Nicola Steele, CEO of Krispy Kreme.

3 roadblocks to achieving gender equality, according to Krispy Kreme boss

Krispy Kreme top boss Nicola Steele advocates for diversity as an eliminator of unconscious biases.

There was one comment that greatly summed up one of the roadblocks women face to achieving equality that stuck with Nicola Steele, CEO of Krispy Kreme, to this day.

“I recall interviewing a candidate,” Nicola — a homegrown leader at Krispy Kreme who first worked for the company as a crew member in 2006 and became an Area Manager in three years — started to tell QSR Media in this exclusive interview.

“Through the interview process, I always ask towards the end… if they have any questions for me about what it’s like working here [at Krispy Kreme]. The comment I got was: ‘I never had a female manager before. I guess it will be okay’ as if it was something to kind of overcome,” she continued.

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In celebration of International Women’s Day, for the whole month of March QSR Media will talk to women leaders about their own experiences in the workplace, what they learned from that, and what they are doing now to support more inclusivity and diversity in their company.

Roadblock 1: Unconscious bias

“It really struck me because there is still so much unconscious bias for female leaders,” Nicola said.

Still, Nicola did not let that comment stop her from advancing up the ranks at Krispy Kreme. She worked hard and held various managerial roles which, most of the time, leaned towards the operations side of the company.
In 2022, she became the Chief Operating Officer of Krispy Kreme Australia & New Zealand before finally becoming the CEO last year.
According to Nicola, these types of unconscious biases continue because businesses do not see the benefits of what gender equality can bring to the table.
“If people realise it’s all about improving diversity which can improve employee engagement and productivity, we would all of a sudden be focused on it,” she explained.

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Nicola said they have initiatives in place where they focus on diversity and staff well-being. The results produced were a 30% decrease in employee turnover.
“We put a huge emphasis on wellbeing, even celebrating wellbeing month between ‘R U OK Day’ in September and World Mental Health Day in October,” Nicola said.
Last year, Krispy Kreme’s Annual Support and Field Management Conference was themed, “Wonderfully Original,” to emphasise the brand’s dedication to celebrating diversity

Roadblock 2: Stereotypes

Another roadblock is about working out how to tackle stereotypes.
“For us, we’re a food manufacturer, people might say that’s a male industry. Why? There is no role at Krispy Kreme that can’t be done by either a male or a female. But often, there are perceptions that certain genders prefer certain roles or are capable of,” Nicola said.
 She said that most of the time technology can provide solutions to bridge that gap.
Roadblock 3: Parenting

Another challenge is that women still play a key role in parenting.
Nicola said businesses should be more supportive of women leaders wanting to build a career whilst juggling their responsibilities at home by being supportive of part-time or flexible working arrangements.

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“It was interesting to read that only 7% of manager roles are part-time. And the reality is if women want to raise a family, they may take a [leave of absence] from their career. And there’s still a lot of discrimination that still exists around that. For the industry in general, we first need to think about how we help support the equality at home,” Nicola said.

Ensuring that employees are comfortable with proposing working arrangements that will work for them without affecting their productivity could be how equality and diversity could eventually be achieved.

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