2022 Lunchbox Women in Food Panel

Industry Insights


MAR 30, 2022


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At Lunchbox, we recently had the opportunity to sit down with several women leaders in the restaurant world for an energetic panel in front of the Lunchbox company. 

Over the course of 45 minutes, we chatted about everything from finding mentorship, climbing the career ladder, advice for companies and executives who are trying to achieve greater diversity, and more. 

The Panelists:

Shannon Achilarre, Vice President of Operations & Business Integration at Sushi Maki

Amy Hom, Executive Vice President at REEF

Deena McKinley, Chief Experience Officer at Papa Gino’s Pizza and D’Angelo Grilled Sandwiches

Check out the full video below or read the transcript — whichever you prefer!

Olivia Graham: I'm so pleased to be able to officially present our panelists. For those of you that joined early, we got to chat a little bit beforehand. But, I'm going to introduce all of our panelists. The first, I'm going to start with Shannon, who is the VP of operations at Sushi Maki. Shannon, if you just want to go ahead and tell us your title and background, how you really got started in the food industry and your favorite thing about being a working woman.

Shannon Achilarre: Okay. Well, hi, and thank you to all of you for having me. I really appreciate it. A little bit about myself. I grew up in the restaurant industry. Family had some restaurants. My aunts and cousins and uncles, and growing up hands on right there. I had a restaurant job all throughout my high school years. I decided I was going to go to nursing school and of obviously that didn't work out. So, here I am. Because, once you're in it, your heart's in it, especially if you're a foodie.

Once you're in it, your heart's in it, especially if you're a foodie.

- Shannon Achilarre, Vice President of Operations & Business Integration at Sushi Maki

Shannon Achilarre: I love food. Can't get away from it. And, I decided that this is where I wanted to help people. It was either in the nursing field or making people feel really good about themselves by hospitality. Because, it's not just the food, it's the whole experience as well, on how we treat people and how we make them for when they leave the restaurant. Or, even if they get their food to go. Whatever it is, it's making a difference in someone's life and doing it through food. That is the short version of how and why I'm in the restaurant industry. I think everybody else can also say that the term, the lifer, you know once you're in it, you know who the lifers are. You're going to be attached to it in some way, shape or form.

Shannon Achilarre: I was with Anthony's Coal Fire Pizza for about 13 years before I was with Sushi Maki. I've been with Sushi Maki for about two years now. Previously, to Anthony's, I was a vice president, and with Sushi Maki right now, I'm the vice president of operations and business integration. So, that's a little bit different. I don't know if some people are familiar with, but we use EOS as an entrepreneurial operating system.

Shannon Achilarre: The business integrator is someone that funnels everything through all the channels for all the departments. Pretty much all the departments channel through me to make sure everything happens. Marketing, finance, our commissary operations, go through me. It's one of those things. It's a big, but it's a fun job. Absolutely love every day of it. Always a challenge.

Olivia Graham: Amazing. Shannon, thank you. You'll see our COO Kieran in the chat going off. He's done a lot of work to implement EOS here at Lunchbox. We have tons to chat about that and maybe we'll dive in if we have time. I'll let Kieran steal the show later.

Olivia Graham: Amazing. And, one question for you before we kick off to Amy. I would love to hear what your favorite thing about being a working woman is?

Shannon Achilarre: My favorite thing about being a working woman is the impact that I can have on others. Females, definitely females, because it is a struggle for us in the field. As you saw the statistics, it is a man's world in one sense. But, we have to do things to make it a little bit stronger. And, if I can mentor people and coach lead and teach them certain things to help them be better at what they do every day, I'm all for it. In the sushi business, it's not normal for female sushi chefs, to have female sushi chefs. That is one of the things that we've been impacting through Sushi Maki, is to make a difference and setting a standard like, "Hey, no, it is okay. We have lots of female sushi chefs." Promoting them and encouraging them the whole way through.

If I can mentor people and coach & lead and teach them certain things to help them be better at what they do every day, I'm all for it.

- Shannon Achilarre, Vice President of Operations & Business Integration at Sushi Maki

Shannon Achilarre: But, to truly answer your question, more of my favorite part is really making an impact and having that chance to mentor people, and letting them know and guiding them and helping them get where they want to be. And, realizing what kind of future they could have if they dedicate the time. And, if it's something that they're passionate about, like rest of us. It's helping the ones that need that little push especially with the females.

Olivia Graham: Awesome. Shannon, thank you so much. We look forward to chatting with you in a little bit, in this, the female sushi chef topic. I really do want to dive into when we get into it. I think it's so fascinating.

Shannon Achilarre: Yes.

