Hattie Hill, President & CEO, Women’s Foodservice Forum

Hattie Hill Women’s Foodservice Forum

Hattie Hill is President and Chief Executive Officer of WFF, the industry’s premier leadership development organization working since 1989 on advancing women in the food industry. Through competency-based education events and rich networking opportunities, WFF serves thousands of professionals and hundreds of employers across the country in advancing the careers of women in manufacturing, operations, distribution, publishing, consulting and all segments of the food industry ecosystem. Hattie is an international leadership development expert, business owner, best-selling author and globally renowned thought leader.

After nominating Hattie Hill once again as one of the 2019 Top Women in Metro New York Foodservice & Hospitality, Total Food Service has the opportunity to sit down with the WFF President/CEO and discuss her beginnings with the organization through to her aspirations and goals for the future.


Can you share your background with our readers?

I was the founder and CEO of Hattie Hill Enterprises where I worked for 30 years with companies such as McDonald’s, Frito-Lay, Aramark and Compass providing leadership development and employee engagement consulting across 70 countries. I helped organizations connect key products and services with the audiences and markets that would most benefit from them.  As a lifelong advocate for women leaders, I invested my career in helping equip women leaders with competencies and a mindset to advance their careers and in helping organizations understand and realize the bottom-line benefits of diversity within their teams.

What sparked your interest in the restaurant and foodservice industry?

One of the most exciting aspects of the food industry is that you can start anywhere and go everywhere.  Many senior leaders in the industry literally started their careers on the front line as servers or in food preparation. This is such a people-focused business on the customer service side but also on the team-building side. We are always looking for excellent leaders who want to build their careers with us. I love that dynamism and potential.

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This is also an industry that is wide open to people from all backgrounds and where you can get your foot in the door and build a rewarding career based on your own merits. It is especially open to women and women comprise 50% of our entry-level workforce. I see so much potential in that.

What was the opportunity that you saw with WFF?

WFF Women’s Foodservice ForumI had served on the WFF Board for several years when I transitioned into the role of interim CEO and then into the permanent position five years ago. What excites me most about WFF is how forward-thinking this organization is. We are on the leading edge of helping companies identify and implement tangible solutions to advance women and grow their organizations.

We are one of the few organizations that is both developing women as leaders so that they are prepared for advancement and developing organizations so they are prepared to help women advance and thrive. That comprehensive approach based on solid research that shows where the barriers and opportunities are is the most effective way to move the needle on gender equity.

Can you walk our readers through what brought the creation of the WFF?

Some very progressive and forward-thinking men really started the ball rolling and WFF has always maintained strong partnerships with male champions. At the 1988 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, Peter Berlinski, then editor of Restaurant Business magazine, held a roundtable discussion to gather data on the state of women in the foodservice industry. The women who attended the roundtable talked about developing women for leadership talent and ensuring career advancement among executive women in the foodservice industry, which remained highly male-dominated – particularly within the leadership ranks. It was that gathering that inspired the formation of the Women’s Council in 1989, which evolved into the Women’s Foodservice Forum in 1990.

We are very pleased to be celebrating our 30th Anniversary this year. We will mark this milestone at our Annual Conference March 10-13 in Dallas where we will recognize Industry Titans who are committing to advancing women in their organizations and leveraging their influence to drive gender equity across the industry. We will also recognize Change Makers Under 30 – the rising female stars who will lead our industry into the future. We hope the entire industry will celebrate with us at this outstanding event that is included with Conference registration.

What was the WFF’s focus when it launched? How has that agenda evolved through the years?

Initially, the organization focused most on advocating for the advancement of women in the food industry and providing the resources they needed to succeed. We focused on education to help women increase their professional and leadership skills but also on providing the critical strategic connections women needed to advance through the industry. The research makes it clear that those professional connections, mentors and sponsors have been a critical piece in enabling men to advance but that women have had far less access to those relationships. Some of the most important advantages to being a WFF member and attending WFF events are the incredible networking opportunities we intentionally embed into everything we do.

