Ruminations on advancements achieved and to come

Earlier this year, a franchise magazine that shall remain nameless here focused upon the issue of "cleavage in the marketplace" - a subject no man in his right mind would ever touch. However, I found it interesting that this subject had garnered discussion in one of the leading publications on franchising, or for that matter, in any reputable publication.

At first, I thought my surprised reaction to the subject stemmed from the Victorian values of my generation. But this interesting article, at first forgotten, came back to mind when I read that the three nominees for the American Bar Association's Forum on Franchising Governing Committee were all female. A first! What subconscious association had I made between these two occurrences? And what was the importance of this association? And why now?

After reflecting on these questions, I concluded that to understand why this subject was of interest to me, I needed to take a mental walk down memory lane. Let me take you back to the University of Michigan Law School Class of '73. My recollection is that fewer than 10 percent of my classmates were women. The men's bathroom at the law school was the size of something one would expect to see at Michigan's football stadium - The Big House. The women's bathroom (I am told) was the size of a small matchbox.

Let's now fast forward to today. Although I have not formally checked the number, probably half, and perhaps more, of the entering law school students at Michigan are women. Quite a different environment from my day. (And, I will note, that while the men's bathroom has been downsized considerably, I cannot personally speak to the other side of the ledger).

And, of course, this change in the law school setting is finally working its way through the profession, although slowly. My own law firm in 1973 had two women associates, and no women partners. The class of new lawyers for the firm in the preceding year numbered 17, all male; my class had no women; the new associates the following year had only one. This year, we hired 41 attorneys right out of law school; 19 of those were women. When last counted, we had 231 associates, 105 of whom were women, and 43 of our 234 partners were women. I am confident that my own firm's experience closely reflects that of our competitors.

Trickle up

In the business sector, women are now often filling the top positions in the legal departments of many leading and smaller franchisors. The general counsels at Papa John's, Fazoli's, Focus Brands (which owns Moe's, Carvel, and four or five other franchise companies), and Huddle House are women. And women hold prominent positions in the legal departments of numerous other franchising companies, including McDonald's, Burger King, Nexcen Brands (which owns Maggie Moo's, The Athlete's Foot, and five other franchised or licensed brands), and Compass Group (which has six franchise chains).

What I had not realized is how many women have also won the Brass Ring in all different kinds of franchise companies. Joanne Shaw, CEO of The Coffee Beanery, probably has been the most notable (at least to me), for she is the only woman Past Chair of the International Franchise Association.

But as I continued to read and be educated (perhaps even enlightened), it became quite apparent that Shaw is only one of many female CEOs or presidents of large or notable franchise company industry leaders. In the industry, we can point to Julia Stewart, CEO of IHOP (presently scheduled to buy Applebee's) and Rosalyn Mallet, president and COO of Caribou Coffee. And the cover of the August/September 2007 issue of Pink magazine (Please don't ask why I had a copy of Pink) features Kerrii Anderson, CEO and president at Wendy's International and the first female CEO of any of the leading chains.

Outside of the food industry, we can point to Dina Dwyer-Owens, CEO and chair of The Dwyer Group, which controls seven franchise concepts; Mary Ellen Sheets, founder and chair of Two Men and a Truck (a trademark that does not exactly project a sense of femininity) and her daughter, Melanie Bergeron, CEO; Jo Kirchner, CEO and president of Primrose School, a provider of premium day care for very young children; and Marilyn Carlson Nelson, CEO and chair of the Carlson Companies, a conglomerate with interests in and hospitality.

Job lag

Now, let's ask the $64 question: Have opportunities for women in the job market finally come "of age" (another subject no male should ever touch around women)? I asked Darrell Johnson, CEO of Frandata, if there were any meaningful statistics about women's advancement in the franchising job market. The answer, unfortunately, was "no." I would suspect, however, that the number of women in high-level positions is still well under 50 percent, notwithstanding the fact that women have advanced substantially over the last decade.

In part, this is probably a function of a lag factor - many job opportunities simply don't turn over very often, so it will take quite a few years for certain jobs to become vacant and for women to have the opportunity to compete for these positions. In law firms, for example, the number of women who make partner is probably now nearing 50 percent, but it will take another generation or two before the number of women partners approaches 50 percent, owing to this lag factor.

Has the glass ceiling in franchising been smashed? It would be interesting to hear from women and men in the franchise marketplace to see what their perceptions may be. In a casual conversation with a high-level franchise lawyer in the hospitality industry, I noted his observation that women are well-established in areas such as finance and franchise sales, but the development and other departments of many franchise companies in his industries have not yet embraced the presence of women to the same extent.

There are some conclusions - though based on anecdata (data that is considerably less than scientific, but perhaps is more than a simple story standing alone) - that are self-evident. First, the percentage of women in franchising, and in key areas of franchise companies, will continue to rise.

Second, this increase further highlights the longstanding, but frequently unacknowledged, challenges to franchise and other companies resulting from the increase in the numbers of women in the work force. For example, how do we reconcile the family commitments of so many of these newcomers to the demands that employment requires? (As distinguished from the problem perceived by many that Generation Y wants high compensation but without putting in the requisite effort to make that economically feasible, but I digress - and editorialize!)

And to bring us full circle, how do we deal with questions of discrimination, and such lesser issues as to what is the appropriate office look. The reason this last issue was not discussed back when I joined the work force, I have concluded, is that the problem of cleavage was not seen, in all senses. There were few women in the professional work force to begin with back then.

But always keep in mind that there are natural and basic instincts that cannot be readily overcome by a navy blue suit. That is a subject for another time, another place, and another author - one who is more of a chili pepper than this green one.

Rupert Barkoff is a partner in Kilpatrick Stockton LLP's Atlanta office, and is Chair of the Firm's Franchise Practice Team. He is also a Past Chair of the American Bar Association's Forum on Franchising, and Editor-in-Chief of Fundamentals of Franchising.

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