Olivia Graham: Amazing. Well, I'm going to pass the baton to Amy. To recap a little bit, your title and background, how you got started, flat or sparkling water, and your favorite thing about being a working woman.

Amy Hom: Well, first off, thanks for putting this together. Like I was saying before, I am a huge fan of Lunchbox and all the energy that brings to the rest of us out in the external world. Olivia, I loved chatting with you earlier. I oversee operations between restaurants and retail across North America. We're heading into Dubai a little bit next week. That'll be a fun trip over there. Places I've been. California Pizza Kitchen, Wolfgang Puck and, as of recent, Sweetgreen. I know a lot of people have Sweetgreen on the call. They have sparkling water there, Olivia, just in case you need to try it there. It's really good.

Amy Hom: How I got started, I got dropped off at a mall and was told I need to get a job if I was going to live with my mother. She gave me 50 cents. I'm not sure anyone on the call knows what a payphone is. But, had to talk this gentleman, Don, into hiring me at a very young age. I said I'll do anything he needs me to do. And, I agree with Shannon completely that once you get into the restaurant business, it sucks you in, and it just becomes part of your ongoing building of a family. So, hugely engaged. Loved every minute of it. I'm a huge learner. So, just picking things up from all the mentors along the journey.

Amy Hom: And, listen, my favorite thing about being a working woman, the question you'd asked Shannon, is opening the doors for others and seeing things in women that they don't see in themselves. I just went to breakfast with a woman this morning and she's so talented. She just doesn't see it in herself. Everyone around here raves about her. She just doesn't know how to look in the mirror. And, sorry to say this, but men look in the mirror and say, "Gosh, I look great today. I'm awesome." And, women look in the mirror and they pick themselves apart. I think we need to be more and more of those folks looking in the mirror and saying how amazing we are and getting out of our heads. I love being that help or that little boost or influencer where you can, to help others get to where they want to go. And, see it. See that they have those options for themselves.

My favorite thing about being a working woman… is opening the doors for others and seeing things in women that they don't see in themselves.

- Amy Hom, Executive SVP at REEF

Olivia Graham: Amazing. Thank you so much, Amy. I know so many of us women, especially in this field, wouldn't be where we are without mentors and people like you and Deena and Shannon to open those doors, or give us a mirror with a light when we don't have one. Thank you so much for that. I'm going to pass it over to Deena, and then we will start a quick Q and A. Thank you so much, Amy. 

Deena McKinley: Hi, everybody. My name's Deena McKinley and I'm the chief experience officer at Papa Gino's Pizzeria and D'Angelo Grilled Sandwiches here in New England, in the lovely bay state of Massachusetts, right now. I hail from the beautiful, warm weather of south Florida, and then moved to Arizona. You can guess that I'm a little cold all the time, because I'm definitely used to warmer climates. But, having the best pizza in the world and the most amazing grilled sandwiches in the world really makes up for it, I have to say.

Deena McKinley: I've been in the restaurant industry for about 20 years, a little more. I got started, strangely, I was a high school English teacher out of college. Of course, that goes wonderfully with food because we love food and happy hours as teachers. So, I basically got into advertising and marketing right out of that. My first client was Papa John's Pizza co-op in South Florida. I got very involved with the operators with Papa John's Pizza. I ended up doing the advertising and marketing for them, got very involved in community programs, sports programs with them, the Miami Dolphins or the Panthers. Worked with all of the local restaurants to do some of their various community outreach. Worked in the restaurants with them. And, it gets in your blood. As Shannon and Amy said before, once you get into the restaurant business, you can't get out.

I then started working as a regional marketing director for Papa John's, started then working on national advertising business. I was always on the agency side for the majority of my career. Then got into technology for restaurants. And, I'm very happy to be on the brand side now actually getting to focus on marketing and technology. So, under what I'm doing now, I handle marketing technology, catering, guest experience. And, really just making sure that from start to finish, the overall experience in the guest's journey is frictionless. And, that we're offering the best that we can from the restaurant to the consumer.

It's been really exciting. It's been a really great journey. We have great partners and Lunchbox is one of them. Being able to offer those kinds of things at the cutting edge of the industry is what it's all about. I love doing what I do. I wake up every day really excited and I couldn't ask for anything better in that sense. I think what I love most about being a woman working in the industry is, I'm echoing what Shannon and Amy have both said, but I think we can't stress it enough that as women, and I say this a lot to my daughter who is nine. But, in the early seventies, 1972, just a few years before I was born, I know I'm aging myself, but women couldn't open their own checking accounts and women couldn't get a credit card without their husbands or their father.