Today, our mission has expanded to serve as the food industry’s thought leader on women’s advancement and gender equity. We provide the research, insights and best practice solutions that enable food companies to address the pressing need for talent, gain better consumer insights and drive business growth by realizing the full potential of women leaders. At the same time, we continue to provide women (and men) with data-driven content to build leadership skills and the professional connections needed to grow your career.

The last two years have been marked by change and upheaval as the #metoo movement emerged?  Where are we today in society and in our industry?

I have to give the food industry credit for leading the charge for gender equity even ahead of the issue being brought into the national spotlight so clearly through the #metoo movement.  One thing we know is that working conditions for women will improve as more women are in leadership positions and there is greater gender equity in the workplace. That is something we work toward every day.

We applaud the movement and the fact that women’s voices are being heard and people are being held accountable for inappropriate actions. That is a critical first step. We also understand, however, that many of the barriers that hold women back in their careers are less obvious than blatant abuse and often involve unconscious bias. Most organization systems have grown out of male-dominated culture and many unintentionally thwart women’s advancement — from the recruitment process to the first promotion (where 100 men are promoted beyond entry level for every 79 women) and up through the ranks.

The #metoo movement has brought much-needed attention to the issue of women’s rights and has helped to highlight how much our progress has stalled. It has also helped move the issue further up the list of priorities for senior leaders which will help women and help their organizations because we know gender diversity increases financial performance.

Hattie Hill WFF Women’s Foodservice Forum

How will the agenda for the upcoming March conference in Dallas reflect those challenges?

We are exceptionally excited about our 2019 Annual Leadership Development Conference coming up March 10-13 in Dallas. We have amazing speakers, of course. Chairman of the PepsiCo Board of Directors, Indra Nooyi, will be a keynote, as will researcher and five-time best-selling author Brené Brown.

But what is perhaps even more exciting is that today we have extensive research that shows where women face the greatest barriers to advancement in the Food Industry and the skills that drive success at various career stages. We developed our 2019 Conference content and delivery approach to meet those needs.

That has enabled us to create a more connected, cohesive learning experience where you master the same research-driven content in lockstep with a dedicated group of peers within what we call your Leadership Cohort. Executive Faculty will embed with each Cohort to further the learning as role models, sharing their real-world experiences.

Our new Leadership Cohorts will enable us to more tightly target content to participant needs and provide the increased peer interaction and exposure to industry leaders attendees have requested. When you register, you will select the Leadership Cohort (Manager, Director or Executive) that best matches your career stage. This group will become your home base and team of colleagues throughout Conference.

We have also focused the content on key areas the research shows are absolutely critical to individual success and to creating organizations where women can thrive. All Leadership Cohorts will focus on these topic areas, concentrating on areas of greatest relevance to their career stage. They are:

  • Resilience & Risk Taking: The Role of Confidence and Ambition in Career Success
  • The Bottom Line: How Profit & Loss Experience Drives Advancement at All Levels
  • Inclusive Culture: From the C-Suite to the Front Lines, Inclusion Drives Results

WFF has been a leader in championing Leadership Development. Please take us through that initiative and its impact?

From its inception, WFF has focused on providing content and avenues for women to increase their leadership skills and their abilities to seize opportunities when they arise, and to make their own. Throughout the years, the vehicles for doing this have changed with the times but we have always focused on providing critical content focused on building career competencies that research shows are critical to success.

Our members can complete our Leadership Competency Assessment online as often as they like to gauge and monitor their leadership strengths and areas for development. They can choose to share that information with supervisors as well as they work together to build professional development plans.

We offer an array of online and in-person opportunities for both education and networking to meet the needs of women and men working at all career stages and in all aspects of the food ecosystem. That includes, of course, our signature Annual Leadership Development Conference as well as our one-day, in-market Leadership Development Workshops, our Executive Summit held annually for senior leaders, online success talks and topic-based webinars and networking opportunities including the WFF Circles and WFF Exchanges.

The association has been nothing short of innovative with its men’s gender equity initiative. What are your goals for that program?

