Editor's note: In honor of International Women's Day and Women's History Month, FastCasual interviewed several female leaders in the restaurant industry to learn about their success and how they feel about leading in a male-dominated industry. To read the entire series, click here.
Dawn Sweeney is one of the best-known female leaders in the restaurant industry, but she has helped a variety of other industries as well. Before joining the NRA as president, she was president and CEO of AARP Services and also held leadership positions at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the International Dairy Foods Association.
"One of the reasons — I think — that I found my way to the restaurant industry is that I have always prioritized diversity and inclusion in my life's choices," she said. "And there is no other industry in America as diverse and inclusive as the restaurant industry. "
Got her start in the biz
As a child growing up on a farm in rural Maine, Sweeney's family had a small roadside produce stand, where she worked as a small child picking berries, string beans, potatoes and corn. As she grew up, she eventually worked at the stand, serving customers and bringing fresh produce in from the field.
On why women make great leaders
"Thirty-three percent of restaurant businesses are majority-owned by women and another 15 percent of restaurant businesses are equally owned by women and men. Nearly 60 percent of all front-line supervisors in restaurants today are women. Consumer decision makers are often women in the family. Restaurants are flexible workplaces and offer an enormous range of career options — not just in kitchens or in the front of the house — but also in the 'business' of restaurants, from finance professionals to graphic designers to human resources leaders and food safety and nutrition experts. The industry is a full of employment opportunities that are vital to our economy."
Advice to women looking to lead
"I have always been drawn to career and leadership opportunities that are team-based: collaborative, trusting, open and filled with the spirit of hospitality. Elevating women leaders in our industry is one of the best ways to achieve that goal. It is the 'collective genius' of different points of view, different life experiences and different values and priorities that leads us to the best and highest outcomes.
To women looking to lead in this industry — pay attention to the experiences that shape you. Take note of those moments of inspiration, regret, breakthrough and heartbreak. All of them are important and each is meaningful. My mantra is simple — work hard and be kind. That has been my life's path. Yours will be different. Trust that things happen for a reason (always), that the challenges you confront will make you stronger, and that the purpose of life is to grow, to change, to evolve and to get 'better' — however you define that for yourself."
/ Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.