But the road to gender equity in the workplace has its challenges. In the 2020 KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit Report, 75% of executive women reported experiencing imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. Gender roles and stereotypes can fuel this sense of insecurity, as can the absence of a peer group as women ascend into higher positions. The study also uncovered several antidotes to imposter syndrome, including having a mentor and being part of a collaborative team. When employees feel like they belong, it gives them the confidence to reach for newer, more challenging roles.
The heart of Aramark’s gender equity efforts, the EMPOWER employee resource group (ERG), seeks to do just that: empower and grow diverse leadership among women that drives results by promoting career development, networking, and mentoring alongside allies from across the business.
“EMPOWER is a demonstration of our commitment to advancing women’s career development,” says Lauren Harrington, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Aramark and the Executive Sponsor of EMPOWER.
With 1,400 members around the world, both women and men, EMPOWER is our largest and longest-standing ERG. Here we take a look at its impact through the stories of three members.
An Employee-Led Evolution
Once known as the Women’s Business Resource Network (WBRN), the group was rebranded as EMPOWER for Women’s Equality Day in August 2020. EMPOWER’s mission had become all the more relevant with the COVID-19 pandemic, as members needed to prioritize their personal health and wellbeing while sustaining their careers and juggling the demands of home.EMPOWER has nimbly adjusted its offerings for the online environment. Every quarter, the group organizes virtual seminars featuring external speakers plus interactive workshops to reinforce the seminar topics. Recent themes have ranged from defining and leveraging your personal brand to managing work-life balance during the pandemic . March also marks the annual EMPOWER symposium, which is open to all employees and includes cross-participation from other ERGs. This year’s theme, “EMPOWERED Women: Rising Together,” will feature events focusing on authenticity, resilience, networking, and personal branding.
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“The real magic of EMPOWER is the high-quality, professional development programming for its members,” says Harrington. “Our committed volunteers come from all across the company, and they just keep raising the bar.”
“EMPOWER Hours” are for more casual networking. Members—which include women and their allies—discuss thought-provoking articles, podcasts, and TED Talks that speak to women’s leadership and development. The hour-long sessions give employees a chance to meet colleagues they may not know or interact with on a regular basis.
The programming is driven by member input, and EMPOWER Hubs bring it to life across the enterprise. We have 13 EMPOWER Hubs in North America and Europe, with two more to launch in Toronto, Canada, and Southeast Michigan.
Throughout it all, members are encouraged to speak openly about career challenges and how they have overcome them. In fact, a well-known hallmark of EMPOWER programming is its candid, personal tone.
A Place to Achieve
Attending an all-girls high school gave EMPOWER member Erin Wishon an excellent education, but it didn’t steer her toward a career in the male-dominated culinary industry. Instead, she had to forge her own path.
“I had to dig deep to go against what everyone else wanted for me,” says Wishon, a Senior Executive Chef with our Midwest District. After earning her bachelor’s and culinary degrees, she worked in hotels, restaurants, convention centers, and casinos before she found the right fit in our Sports & Entertainment business.
The challenges have been many for this female chef. “Sexism, ageism, and harassment have all had a strong impact on my personal development and my career,” Wishon shares. “To ‘get a seat at the table,’ I had to be twice as good as my male counterparts.” She credits her achievements to her personal strengths: organization, multitasking, focus, and efficiency.
With EMPOWER, Wishon finds the exchange of personal experiences to be indispensable for personal growth. “While this industry is evolving, many of us still don’t know other women in our same roles,” she points out. “I can’t imagine how much easier things would have been for me if I’d had a female chef to give me guidance as I was coming up.”
Using Her Voice
Chanel Brown loves to help others and build relationships, so transitioning to a career in hospitality came naturally. About 17 years ago, she began working at Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha, Nebraska—first in sales and marketing, then onward to other arms of the business. “Throughout my career, I often took the jobs that others did not take,” she attests. “That allowed me to get experience all across multiple lines of business.”
That experience spring-boarded Brown to Aramark a few years ago. Today she is Vice President, Strategic Partnerships in Higher Education—and a proud member of both EMPOWER and LEAD, our ERG for Leaders and Employees of African Descent.
Recently, the two groups sponsored her to attend a groundbreaking leadership development program for Black women. “It came for me right at the right time,” Brown says of the five-month program from The Leader’s Edge. “I walked away a better business partner and was able to implement what I learned immediately.”
One of Brown’s greatest challenges as a woman leader is simply to be heard. “I make it a point to build my credibility quickly in any situation and gain buy-in from key stakeholders even if that means having a meeting before the meeting,” she says.
She sees ERGs as part of the solution to equality in the workplace. “LEAD has given me a safe space, an immediate network, and a sense of belonging,” she states. “Meanwhile, EMPOWER does exactly what the name says—they have empowered me. I have seen growth in my confidence, something that can so easily disappear.”
Brisbane Vaillancourt’s introduction to the hospitality industry started with bussing tables at age 13. In college and beyond, she worked her way up at a privately owned Mexican restaurant chain. She came to Aramark about five years ago and is now Vice President of Operations with our LifeWorks Restaurant Group, a premium division within Aramark.
She believes in the power of mentorship. “I was fortunate enough to find a great mentor as I embarked on my career in corporate America,” Vaillancourt says. “She is still someone I reach out to today for professional guidance.”
EMPOWER is another source of inspiration, allowing her to create a network outside of her regular team. The relationships provide a platform for real conversation and encouragement—and sometimes, the roles are reversed. “When other women reach out to you for guidance, you realize you are a role model,” she says. “I hope I can continue to mentor and positively impact other women in the workplace.”
Vaillancourt acknowledges that while the world has made progress with accepting women in the workplace, challenges remain. She attributes her own career success to knowledge, confidence, and the fact that she loves her work. The path to leadership grows even wider when peers and mentors help nurture those traits.
Finding Strength in One Another
Amid these unpredictable times, it is important that our employees—of all gender identities—find strength by supporting one another. When our people thrive on a personal and professional level, we only stand to benefit as a company.
As Harrington puts it, “Everything we do through EMPOWER ladders up to the goal of having women who feel like they’ve got the tools to advance their own careers and drive business outcomes as a result.”