I love being able to be a role model for people like my daughter, and for other women in the workplace to show that you can do what you want if you set your mind to things. And, if you work hard, there's nothing different between a female executive and a male executive. I'm excited to see that my daughter's generation is not going to know that there's anything different about it. I think that's an important distinction people forget. They forget that just a generation ago, things were a lot different.

I love being able to be a role model for people like my daughter, and for other women in the workplace to show that you can do what you want if you set your mind to things.

- Deena McKinley, Chief Experience Officer at Papa Gino’s Pizza and D’Angelo Grilled Sandwiches

Corinne Watson: Thanks, Deena. That was incredibly heartwarming. I'm sure everyone in the Lunchbox team knows that I'm a working parent as well, and it gets really stressful. I know that the Lunchbox team is also incredibly excited to work with Papa Gino's. I think that your team and our team is going to link up at Pizza Expo this week, if I'm not mistaken. I saw Jeremy was in the chat. So, just know they're all really excited. Again, thank you for sharing.

To dive into the questions that Olivia and I had prepared for today, I do want to quickly just pivot back to something that you mentioned, Deena, which is about making sure that there are women in leadership positions. Both you and Amy mentioned how a lot of women in both the restaurant, hospitality and tech worlds are faced with a lot of imposter syndrome. My question to you would be, what type of advice would you give to restaurants who are aiming to have women in more leadership positions?

Deena McKinley: I would say that women who want to have more leadership positions just, they need to be vocal and they need to represent themselves and be confident, and not shy away from stating their opinions. I think women tend to be a little bit unique when it comes to stating their opinions, because they feel that they get dismissed a little bit more than their male counterparts do. And, they do in a lot of scenarios and a lot of executive situations. They can't let that happen. I think that the advice that I would give women is don't let it bother you. If you feel like you're getting shut down, keep representing, keep pushing and keep being confident. As long as you know that you have the right opinions and the right answers to what's being discussed, don't let it bother you if somebody's trying to overpower your voice. Keep your voice strong.

If you feel like you're getting shut down, keep representing, keep pushing and keep being confident. 

- Deena McKinley, Chief Experience Officer at Papa Gino’s Pizza and D’Angelo Grilled Sandwiches

Corinne Watson: Amy, Shannon, anything to add there? Any advice for women who are interested in diving into a leadership position, but might feel a little bit of trepidation around getting that step up?

Shannon Achilarre: I was just going to say that I agree in the sense that women need to continue to be strong and not come across as meek. Sometimes, when we have a strong personality, people try to use it against us in one sense. But, if we were a man, that's not necessarily what the story would be. This is where the struggle is. You have to find that balance of being a strong female and not being the B-word. I don't want to use bad language on here. But, that is basically what it turns into. If you cross that line too far, then next thing you know, you're being referred to as that. It's a lot of work to be able to find that balance.

Shannon Achilarre: To do that, to piggyback off of what Deena said, is you have to just keep trying and not get upset because, one is doors are going to continue to close, comments are going to continue to be made, and you can't let it get to you. You have to stay strong. You can't just use the excuse of, well, it's because they're a man. I mean, majority of the time, that is what it is. But, at the same time, still reflect and see how you could have approached it a little bit different. I mean, we really do have to work harder at it every single time, but it gives us the opportunity to learn from it every single time. But, just be very careful with that line that I was talking about because it really does exist. For us to continue to be strong, sometimes we are mislabeled.

Amy Hom: I agree with Deena and Shannon. I would say one of the first buckets is that we have to push back for more diverse candidates when we're around the exec table. It can't just be the same candidate pool that we're all used to. We need to keep pushing and educating our recruiters, and those that are bringing on and making those decisions and influence. I think the second thing that Deena and Shannon hit on is speaking up in a room. I've had some great mentors along the way. And, we have to build an alliance before some of those board meetings, or before some of those meetings that just happen on a daily basis and say, "Hey, Shannon just had a really good point." Or, "Hey, Deena just said the same thing." So, I make sure that we call that out.

Amy Hom: It's being bold in those rooms. And, also speaking up for ourselves and saying, "I actually just said that AKA Steve, but, I appreciate you supporting my idea." It is very interesting to go through this journey and say something and then have somebody else say it, and they get the credit. I think we have to stop it. I've had some of these conversations with some of the mentors along the way, and we have to continue to stick up for ourselves and be bold. I think it's getting better in some rooms, and there are other rooms where I have to say to Shannon before we walk in together, "Hey, Shannon, I got your back in this room. We're going to make sure we get this across." And, this is the extra work we have to put in, until we get everybody where we need to be.

