5 Insights from the 2024 Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF) Leadership Conference

By Chef Laoise Rubio and Liam Boyle

Our 5 Most Inspiring and Insightful Takeaways


Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF) is the food industry’s thought leader on gender equity.

As of 2023, Forbes reports female CEOs lead about 10% of Fortune 500 companies. While this is an important milestone, it underscores the continuing need for more women at all levels of leadership. We believe in elevating women leaders, that’s why Bader Rutter’s Food & Beverage practice is made up of 72% women.

Last week, we had the privilege of attending the #WFFLimitless conference. Now in their 35th year, the Women’s Foodservice Forum focuses on elevating women leaders. The conference attracted more than 3,000 people, all dedicated to changing the leadership mix and accelerating the advancement of women leaders in the foodservice industry. From corporate restaurant roles like brand managers and HR professionals to CMOs, chefs, restaurant buyers, sales reps and more, the discussion focused on balancing representation.

Some of the biggest names in the foodservice industry attended, including representatives from PepsiCo, General Mills, J. M. Smucker, McCain Foods, Hormel, Keurig Dr Pepper, Nestle and many more brands that have invested in building stronger, more diverse teams.

With illuminating keynote presentations, inspirational panel discussions and intimate networking sessions, the event served as a catalyst for empowerment and change.

Personally, we took away a host of lessons and insights from the conference; here are our top five:


1. Be a professional troublemaker!

In the opening keynote session, Luvvie Ajayi Jones discussed the importance of having the courage to speak the truth.  She defines professional troublemakers as people who commit to elevating the rooms they’re in and being a part of positive change. Not just because it’s nice to have, but because we CANNOT afford to ignore any opportunity to improve the world where we live.

“We live in a world that too often encourages us to stay in our comfort zones, to keep quiet, and to avoid making waves. In fact, it can be risky to do the opposite. But what’s wild is that  the world we live in, with all its technological advances, was built by those who thought different, spoke different, moved different. It doesn’t serve any of us when we remove what makes us stand out depending on the rooms we find ourselves in.”

2. Recognize performance-inhibiting beliefs.

Deborah Rosado Shaw shared a story about growing up in the nation’s poorest congressional district. She worked hard to get a full scholarship to her dream school, only to be met with negativity and racism from her roommate’s family for simply existing. Teary-eyed  after being asked to leave by the dean, she started to believe that maybe she really didn’t deserve to be there. She suddenly recognized these performance-inhibiting beliefs and how easily they can creep into your mind. She worked hard to overcome those misperceptions and became the recipient of numerous awards, including Fortune’s “50 Most Powerful Latinas in Corporate America.”

She’s become an adviser and strategist for some of the world’s biggest corporations and organizations, including Costco, Publix, Walmart and The Walt Disney Company. She now says “The job of a leader is to create a future that isn’t going to happen on its own.”

3. Address mental health to drive peak performance.

Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo talked about how a healthy mind can drive peak performance. Organizations can help their teams avoid burnout, starting with awareness of the 10-point stress scale and watching for red flags. She shared some short- and long-term techniques to ultimately transform your own perspective.

“Take care of yourself – prevent burnout by proactively acting and not letting yourself fall into the red zone of distress. Remember to prioritize self-care and make time for yourself!”

4. Act more, think less and always be authentic.

ABC and BBC News political journalist and best-selling New York Times author Katty Kay opened day two with a keynote focused on confidence, which she calls the stuff that turns thoughts into action. Katty encouraged everyone to take the chance to demonstrate confidence, even if it’s something small like standing up and asking a question.

“Companies who employ more women outperform their competitors by every measure of profitability. This isn’t a nice, p.c., let’s-be-nice-to-women issue. This is a bottom-line issue.”

5. Align your head and heart to enhance productivity.

Acclaimed author Betsy Myers led a session about head and heart leadership and how the newer generations have helped reset expectations around leadership. It’s no longer just about driving results but leading with your head and heart to make teams feel important and supported.

“When people feel cared about in the organization, they’re more productive.”


Whether we recognize it or not, we are in a space and time where we can all listen, learn and act to make the change we want to see. While the powerful stories and lessons we heard firsthand apply to any industry, for all of us who work in the foodservice industry, it’s a rallying call. While women dominate the industry from a numbers perspective, the numbers dwindle as you rise through positions of leadership.

The question remains: “Why?” This is not just about representation. Women leaders are good for business: The Ready-Now Leaders report from the Conference Board shows that organizations with at least 30% women in leadership roles are 12x more likely to be in the top 20% for financial performance. So, if it wasn’t already compelling enough to make the change because it’s the right thing to do, couple that with the fact that it’s the right thing to do for your company’s bottom line.

We at Bader Rutter are here for it and look forward to playing our part in building a stronger, better, more equitable future in foodservice.