Chelsea Ford on launching Females in Food

Chelsea Ford launched the Females in Food in September of this year. A member-based collective for female food and beverage artisans, innovators, business leaders and entrepreneurs, the organisation hopes to empower women in the food and beverage industry through access to resources, ideas and support networks.

Congratulations on the launch of Females in Food, how does it feel?
Thank you, it has been really exciting. It's hard to believe we only launched two months ago, so much has happened in that short period of time!
         I’ve received loads of support from people in all corners of the food and beverage industry and broader business community. Our VIP Member base is steadily growing and I’m thrilled to see women embracing our collective. Our members keep telling us Females in Food is en pointe and they are benefiting greatly – which is exactly what I set out to achieve, so I’m thrilled.

What is unique about Females in Food?
Females in Food is niche, and that's very deliberate. There are lots of great networking groups out there, however, none are focused on the unique needs and challenges women in the food and beverage industry face. In Australia, women remain under-represented in the food and beverage industry, especially at management level, and others in the industry
struggle to support themselves and often forgo drawing a wage from their business in order to keep their business afloat. I am endeavouring to change all of those things. We are providing avenues for women to better support themselves by helping them raise their personal and business profiles, and providing ways to connect with their peers for support - people who understand their unique challenges.
         In the short time since we’ve launched we’ve seen the collective grow and get stronger. Already the VIP membership group includes tea masters; bakers; drink, condiment and snack food manufacturers; chefs; branding, design and publicity specialists; brewers; bloggers; food educators; food community organisations; entrepreneurs; and business leaders – to name just a few.
         Every day our members share their experiences and wisdom; guide and advise fellow  members when they ask for help; and celebrate their wins, no matter how small. We’ve connected people who under normal circumstances would never meet and we’ve teamed up with professionals who provide superior guidance and advice on food and beverage industry-specific matters.

Where did the idea come from?
It was a combination of experiences actually.
         Firstly I worked in the food and beverage industry for over 25 years, and I saw first-hand how a lot of women struggled to raise their profiles and often did not have the business acumen really needed to build their business. In addition, I am an avid reviewer of food and beverage media, and am often amazed at how little women feature compared to their male counterparts – despite the fact we have extreme depths of talent in our country. I also scratch my head when I still see things like ‘Best Female Chef’ as a separate award at the World’s Best Restaurants Awards and that the top 50 best restaurants only had one woman featured.
         Then earlier this year I was further inspired by a young chef who I was asked to mentor. The chef was looking to ‘make it’ after having had a successful career in the UK but since arriving in Australia, was really struggling to raise her profile. It made me ask the question, ‘How do women in food and beverage raise their profile and who do they turn to for support and guidance?’. This was in addition to work I was doing in business development and growth consulting to small business for the preceding five years and seeing first-hand how difficult it is to survive, regardless of who you are. The answer to that young chef and the small business owner is long and varied, but on the whole there wasn’t a single place where commercial advice could be shared, further education offered, and professional connections fostered in order to build the profile and buoy women in F&B. So I set out to create Females in Food to do just that. Now we are off and running, I hear almost daily, ‘It’s about time someone did this!’.

What impact do you hope Females in Food will have on the food and beverage industry?
It is my mission to promote a world where women are empowered to create opportunities and an abundant life for themselves and others. We know many, many women retire without enough money. I don’t want women who follow their passion into the food and beverage industry to have to choose between their passion, and being able to support themselves or give up their creativity in order to make ends meet. That would be devastating for me. At Females in Food, we are dedicated to making the inaccessible, accessible, and shine the light on artisans, entrepreneurs, innovators and business leaders.

How can people get involved?
Our focus is building a strong, supportive collective so we’ve established one clear pathway for people to get involved and that is to become a member. It doesn't matter where people are located or where they fit in the food and beverage industry, membership provides connection and resources - from there anything is possible.
         Another way to get involved is by attending our events. We hold monthly webinars and face-to-face events to provide our community with the latest resources and enable them to meet others on a similar journey - that way we are all helping each other achieve in an industry we know better than anyone else. As I mentioned earlier, it is a niche community and that’s very deliberate, who else knows the industry like those already in it?
         Next year we are launching our one-to-one coaching and group mastermind programme - another way to get specific advice from peers and leaders without the price tag of a personal or business coach, but if you are looking for greater support, I am always open to discussing my consulting services. The best place to find out more information is our
website femalesinfood.com.au or to check out one of our social media channels for regular updates and to find out what’s going on with the community. For those wanting to contact me directly, I’m more than happy to receive messages at hello@femalesinfood.com.au.

Who are some women in the industry that you look up to and admire?
There are a lots of women and men I admire in the F&B industry - and in business as a whole.
         If I was to call out some Australians who come to mind, they would be Christine Manfield, Maggie Beer and Kylie Kwong. The reason they inspire me is because they are commercially and creatively savvy, and their choices of who to do business with and the food they serve or produce is highly considered.
         Outside of Australia I really admire Alice Waters – we are well versed today about good organic wholefoods because of Alice Waters, she is a real icon in the industry.

When did you first enter a commercial kitchen, where was it?
In 1990 I was part of a traineeship at the Hyatt Kingsgate Hotel in Kings Cross. I was inspired, excited and energised, but also highly intrigued by the fact I was the only woman in the kitchen and it was tough, really tough. It was after that that I decided that being a chef was not for me so I went on to pursue the business development side of food and beverage and later, mentoring and coaching.

What are some of your favourite restaurants in Sydney, and why?
I love Ester in Chippendale. Its austere fit-out and woodfired cauliflower with almond sauce and mint is exquisite! I’m also a big of fan of Bar Brosé in Darlinghurst - we are launching Flourish, our women in food networking series there on Monday December 12. The brigade is lead by talented executive chef and co-owner, Analiese Gregory, and the food is scrumptious.

What was your last, most memorable food experience?
I had an amazing meal and experienced great service at Monster Kitchen & Bar at Hotel Hotel in Canberra. It was all about the yabby jaffle! I’ll definitely go back there again when I am next in the ACT.

How was the Sydney restaurant and cafe scene changed during your career?
Good food and coffee is no longer restricted to ‘hipster’ areas of Sydney. There was no such thing as a good coffee in places like Mosman 20 years ago, but today Sydney is not limited for choice of great cafes and eating spots. The scene is also much more multicultural, which is fantastic – with so many new artisans to learn from and cuisines to taste.

What do you think will be the big trends of 2017?
With the number of women running their own businesses on the increase, I expect there will be a greater focus on gender parity, pay equality and workplace flexibility.
         The stark reality is that women are retiring with half the amount of superannuation as men, and one in three retire with no super at all despite a lifetime of hard work and taking care of their families. Over the past 20 years there have been numerous reports that show over the course of a working life women can expect to earn about 17.5% less than their
male peers. The pay gap in the food and beverage sector, thankfully, is reported to be marginally less than that, however a pay gap still exists.
         Whilst women are applying for hospitality certificate courses in increasing numbers and graduating with impressive results, they do not survive in the same numbers when in the industry. There are many reasons attributable to the decline and they include the ‘rough and tumble’ nature of the industry, especially some kitchens and the limited options for
flexible work hours. I would also argue they do not lean in for promotional and publicity opportunities. Women generally lack the confidence compared to their male counterparts to lean into opportunities to promote themselves because of their fear of being labelled too confident, strong or ambitious - negative labels when attributed to women but not when attributed to men.
         We need to take big steps to implement change and 2017 will be a pivotal year with the likes of Females in Food and other organisations agitating for a better outcome.

For further information, please visit femalesinfood.com.au.