Sometimes it's one of the guys. And, it's like, "Hey, when I speak up on this topic, I need your support." I think that is super important. And then, I also think that we have to be advocates for each other, which is a third point. Which is when someone's speaking about something and we know, whether it's a female or male, that we speak up for them. Because, sometimes even the guys have a hard time finding their confidence and their voice in what they're doing.

So, really being advocates for those that are starting in the company and/or have their legs, but just haven't found their voice yet. And, push them into some of these roles. So, we have a panel speaking internally tomorrow, and all the women said, "I don't want to do it, Amy. I don't want to do it." And, I said, "Too bad, you're all going to do it. I'm signing you up." One of them wouldn't even give us our photo put on the panel flyer. So, I just took one. We just have to keep pushing each other and now she's like, "I get it." But, a lot of these folks haven't had those experiences or advocates and we have to keep doing it.

Deena McKinley: Absolutely. We have to fight for our voices in the sense, I can't tell you how many women have told me and how many times I have experienced myself, where I've been in meetings and I've said something and nobody listened to it. Nobody commented on it. And, 15 minutes later, my male counterpart or somebody else in the room that's male said the exact same thing. And, everybody in the room starts discussing it. It's a great idea. Somebody talks about it. So many women have had that exact experience. I can't even tell you how many women have talked to me about this.

I love what you just said, Amy, about how you've given the perspective of, "Oh, I'm so glad you liked my idea. And, here's how you supported it." That is such a great way to combat that. And then, Shannon, the way that you've talked about walking that fine line, you're so right. And, the way that I've worked on being able to do that, because I've had my fair share of people that have freely come up to me and basically called me those types of things because I'm old and have an opinion about things. And, you definitely don't knock down when I have strong beliefs. I've worked very hard to keep a very calm tone of voice, even when I have strong opinions, and to keep a very level conversation without emotion.

That's something that we really have to practice. I think as women, more so than men. You can have men get themselves worked up a lot in meetings and it's a very different tonality to the meeting. Whereas, when I get worked up in a meeting, everybody immediately turns off and I'm emotional. But, I have to keep this level tone all the time, no matter how passionate I might get or excited that I might get. It's a very different tone, I think, like Amy said.

Shannon Achilarre: Deena, that is so true. And, an example was recently something happened within our company and the owner was like, "Why aren't you getting really mad? How are you staying so calm?" And, I'm like, "I have to. The moment they see a different reaction from me, everybody's opinion changes. And, this is how I have to keep the even keel." And, he realized it afterwards. He's like, "Okay, I see that." Because, I lose respect from everybody, because everyone's looking at me one way and it's because I'm female. And, if I got upset or I was aggressive in the message or the tone in that sense, as opposed to as if he did it, we would've gotten two different results. These are the things that people don't realize that we have to think twice before anything we do.

Shannon Achilarre: Amy said, in encouraging the other people to speak up, the other females. Or, when they have a great idea to say something. We have to because this will start to bring a little bit more awareness, and then also give people a little bit more of comfort and confidence at the same time. Because, no matter what, at the end of the day, I still need to respond the way that I respond because it will backfire on me. And, trust me, there's times I'm very upset, but I can't show it. Because, the moment I show it, it's different.

Deena McKinley: You lose the credibility.

Shannon Achilarre: Yeah. It's hard. It's very, very hard. Yet other people can do it and it's okay. They're like, "Oh, he's really upset. We should do better."

Olivia Graham: Ladies, this has been such a helpful and amazing dialogue. I feel like we could talk about this. I mean, there's been so many examples. I think it was Amy that said, or maybe it was Deena. I'm so sorry. Making sure that you have male and female allies when you go into those rooms. I think in my young career, I'm so grateful for those male colleagues, especially that said, "Hey, you said this and no one heard you. Actually that was Olivia's idea." Or, "Hey Olivia, I'm going to help you facilitate this conversation." Or, my bosses that have said, "If you're not comfortable speaking, slack me, I'll say it. And then, you start, if you just need someone to get you going." Those have all been male colleagues of mine and I'm so grateful for them and their assistance. And, watching women continue and grow in this field is so important to me and to all of you.

And so thank you for those first initial replies to that. I want to just pivot this slightly because I think, Amy, you brought up a really interesting piece. And, Shannon as well with Sushi Maki. Amy, you talked about how you want to make sure that you're educating your talent teams on how you can properly make sure that we're reaching out to more women or increase your diversity and who you're hiring. I think that's actually really prevalent right now, with Sushi Maki with what Shannon's doing.