Because the majority of senior leaders in companies across the food ecosystem are still men, male champions of women are best positioned to drive the change that will create gender equity in the Food Industry. WFF was launched 30 years ago with the help of male champions and we have partnered with male supporters ever since. We always welcome men into the conversation and urge companies to send male colleagues to Annual Conference, our Leadership Development Workshops and Executive Summit. Men also benefit from the leadership development and networking WFF provides and, when they get involved, they gain a much better understanding of the unintended barriers women face in their organizations and the business benefits of gender diversity.  They typically leave motivated and inspired to drive change.

During our Executive Summit this past summer, we hosted a men’s-only conversation to review the research from the Women in the Workplace Study by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org within the food industry and explored the obstacles slowing the pace of women’s advancement. Participants were able to share their honest questions and concerns about how best to champion women on their teams and in their organizations. They also shared their most effective strategies for accelerating career progress for women in their organizations, talked about data-driven best practices and learned from peers creating inclusive work environments how to break down barriers that hold women back.

Hattie Hill WFF Women’s Foodservice ForumThe event turned out to be standing room only and the men involved requested a Male Champions of Women Community of Interest to be added to the schedule during Annual Conference. We were thrilled to get that on the books and look forward to hosting that COI for the first time at the 2019 Conference. Some of the key issues to be explored include:

  • Recognizing unconscious bias in yourself and the dominance of male culture
  • Understanding the business case for gender equity and how to share it publicly and powerfully
  • What prevents men from becoming vocal allies for women’s advancement
  • The impact of male sponsors and mentors
  • How to turn commitment to gender equity into tangible action and accountability

What led to the establishment of the Lean In program? How can a foodservice professional get involved?

One of the greatest benefits of WFF is the power of community and connection as peers and mentors provide a wealth of information on many career questions. We offer that in several ways.  We now have more than 57 Circles in our WFF Chapter of Lean In.

These small groups of peers meet regularly to engage with and support one another and help women step outside their comfort zones.

We have also recently launched our member-led WFF Exchanges that engage local colleagues in networking across organizations. Typically, two leads in a region from different organizations work together to host and organize the event. They shape the agenda and can opt to meet monthly, quarterly or whatever works in their market. We provide support to help them get started and to connect with colleagues in their area.

For more information about leading, hosting or joining a WFF Circle or WFF Exchange in your area, folks can contact Dana Minton, Senior Manager, Partner Engagement, at dminton@wff.org.

What’s the next step for a foodservice operator or individual to get more info on WFF membership and events?

The most important step for our food organizations is to join WFF. WFF is the Food Industry’s thought leader on gender equity with the research, insights and best practice solutions to enable the food ecosystem to address the pressing need for talent, gain better consumer insights and drive business growth by realizing the full potential of women leaders. We also provide women with the tools and resources to build leadership competencies and drive their own career advancement. We have convened the food industry in collaboration to tackle gender equity together and that will empower all of us to make the food industry the employer of choice for the most talented women and men and win for the war for talent together.

When food companies join WFF, they also get access to participate in our Food Industry Women in the Workplace Study. In 2017, we convened 32 companies to participate in this critical study and in 2018 more than 60 companies participated. Every company that participates is equipped with critical, detailed data about where the barriers to women’s advancement are in their own organization. We segment the data by manufacturers, distributors, operators and other fields and find each one has different strengths and opportunities in terms of driving gender equity.

Although every organization has its own unique challenges and opportunities, the research does point to some key themes that all organizations need to consider and WFF focuses our efforts here to provide the greatest support to our members. They include:

  • CEO engagement and commitment
  • Pay equity
  • Fair representation of women throughout your pipeline and into senior leadership
  • Creating inclusive cultures where all team members can thrive
  • Implementing policies and practices, especially in HR, that create environments where women can thrive

We encourage food companies to check us out at wff.org, give us a call so we can schedule a personal meeting with you, and to register as many team members as possible for the 2019 Annual Leadership Development Conference. Participants describe this event as life-changing and indeed, your employees will be empowered to accelerate their personal career advancement and to help drive gender equity and business growth in your organization.


To learn more about Hattie Hill and the Women’s Foodservice Forum, visit their website.

To register for the2019 Annual Leadership Development Conference, go to aldc.wff.org.