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Raising a Family and a Career

March 14, 2014

By: Jenny Hanson, Director of Operations, Olive Garden

Raising a Family and a Career

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More than 15 years ago, I started with Darden as a server at Olive Garden and immediately fell in love with the restaurant industry. I loved the fast-paced environment and the social aspect from the camaraderie within my restaurant to being able to interact with guests. I was still in college at the time, so having a job as a server offered me a lot of flexibility to work while going to classes.

Once I knew I wanted to stay in the industry, I approached my General Manager about my interest in one day becoming a manager. From there my career has evolved into many different roles to learn all aspects of the business, from being a sales manager to being a culinary manager. Getting to learn the culinary aspect of the business revealed an unknown passion of mine for everything that happened in the kitchen. I learned many invaluable skills that would set me up for success moving forward. I continued to grow and eventually became a General Manager and now a Director of Operations for Olive Garden.

When people hear about my career, especially young women, I am often asked about how I balance family priorities with work priorities and how I’ve succeeded in traditionally male-dominated roles. Having a strong and supportive partner in life is important. I was in the restaurant industry when I first started dating my husband, so he knew what to expect with different hours than typical jobs and the busy peak season periods. We talked very early on about how to balance both of our career goals and how we could be the best partners for each other. Now with two children, we know we have to help each other out. We don’t conform to typical gender roles. We’re both willing to pitch in wherever needed.

When I am away from work, I focus on the quality of experiences I have with my children and my husband. I schedule far in advance the time I know I’ll need to be out so I don’t have to worry, can better plan and so I can ensure I’m not missing the important events in our family’s life. I schedule out my children’s school activities, carpooling and important milestones. I also secretly love when I have a day off in the middle of the week every once in a while when my husband is at work and the children are in school, and I can just have a quality day to myself to reenergize. Although these are rare, since I’m more likely to take a day off when I can spend time with my family, sometimes a day to just focus on me is welcomed!

I see many females climbing the career ladder here at Darden, and I’m proud of my diverse teams. My advice to young women starting out their careers is to focus on doing a good job in your role, communicate effectively and seek out mentors. A formal mentorship can teach you so much. Find someone you respect and who is willing to tell you the truth so you can constantly learn and improve.

Another female Director of Operations and I are teaming up to create a networking group for female managers in the regions we oversee, so we can all support and bounce ideas off each other. I worked for Valerie Insignares, President of LongHorn Steakhouse, for a long time, and she served as a great example to me of a successful female executive and role model. I hope to pass along the same example that with hard work, anyone can be successful in his or her chosen career path, regardless of gender.

Thanks to the company’s open-mindedness, I’ve never seen gender as a barrier during my career at Darden. You can see across our company the number of females we have in all aspects of our business and at all levels of the organization. I’m proud to be in such great company and to help develop our future female leaders.

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