Olivia Graham: Obviously, a ton of work that they're doing with getting female head sushi chefs on the board and things like that. So, my first question is to Shannon, which is the fact that the Sushi Maki executive team is almost 90% female led. I'm curious to hear about what sort of tactics Sushi Maki has actually employed to reach that number and how that became a focus and what you guys have done to have that impressive statistic so far.

Shannon Achilarre: I think that with Sushi Maki, we have a strong belief in cultural diversity. We like to embrace different cultures and learn from them. And, that's one of the things that helped us grow in that sense. Fortunately, for me, that our founder, he has a very strong wife, a strong personality. She's definitely a go-getter and she's helped the company and set the path. I think that that's helped keep that even keel. And then, realizing where we need, and that it's okay to have females. It's sad to say when I say it's okay to have females. But, to have females leading the pack. Our VP of finance is a female. Our director of marketing is a female. Head of catering is a female. Legal teams, female. So, we are all female driven.

Shannon Achilarre: I think that that was one of the things that set the tone, is having a great founder that does believe in the diversity and the strength of females. I think, definitely it helps that his wife is definitely a big part of the company and the history and the growth of it. And, that she was a founding part of the executive team. To keep that going, me looking for talent throughout our company in all the different aspects and being able to support them and build them up and give them that confidence that they could do more. I just recently promoted someone, one of our GMs, into a district manager position. First, I made her a training manager. And then, just recently promoted her to a district manager. We have another female district manager for our non-traditionals as well.

One of the things that set the tone [for our women-led leadership team], is having a great founder that does believe in the diversity and the strength of females.

- Shannon Achilarre, Vice President of Operations & Business Integration at Sushi Maki

These are the types of things, looking for that talent and not disregarding the potential that people have. It is hard because, I mean, at the end of the day, everything should be based on performance and everything else. But, at the same time, is I'm looking for those females that could be supported and could be mentored and encouraged to do more. And then, figuring out ways to help them see their own worth and giving them the courage behind all of it. It is hard, but in this company I'm very grateful for Abe. He's our founder.

I'm very grateful for him, on the path that he's created. This one's been a little bit easier for me. Anthony's was definitely a man's world. I loved Mr. Bruno himself. He's a great man. But, it definitely was. I was the only female in that group for years. I was the only female along with the exception of his sister. That was a tough crowd and I loved every minute of it. And, that's one of the things that gave me the strength and the backbone to be where I am today and to be able to help other females at this point grow and see their potential and have opportunity.

Corinne Watson: Thank you for sharing Shannon. The Lunchbox team adores Sushi Maki. Even following our conversation last week about what y'all are doing on the ethically sourced and sustainably sourced fish side. I think that you are really ahead of the curve when it comes to a lot of these. They're life changing and world changing initiatives. So, thank you. I wanted to talk about something that affects me as a woman in the workplace, and a lot of my colleagues here at Lunchbox, which is where to find resources. If I want to find a mentor, I guess this is for everyone. Where would I go to find one? Or, if I wanted to get into a group or an association, or just an area where I can chat with other women in hospitality. What have y'all found in your journeys to be resourceful there?

Amy Hom: That's a great question, Corinne. First, I would start with... There's a company that's being built or started from a little group called Lead. It's now called Gleam, if anybody's heard of it. And, you can actually find a mentor there, if you let them know. It's mostly C-suite that actually do the mentoring. We started that organization because places like Women's Food Service Forum, and other large conferences charge exorbitant amounts of money for you to attend. And, a lot of folks don't belong to those large companies.

So, some of these we're trying to make more affordable. There's Gleam, there's Lead that is now partnering with Gleam. It was started by a group of amazing people. Then there's things that I think that we all have to find within our circles and networking, whether it's on LinkedIn or other avenues. There's folks that I've worked with before. Mentoring is hard because if you won't accept a feedback or the person is not insightful into how you work or how you lead, it's very hard to get that you have to be vulnerable.

You have to find somebody that you really connect with, because it can't just be a check the box. It has to be somebody that's really invested in you. I am very, very blessed. I have a probably double handful of women that I reach out to on a continuous basis in the industry and out, for personal and professional, to bounce things off of. They do it back. And, we just have built this little tight network.

At the same time, we use teams at Reef and we have a women's chat only. And, we share things all the time that we're going through. Or, a meeting might have just happened or going into a meeting, is anybody going to be in the meeting to help advocate? So, we've got this secret club at Reef. For me, I feel like it's up to me to take the time to ask somebody to mentor me or to sit and have a conversation with me. I may reach out to Shannon after this call, after being introduced. Or, Deena. And, just say, "Hey, I met a woman that actually I had an interview with a couple months ago and we've stayed in close contact and are just touching base on a couple ideas."

