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Girl Power

April 10, 2014

By: Susan Connelly, Vice President, State and Local Government Relations, Darden Restaurants

Girl Power

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Throughout the event, I was inspired by the impact women have had in our industry and on society, which further motivates my aspirations to be a great leader and to develop our future female leaders. I am fortunate in my career to have had great mentors and role models who have taken genuine interest in my career path. I want to pass along that mentorship I received and serve as a role model that women should feel empowered and that we don’t have to compete with one another to get ahead.

Throughout the four-day event, I had the opportunity to attend numerous sessions to develop my leadership skills, network with attendees and grow closer to my Darden family. I was particularly moved by a keynote from news anchor, journalist and producer Soledad O’Brien. She talked about her first job in the broadcast industry that was literally to pluck staples from bulletin boards and how she climbed her way to where she is. She also talked about assumptions some people make about females. She had one boss assume she would not want certain assignments once she had children.

It’s organizations like WFF that try to change these assumptions based on gender or any other stereotypes people may have. I started in the foodservice industry more than 12 years ago and I am proud and impressed with the leadership and vibrancy of WFF. It’s great to see our industry placing importance on developing women, and WFF provides numerous development resources and scholarships to help us grow. It is heartening to see women progress and grow through their involvement with WFF and gain the confidence to get more involved and volunteer for leadership roles within the organization. It has been inspiring to see Darden’s Chief Development Officer Laurie Burns rise through the ranks of WFF and serve as chair of the organization and lead with such grace and steadiness during a period of change and uncertainty.

Developing female talent has always been a passion of mine. I want to encourage females in any company or even in their personal lives to build the self-confidence and courage to take on responsibilities and to make your voice heard. We cannot spend our careers waiting to be asked to reach for the next opportunity. Be engaged in your own development.

I’ve also learned the importance of being nimble. If you would have asked me about my career goals when I was a senior in high school, I would have told you I was going to be an English teacher. I had a plan and goals but my ability to adapt and change has gotten me to where I am today. I learned to be less focused on one plan, and some of the greatest opportunities I’ve had, including joining Darden six years ago, were due to my willingness to take risks.

I’m proud to work for a company that sees the importance of female talent development and that saw the value in so many of us attending the conference. At Darden, we exceed the industry average in our female representation in operations leadership roles, such as restaurant managers. Darden also has a Women’s Network employee resource group to further build our community within the company. I had a great time sharing in the conference experience with my Darden colleagues who came from all aspects of our company, including both our restaurants and Restaurant Support Center. I’m looking forward to joining these leaders and future leaders to put all our learnings into action.

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