It is hard to believe it’s already the one year anniversary of #MeToo, a movement that has spread globally, impacting a range of industries and leaving many wondering what is next – especially foodies.

Since kicking off last October, an unfortunate landslide of celebrity chefs and prominent figures in the restaurant industry have made headlines implicating them with harassment claims and connecting them and the restaurant industry to this global movement. The Chew’s chef Mario Batali, chef Mike Isabella, celebrity chef and restauranteur, Ken Friedman, founder of New York’s Spotted Pig, and John Besh, owner of New Orleans’ Besh Restaurant Group, are among the many.

In addition to celebrity chefs, the movement reached large-scale chains when Wendy’s farmworkers took to the streets to remind Americans of the vulnerability of female farmworkers to sexual harassment and violence in the fields. Following the Manhattan-based strike, it evolved into a social media sensation, even garnering celebrity endorsements. Even as recent as last month, hundreds of female McDonald’s employees across the country walked out of work as a way to put pressure on the fast-food company to address sexual harassment within its own ranks.

Defining the Problem in Numbers: While the American restaurant industry employs nearly fifteen million people, representing close to 10% of the U.S. workforce, female leadership in the industry is lackluster:

  • Women make up 49% percent of entry level positions. While at the top, women represent only 23 percent of the food industry’s C-suite executives
  • Twenty percent fewer women than men in the food industry reach their first promotion to manager
  • 40 percent of female fast-food workers experience unwanted sexual behavior on the job
  • 42 percent of women in the industry who experience unwanted sexual behavior feel forced to accept it because they can’t afford to lose their jobs
  • 1 in 8 women in fast food faces extensive sexual harassment at work but feels trapped and unable to leave

While these abuses and harassment may be the biggest controversy facing the restaurant industry today, there are a handful of F&B brands, chefs & restauranteurs who are trying to initiative social change and using marketing and communications to build awareness and incite action:

  1. Talk the Talk, then Walk the Walk – OpenTable – As a true boss lady, OpenTable CEO Christa Quarles takes her influence seriously, especially when it comes to female empowerment. An advocate for OpenTable’s 50/50 movement, Quarles strives to have women represent at least 50% of their workforce, particularly in C-suite positions and tech jobs. Perhaps more significant in my opinion, Quarles is opening the door for dialogue. OpenTable has launched a dinner series called “Open Conversations” a way to gather influential female culinary leaders to discuss the challenges women face in the restaurant industry in hopes to foster change.

What is admirable about the OpenTable Conversations is the authentic desire to help and make a change. While promoted on social media and through the media, the goal of the dinner series was not to drive reservations on the digital platform, but more about leveraging the OpenTable network to start a difficult conversation and spark change. Then, social media and earned media broadened the conversation by sharing discussions from the dinner tables.

OpenTable Open Discussions
  1. Celebrate & Empower – Culinary luminaries, including Carla Hall, Rachael Ray, Alexandra Guarnaschelli, Giada De Laurentiis, as well as other power females (such as Martina McBride and Natasha Bedingfield) joined forces to celebrate women in the restaurant industry at the NYC Wine and Food Festival “Supper is Served.” From honoring their triumphs, discussing how #MeToo is changing the culinary industry, and ultimately encouraging more women to join the industry – the event was a “spirited salute” to women in the industry who are carving a path for future generations.

With many young women just starting their culinary careers, this celebratory and inspiring event, paired with the support of leading female chefs was a great way to communicate that the industry is moving in a positive direction and will continue to prioritize, uplift and seek equality for women in the culinary workforce.

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  1. Females on the Forefront – Land O’Lakes – Old MacDonald had a farm…she-i-she-i-o! As a way to celebrate and spotlight female dairy farmers, Land O’Lakes has re-mixed the famous nursery rhyme into an entertaining and empowering feminist sing-a-long. Showing an accurate depiction of women in stereotypical male jobs is just one example of how a marketing campaign can spread awareness of a brand’s priorities amidst a social movement.

This type of campaign has longevity and can earn loyalty among consumers by showing a meaningful commitment to empowering the women in your industry. In fact, just earlier this year, research from the #SeeHer initiative, ANA and TiVo released a study proving that ads that accurately depict women and girls are better-liked and more socially acceptable among men and women alike, especially when partnered with programming that accurately portrays females.

Land O’Lakes “All Together Better”

These are three strong examples that demonstrate a range of responses from F&B brands and culinary leaders to drive change. But I struggled to find more of these shining examples. As we recognize the one-year anniversary this month, I believe there is more work F&B brands and leaders can do to affect change. If your brand is considering wading into these waters, please reach out for help in defining the best approach. And as always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this ever-evolving situation. Do you think there is more change on the forefront or is the movement just a fleeting moment?

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