I think it really has to happen organically. The first and foremost has to be trust. So, you're going to get that feeling whether you trust that person or not, if you want them in your circle or not. But, I ask a million people and bug them all the time. So, I think you just have to build your circle and network.

Deena McKinley: That's exactly how I developed a lot of mentors, through partnerships a lot like this one, I would say. I was always on the partner side of the business, before this. This is my first time on the brand side of the business. And, when I was on the advertising agency side and my biggest client was Papa John's. There was a vice president of brand marketing at Papa John's who was a female executive over there in a world full of men. And, her and I became very close. She became a great mentor to me. Then on the technology, when I moved over to Mobivity, I met another female executive that I, same thing, had hounded a little bit to take me under her wing and show me the ropes in another, from my perspective, very male dominated industry at the time.

Deena McKinley: Doing what I was doing, it felt like I also needed that kind of mentorship. Like Amy said, just pushing to really find the right people that you click with that can give you the advice that you need to help you navigate in unchartered waters. I had never really been on the technology side of a business from restaurant marketing. I've always done restaurant marketing and advertising, but technology was a whole new world for me and a whole new industry. So, finding those people that helped me navigate through that was very important.

Push to really find the right people that you click with that can give you the advice that you need to help you navigate in unchartered waters.

- Deena McKinley, Chief Experience Officer at Papa Gino’s Pizza and D’Angelo Grilled Sandwiches

Corinne Watson: Thank you.

Olivia Graham: Amazing. 

Corinne Watson: I have one more question that I was really hoping to round out the panel with on a light positive note, which is who is the most influential female in your life? Or, woman in your life? Excuse me. We can start with Shannon.

Shannon Achilarre: Okay. I can go.

Corinne Watson: Personal or professional. It could be anyone. It could be a family member, a colleague, anyone.

Shannon Achilarre: Okay, well, this is going to sound a little crazy, but believe it or not, my mother. And, she has nothing to do with the restaurant business or anything else like that. But, my whole life, she's been very, very hard working and dedicated and setting goals. And, even though we've always had challenges or she's had certain challenges or barriers that she's just never stopped. She's always been driven. Yet at the same time, being able to balance many different things.

So, every day that I wake up, I think about her in the sense of there's days that they're tough, especially when you've had really bad days previously and you get up in the morning, you're like, "Crap, I don't want to do this again." But, you think about that. And then, I have that thought about my mother and she prevailed and what she went through to make a name for herself as she worked in the field. Because, she worked in a predominant men's world as well.

It was very hard for her. And, watching her, she would tell me when I was younger, "This is what I want to be worth on paper. This is what I want to achieve with accomplishments," and would share all of her goals. Every time she would hit one, we would look at it and that was it. But, I would look at how hard she continued to work and everything else that she dealt with at the same time and still managed it. I shouldn't say managed, she really crushed it in every way, shape and form.

Even to this day, just dealing with different things and how to get through it, she's got the right attitude behind it and she just never gave up. She likes the challenges. So, I have to constantly tell myself that every time I'm having, in that moment, because there's a lot going on. And, I have to tell myself I have to be like my mom or, better yet. I got to out do her, in a good way. But, that's what keeps me going. And, she's the one that has made the most impact.

Amy Hom: Well, mine's a little nutty. But, if you ask anybody that knows me, mine is Dolly Parton for not probably reasons known. But, I grew up with her and she saved my life in many ways. I don't know if anybody's watched or listened to the podcast with Brene Brown and Dolly, but her leadership style is amazing. Her books are great on leadership. And, listen, she's never had a bad day in her life. She is the most positive and inspiring leader I think that we have modern day. And, she makes the world a better place, whether it's with literacy or even watching her on the rock and roll taking it, taking her name out.

And, recently, one of my friends, he works for Closets by Design and got to do her closet and she has the tiniest little closet in Nashville. She's just this awe inspiring, love to listen to her. She's just the best. If you're having a bad day, listen to some nine to five. And, I had everybody in the office here doing some Dolly Parton night the other night. We were here late dancing around. And, she brings you up no matter what. Listen to the podcast, if you haven't. I love how she's easy on people, tough on standards. Even when she has to fire somebody, she talks about how she handles that. And, I admire her a lot. I've learned a lot from her

Corinne Watson: Based off of the chat, a lot of Lunchboxers wholeheartedly agree with you, Amy. Makes me think about if we had a office for Lunchbox, what our late night dance parties would be to. Who knows?

