID and what has resulted in the “great resignation” and how companies need to respond.
“We know that it’s the largest exodus of employees in this country’s history, we have to ask ourselves what are we doing wrong and what can we do better? Especially in the food system because it touches every aspect of our society. What we are talking about are issues specifically on how we can recruit and retain a more diverse workforce, and how you can do that in a way that you are authentically connecting with your communities?” she said.
James, meanwhile, detailed the overall objective of the MAPP initiative.
“It’s about providing more paths to advancement. We’re on a mission to create more opportunities for leadership, mentorship and advocacy…We’re on a mission to figure out how we can get more women to leadership and ownership and do it in a way that we bring everyone to be part of the solution. We can’t do it without all the gentlemen [here], male alliances are so important,” she noted.
James talked about the impact of “A Fine Line,” which she pointed out was actually inspired by her mother’s life story.
“For me it was personal. I grew up in this industry, I was born and raised in the restaurant industry. So I saw what she was going through as a woman. It was never the work, the work was where she thrived. It was the fact that every turn she took she had to prove herself over and over again, whether we’re talking about access to capital, access to introductions, things I’m still going through 30 years later,” she said.
Fortunately, there’s been progress, according to James.
“There’s actually been an increase from 19 percent female head chefs to 25 percent. Obviously, we’re not taking the credit for all of that, but we put things front and center and said ‘this is what needs to happen.’ We didn’t just do it ourselves, we worked side by side with others and partnered with other women led organizations because you can’t operate in silos,” she said.
In addition, James noted that this September she will be taking part in a seven-part webinar series “to really go over what are the key essential areas that especially women and women of color need for their businesses to grow.”
Finally, she also emphasized the potential impact that the companies in attendance at the FSM Summit can make and urged them to examine everything.
“This is the influence all of you have as multi-national companies, who do you source from? What are the relationships you’re building? What are you supporting? I hope you tap into that purpose and see what influence you have because this is what we’re talking about, nothing is too small or too large,” she concluded.