Accelerating the Advancement of Women Leaders 


November 15, 2017

Over the past five years, Gordon Food Service has been on a transformative journey to attract, retain and develop women at all levels of the organization.

The North American company began working more closely with Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF) to learn new ways to attract and retain talented women at the company and bolster what it was doing in diversity & inclusion (D&I).

Gordon Food Service’s efforts are not only paying off in terms of retention and engagement of women, but the company is also a role model partner for applying WFF content and resources.

“As we started to focus on retaining and attracting talent, WFF gave us an awareness of numbers and data that made us take a step back and reflect on our portfolio and the path we were on,” said Elena Buist, D&I Ambassador for the WFF & Gordon Food Service Core Team. “WFF helped set us on the path of where we needed to go.”


Gordon Food Service knew it had to put an emphasis on gender diversity to stay competitive in the labor market, said Clif Charles, Director of Diversity & Inclusion.

“As we looked within our ranks, we found that we did not have a lot of women in key leadership roles,” he said. “We recognized that more work needed to be done in D&I and that this was going to be that driver for attracting, retaining and developing women.”

Clif wanted to know what Gordon Food Service could do from the distributor side to provide opportunities for training and development and show the company’s commitment to D&I.

“We recognized that we had resources at our fingertips that could help us. We knew this could be part of our business strategy,” he said. “But we weren’t taking full advantage of WFF.”

The team in Canada was the first to engage with WFF by attending WFF Leadership Development Workshops and the Annual Leadership Development Conference and hosting networking events.

“We had a D&I connectivity point with WFF in Canada, but we didn’t have a real strong connection in U.S.,” Clif said. “We began to look internally to see what we had been doing. Once we began to understand what we were doing internally, we found that WFF amplified what we had. It was a good opportunity to align more closely with WFF.”

Gordon Food Service began sending more employees to our Annual Conference as part of their leadership development. And managers were seeing tangible results.

“When teams returned from Conference, employees started asking more questions about how to get these types of development opportunities. It really began to pique women’s interest,” Elena said. “Then our leaders started to say, ‘Hey, we are onto something. How do we engage more employees?’”

The company also began working more closely with WFF to focus resources on D&I.

“This year, we started a new diversity and inclusion training that is mandatory for our leadership,” said Laura Urzola Rivas, Talent Acquisition Supervisor. “I think it helped shed light on different ways we can promote professional development to people who are different from us and look at some of our unconscious biases.”

Employees have also seen a greater emphasis on training and professional development and are having more conversations around Individual Development Plans (IDPs).

“I saw a difference within the first year of working here,” Laura said. “The number of employees that we sent to the Conference spoke for itself about Gordon Food Service’s willingness to invest in our future. I have also noticed more activities throughout the year to promote women’s professional development through book clubs, speakers and general awareness about career growth.”

The WFF & Gordon Food Service Core Team contains about a dozen passionate team members who are spreading the WFF mission. The group hopes to increase membership engagement and awareness about WFF. While the company has sent hundreds of employees to the Annual Conference, it wants to increase the number of employees who attend each year. It also recommends leaders use an evaluation process to select attendees.

Today, the team has the full support of Rich Wolowski, North America President and CEO, and other senior leaders like Mary Beth Zick, Chief People Officer.

“We strongly believe that we best serve our customers when our workforce reflects the communities in which we serve,” Mary Beth said. “We are delighted in the growing partnership with WFF as we invest in the attraction, retention and development of women in our organization.”

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