Deena McKinley: I've been working nine to five there. I would say, for me, it's my great-grandmother. She was born in 1898 and came on the boat to Ellis Island in 1905. And, I used to listen to her stories all the time about her being seven years old on the boat coming from, I guess, what is now... It was Russia, Poland. So, I guess right now it's in the Ukraine. And, she would tell stories about her little sister, Anna, being all over the boat and she had to watch her. But, she came to New York and they had nothing. They had to build a life like all of the people who were immigrants coming into New York at that time in the early 1900s and had to start from scratch.

And, she built up, with her husband when she was older, her travel business. And, in the forties, their travel business was, I guess, a front for sending supplies to the ghettos during World War Two. I thought that that was a really, really cool story that she used to tell us. I used to think that she was just like a superhero when I was a kid, thinking that they were doing things that made a difference. And, I wanted to be just like her when I was little and do things that made a difference. So, I would say my great-grandma.

Olivia Graham: Awesome. Incredible, Deena. I have goosebumps, for sure. Especially given the current times and everything that's going on. So, thank you all. Deena, Amy, Shannon, for those incredible stories. I think we're surrounded by so many incredible women. I think, to your point, Deena, watching the next generation and what they're going to see in the world, what they're growing through, experiencing Corinne's little one too. I'm so excited to see that the world that they'll enter in and have amazing stories by women like the three of you that have really been pioneers in this industry and where we are. So, thank you all so much. That was just incredible stories and incredible, insightful last few 40 minutes here.

Corinne Watson: As someone who participates in probably too many panels, I think that this is one of the best ones that I've really witnessed in a while. Because, it had a good combination of tangible takeaways. I think the team now knows what to do when they need a mentor or if they need to bash their imposter syndrome or if they just need a helping hand. Then also some good, heartwarming stories about where we find motivation and where we find values and what keeps us moving forward. I think that we have around 10 minutes or so to field any audience questions and answers. So, if anyone here wants to come off mute and say hello to the lovely ladies of Lunchbox, ask questions, please do so.

Olivia Graham: I can even out Rachel who Slacked me directly her initial question. If she wants to kick us off. Sorry, Rachel. If not, I saw James wave his hand. He can  go.

Rachel: Oh, sorry. I was here. I'm just putting down a sleepy baby because that's what we do. I can't turn my camera on because I'm in his baby room. But, I wanted to ask as somebody who is really driven by a lot of positive self talk and mantras and things that get me going through adversity and personal growth. Are there any things that any of you come back to on a daily or weekly basis that you just remind yourselves to stay up?

Amy Hom: Rachel, you're asking more for like programs or little...

Rachel: No, just things that you reflect on, whether it's specific mantras that you draw inspiration from, or if there's specific books that you found inspiration from. That you can come back to like Mika Brzezinski of the Morning Brew. I really like her and she always said that she's an iron fist with a cashmere glove. And, I think that's a really interesting thing to come back to. I was just curious if there were any things that resonated like that for any of you?

Amy Hom: I would say my mantra is easy on people, tough on standards. We've made that a principle now at Reef. But, the other thing is that I listen to in the morning and at night, I don't know if anybody uses Onsite Timer. It's an app. It has some leadership little podcast. It has, if you're a woman, this is how you relax during the day or meditate. I've really gotten a lot out of the Onsite Timer. It's free. You can... Oh, there you go. See, Tarryn listens to it, but it also has some really good leadership lessons in there.

Amy Hom: And, there's so many books out there that I've read throughout the years. And, I do have to go back to the Dolly Parton one, which is My Life and Other Unfinished Business. She just speaks with confidence and it's something I think all of us, anybody that's like that, like her, can learn from. But, the easy on people, tough on standards, that's probably something that my team hears the most every day.

Rachel: Awesome. Thank you, Amy. 

Corinne Watson: I saw one question come through. A few questions come through the chat. We'll start with Margo's. What are some policies or systems you have in place to support gender diversity at multiple levels within your companies?

Deena McKinley: I don't know that we have anything specific in terms of policies right now. My whole marketing team right now is female. And, every single person on my marketing team is female. We interview all different diverse groups of people. Somehow, I have every single person on my marketing team is female. On the technology side, I have more diversity in terms of male and female. But, my whole marketing team is female.

Deena McKinley: I think our company, we have a lot of gender diversity. It's just at the C-suite level that I'm the only female, on the C-suite level. And, our VP level and our director level, we have a lot of diversity. I think in a lot of companies, that's where we need to focus on figuring out how to build diversity, is above the VP level. Every room that I sit in, every board meeting that I sit in, I'm typically the only female, and it's been like that for a while in my career. So, I would love to hear other ideas from other people and other experiences. But, that's been my experience is that I feel like there's definitely a good representation at other levels of the organizations that I'm in.

