A lack of role models in the food industry makes it challenging for women to find their paths, says 35-year veteran Rebecca Black.

Rebecca Black, Director of Operations at Chronic Tacos

Rebecca Black, Director of Operations at Chronic Tacos

When I was about 17 years old, I took a job washing dishes at the local Pizza Hut restaurant, just as many of my friends did, so I’d have some extra spending money. But unlike most of my friends, I found that I actually enjoyed my time at the restaurant, having friendly interactions with customers and coworkers and being an integral part of the dining experience. By age 18, I’d been promoted to general manager, which was unique, given my young age and the rarity of women in the workforce at that time time.

Pizza Hut corporate provided tuition reimbursement so I could stay with the company while attending college. Fast forward through the next 20 years—which included earning my degree, several years of changing diapers, taking on the role of corporate training manager for a franchise that was actually tripling in size—and I was ready to take on my next challenge.

I invested in, and grew, a Papa John’s and Panera Bread franchise before I found what I was really looking for—a position that would combine both my franchisee and franchisor experience. I found it at Chronic Tacos, as director of operations for this growing casual restaurant chain.

After more than 30 years of working in the food service industry, I’ve experienced firsthand the generational changes and improvements in how people perceive and respond to businesswomen. Having started in the industry at a very young age, there few women to model myself after or aspire to emulate. There were no female mentors to rely on for the advice and counsel I needed.

Although the number of women in executive leadership roles in this industry has certainly increased over the years, women still represent a mere 25 percent of leadership. As a result,  finding the right mentor can often be challenging for young women looking for career advice in this industry.

In my experience, the best way to expand your network and identify your own “crew” of advisors is to join women-based organizations and attend networking events as much as you can. It’s not enough to merely swap information; you need to be proactive to make the most of your newly found associates’ potential reach. Having a “crew” or group of mentors—as opposed to just one—is key, as it allows you to tap a variety of expertise and see situations from different perspectives.

About 10 years ago, I joined the Women’s Foodservice Forum, as well as the International Franchise Association’s Women’s Franchise Network—both of which have been extremely important to my growth. The things I learn are often eye opening, as I’m able to gain the perspectives of women inside and outside my industry.

Another significant obstacle businesswomen face is the outdated, conservative mindset that “women weren’t invited to the party, but showed up anyway.” This outlook, paired with women’s minority status in leadership ranks, causes many of us to feel like we need to be better at everything and prove our worth—just to gain access.

For some women, this has led to the distressing and unrealistic idea that we should be able to do or have it all. No one can. Not only do some women try to do it all, but try to do it all flawlessly. In my experience, I’ve found that I’m able to be the best mother at home and the best leader at work when I choose my priorities and do everything I can to make them count. Yes, there have been times when I’ve had to sacrifice a family function or a sporting event for a business meeting—or vice versa. But I’ve decided, since I can’t have it all and be everywhere at once, I’ll make sure I’m 100 percent committed to whichever activity or event I choose to attend. This way, there are no regrets.

Since I first joined the workforce, there have been significant shifts and advancements in how women are viewed in the workforce, and how workingwomen view themselves. Today, nearly 50 percent of the business world is made up of women—a large step for gender equality and progress. Unfortunately, the number of women in executive roles is close to being equal. Change does take time, but it will occur faster if women work together for advancement, and continue to stay active, vocal, and dedicated in our quest for respect.

Rebecca Black is the Director of Operations at Chronic Tacos, a growing fast casual franchise that delivers true Mexican flavor with authentic third generation family recipes. Learn more at eatchronictacos.com.