At 17 years old, I took a job washing dishes at the local Pizza Hut restaurant just to earn some extra spending money. 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. When college rolled around, Pizza Hut corporate generously provided tuition reimbursement so that I could stay with the company while attending college. Meanwhile, I climbed from general manager to multi-unit manager and ultimately to division training manager where I was responsible for training at over 400 restaurants.
I left Pizza Hut after 20 years and invested in a Papa John’s franchise. Over a four year period, I worked with a partner to open over 20 locations. I became a partner in a Panera Bread franchise and two years later, I finally found the position I’d been searching for – in 2013, I became director of operations for Chronic Tacos, a growing fast casual franchise that delivers true Mexican flavor with authentic third generation family recipes. After more than 30 years of being a businesswoman, I’ve learned a lot of lessons and acquired a vast understanding of how to position myself for success. One of the major things I learned early on was to not be afraid to ask for feedback. If you’re in an organization that does not conduct performance reviews or provide formal developmental coaching, you simply have to ask for it.
Often, supervisors do not realize they should be providing feedback on a regular basis and having the type of relationship where you can ask for feedback, support and guidance in your career is key to advancing. It can be difficult to ask about your strengths and areas for improvement, and sometimes even harder to accept the answers. From soliciting feedback, I’ve realized having someone not only offer constructive criticism, but also help me execute changes has been really helpful to advancing my professional portfolio.
Another key component I’ve grasped over the years is the importance of taking on new projects whenever possible. It may be as simple as participating in a task force or something grander like leading a team. When new opportunities arise, I first make sure I can work it into my schedule, and when I can, I’m usually the first to raise my hand. As a result, I always walk away with something useful I didn’t expect, such as insight into another department, a solution to an existing problem or just the chance to interact cross-functionally.
On the contrary, I’ve learned you should never agree to do something you can’t fully commit to as it may negatively impact others involved as well as your credibility. Additionally, as a female business professional, learning how to be viewed as an assertive versus aggressive leader can often become a challenge. In group settings, I try my best to think before I speak and also be more solution-focused while still making sure I have a voice. Starting a career with very few role models in the food service industry, we were never really taught it was acceptable to even participate in the conversation. We’d either come across like a deer caught in headlights or we’d just blend into the woodwork in predominantly male business settings. Having the confidence to know you have something of value to contribute takes practice, so it is important to build upon it by looking for opportunities in every interaction.
As a minority in the business world, women need to not only have someone in our corner, but also make sure to do the same for other women whether they are peers, supervisors or subordinates. When introducing a businesswoman to a colleague, I’ve learned it’s helpful to share something memorable to help the businesswoman stand out. Saying something like, “She’s earned the highest in sales so far this year,” or, “She developed three managers last year,” offers the other person details they may not have gotten otherwise and, in turn, provides a greater chance for the women being introduced to be remembered for future opportunities and networking.
Since I first joined the workforce, there has been much positive advancement in how businesswomen are viewed. Thankfully, we’ve now reached a point where the majority of workers understand that having a strong work ethic, intelligence and professionalism ultimately comes from personal characteristics and aspirations versus one’s gender. Thus, as long as we’re each doing our part to continue down ambitious paths, we can keep momentum going and position ourselves as role models for the next generation of female leaders.