Amy Hom: Deena, one of the things we have a Reef, it's the first time I've experienced, is a pay band so that if you move, whether you're male or female, just to protect the business, and make sure there's pay equity as there's just pay bands and that's set. So, if you're in that role, everybody knows what everyone makes. And, when you get a promotion, as Ari would say at our CEO, it's a life changing movement in your salary. So, learning that has been pretty cool. And, of course, we're global. This morning we went with the women of Reef in the Middle East and they only have two women in the Middle East.

Amy Hom: So, we're starting a council over there to see what we can do to make impacts and understand they're from literally a different world there. And, how do we build the confidence and get more women interested in knowing they can raise families and find the work life integration that it takes to work in the hospitality industry. Because, right now, during COVID, I think the media tag just says not being so sexy anymore. And, we are sexy. How do we bring the sexy back to the industry? Somebody said they couldn't raise... Or, couldn't have a kid until they left. And, I said, that's not true. We need to support and figure out those things quickly.

Corinne Watson: I was about to say, I think that we have time for maybe one more question. I know that we have some other updates from the team for the last five of the hour. I do like question, which is, if you could go back in time and meet your younger self from the early stage of your career, what advice would you give yourself? 

Shannon Achilarre: I can jump in. What I would tell my younger self, my future self tell my younger self, right?

Corinne Watson: Yes. Yeah.

Shannon Achilarre: I think I would tell myself to be patient. Because, there's so many things that I think that... Through the years, I fought very hard, sometimes too hard. So, sometimes, the saying is God gave you two ears and one mouth so you can listen more and speak less. I think in my younger years as going up and going through the business, I would've liked to maybe have been a little bit more patient and to observe more before speaking or reacting. That also would help perception for other people of you, especially as a woman. So, not being quick to shoot off something in one sense. Whether we're right or wrong, it's still the perception of it. So, being a little bit more patient in the beginning and observing a little bit more to be able to be successful.

Deena McKinley: I think I would tell myself to not take as much. I would tell myself to not, I guess, not take as much... I don't want to say the word on the recording. But, not take crap from people. I definitely let a lot of people bully me a lot when I was younger, a lot. And, I would tell myself to stand up for myself a little bit sooner. Be patient. I think that's advice, Shannon, because I definitely sometimes just was waiting for my turn to speak versus listening. I think that's a really important lesson is to listen instead of just waiting to speak. But, I would definitely not let people take advantage of me as much as I did when I was younger. I would tell myself that.

Amy Hom: I would say when I was younger, I’d tell my younger self… number 1: know that you're good enough. Number two, be bold. And, back in the day in the restaurants, this happens a lot still, is not go in and clean the office. But, actually learn your PNL, learn market strategies. Tell the guys to go do that. Sometimes they can go organize and clean just as good as the girls can. And, to tell them I'm going to run the PNL with my boss today and I'll let you know how it goes.

I’d tell my younger self… number 1: know that you're good enough. Number two, be bold.

- Amy Hom, Executive SVP at REEF

Deena McKinley: Yeah. Being the note taker. I would sit in meetings and the CEO of my company would be like, "Deena, take notes." Because, I was the only female in the room. Or, clean up after the meeting or things like that. And, to be the one that says, "No, anyone can do that. I'm not here to do that."

Shannon Achilarre: I'm the only female in my Mastermind group. And, of course, you need a secretary and I purposely did not volunteer. And, I was waiting for everybody to look at me to see if I was going to be the note taker. So, the first thing I said was, "Guys, I have the worst handwriting." All right. So, you have to.

Olivia Graham: The amount of times I've been the one to take the notes, and I'm the least organized and have the worst handwriting. Now, I just started showing my handwriting. No, I'm just kidding. But, no, I mean, Shannon, especially the Mastermind group, because it's not as comfortable with the space. You're with people that maybe you don't know, or people that could be potential mentors or colleagues. That definitely can be also a testing environment.

Olivia Graham: Amy, Deena, Shannon. I feel like we could have a day long session on this. And, I hope I speak for all of us at Lunchbox that this gave me a combination of goosebumps, excitement, enforcement, joy. So many different adjectives to explain and what this hour has meant for me and so many of us at Lunchbox, both men and women. So, I really want to thank the three of you for your time. And, a few shoutouts to Savannah and AJ who helped with this deck, Corinne who built this amazing... And, wrote this whole article with the marketing team, Nabeel for getting a few of these amazing ladies on board, and just the rest of Lunchbox for being an environment that is inspiring for women. So, thank you all for all this time. I know we have a few internal updates, but Shannon, Amy, Deena, I really just can't thank you all enough for this really memorable afternoon. So, thank you all. 


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