Opinion
Columns: Editor's Note

Ladies Who (Sell) Lunch

Why women in business crave organizations of their own.

Ladies Who (Sell) Lunch

Kim Bartmann didn’t have time for lunch after our cover shoot at Red Stag Supperclub, her classic-meets-contemporary gem of a restaurant in Northeast Minneapolis.

It was late April, the day before the Women Chefs & Restaurateurs annual conference converged on Minneapolis for the first time in the group’s 25-year history; that was thanks to Bartmann, board president of the national organization. Her to-do list included everything from confirming transportation for industry heavyweights like Carla Hall and Lidia Bastianich to orchestrating a dinner that featured the creations of nearly two dozen local women chefs.

Bringing the conference to the Twin Cities was Bartmann’s goal when she got involved with WCR three years ago. (The Twin Cities had just a handful of members then; now there are more than 100.) It was at a time when Bartmann felt women chefs weren’t getting enough recognition locally, but well before women’s empowerment had a trending hashtag and the national spotlight.

Conference topics included “Restaurant Culture & The #MeToo Movement: Moving Toward a Harassment-Free Workplace” and “The Future Is Female: How to Speak Up.” One panelist implored the audience at Aria to grab the spotlight more often, suggesting that men tend to be quick to share an opinion, or a dish, on the fly, while women hang back to fine-tune—and miss opportunities.

That conversation seemed a bit at odds with the level of talent and success in the room. But then, the numbers tell a different story. Women outnumber men as culinary school graduates, yet only 19 percent of chefs in U.S. restaurants are women, and just 7 percent are head chefs, according to RestaurantHER.com, an industry advocacy group. When it comes to public companies, the numbers are similar: Women occupy only 20 percent of C-suite jobs nationally and in Minnesota, as we explored in our April issue.

“Progress has been made, but there’s always more work to do,” Bartmann said when we debriefed right after the conference. That day, she had introduced a California line cook who was stuck in a rut to an educator at Stanford, and a Seattle restaurant owner struggling with a lease issue with a woman who owns several restaurants. “It is crucial for women to get support in their business challenges, and every connection helps people advance in their careers. The visibility and accessibility of ‘successful’ women connecting with each other is empowering for all involved.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about gender equity as I step into my new role with Twin Cities Business. What interest there’s been in my move from sister magazine Mpls.St.Paul seemed to center on the fact that I’m the first woman editor in chief of TCB. I’m proud of that milestone. But being a woman wasn’t what got me the job—I’d like to think 20-plus years of journalism experience and building an expertise in retail reporting and digital news had more to do with it.

Do I bring a different point of view, just by virtue of being a woman? Of course. My first day with TCB was a whirlwind of meetings, calls and introductions, but I still got my son to his orthodontist appointment on time. My husband, who also works full time, probably could have helped, but I wanted to do it.

Should I not divulge that in a business magazine? I think it’s vital that we talk more openly about the complicated intersections of our lives and work, regardless of gender. Our careers are informed, impacted and often inspired by what we do after hours (if there really is such a thing these days). My goal is to bring a holistic approach to business coverage—from side hustles and startups to established business owners like Bartmann who, as you’ll discover in Burl Gilyard’s compelling profile (“Gut Instinct,” page 22), is grappling with what success means for her—the allure of independence, the drive to expand, the realities of supporting some 350 employees.

All that, and she says she still has the experience of being the only woman in a meeting—of feeling like she’s being taken less seriously than the men.

The inaugural issue of TCB in September 1993 included an article about sexual harassment. The headline was “Getting It: Despite the confusion about sexual harassment, one thing is clear: it can be intolerably expensive.” The story examined the consequences of getting caught, rather than the reasons we grapple with this problem. The advice was to move past the awkwardness of discussing sexual harassment and institute office policies such as requiring employees to view sexual harassment training videos. Today, we can simply turn on late night talk shows for the latest on the topic.

So that’s progress—but not enough. It’s true of the restaurant business. It’s true of public companies. It’s true of most industries. Still, I was caught off guard when my gender was suddenly news.

I mentioned this struggle to Sue Hawkes, a nationally recognized author and business coach who started the Twin Cities’ first Women Presidents’ Organization chapter in Minneapolis 17 years ago and has been instrumental in the group’s local growth. (Did you know: Minnesota has more WPO members than does any other state.)

Hawkes wasn’t surprised that many people have wanted to talk about the fact that—news flash!—I’m a woman.

“When you’re the first of anything, it disrupts things—whether you like it or not,” Hawkes says. Her advice? “You say, ‘Thank you for the interest,’ and then you have to seize the moment.”

I intend to do just that, with the help of the ace team here at TCB. I welcome your comments and suggestions as we continue ongoing conversations and take this opportunity to start some new ones.

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