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Kerri Wane, CEO at San Churro.

QSRs are best positioned to address gender equality challenges

San Churro CEO explains why, citing her own experience up the ranks.

The Accommodation and Food Industry has the youngest workforce with 45% under the age of 25 years. This goes to show that most Australians entering the job market have their first job in food service.

Because of this, QSRs have the unique opportunity to shape the early years of women entering the workforce, something that Kerri Wane values now that she is CEO of Australian dessert chain San Churro.

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s report in 2021, whilst women make up half of employees (51%), women are under-represented in key decision-making roles, with only 19.4% in CEO positions, 32.5% in key management positions, and only 18% as board chairs.

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.

Kerri, who initially wanted to be a doctor, was inspired to work in the quick-service industry after starting her first job as a part-time pizza maker at Domino’s at age 15.

“It was a really fun, a great culture and environment and we were passionate about our work; running to the phones and competing to be the fastest pizza makers in Australia.  After climbing up the management ranks and putting myself through uni, I was bitten by the bug, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my career” she recalled.

At 21 years of age, Kerri was appointed as the National Training Manager for Domino’s overseeing the people aspect of the business. She then transferred internationally to India, subsequently being appointed as the Chief Operating Officer of Domino’s Pizza India, leading the turnaround and subsequent growth of the business.

In those initial days, whilst leading as a young female executive in an unfamiliar cultural environment, Kerri was determined to make a difference and said it did not cross her mind that being a woman was a limitation, especially in her role as an executive. “While there is no doubt stereotypes did exist about women as leaders, I took the challenge head-on and created opportunities, I never let [being a woman] stop me” she said.

However, in her early days as a young female executive, Kerri admitted she fell into the trap at times of trying to fit in and go with what was accepted as the status quo in terms of company culture. “In developing my own leadership style, I surrounded myself with great mentors, reflected on strong female role models growing up, worked hard and listened to advice,” she said.

“I think people respect leaders that are themselves and are authentic. Leading with a sense of purpose, strong values and having a good moral compass is where it’s at. This approach creates an inclusive, high-performance environment, breaking through a lot of stereotypes,” Kerri said.

She said the challenges for women are still prevalent, but that a lot has improved and as the CEO of her company, she is determined to play her part in helping achieve gender equality.

“I learned early on in my career that I need access to great role models, mentoring, and sponsorship. That’s exactly what I provide in my role as CEO for the women in our workplace. This is important because at San Churro 69% of the workforce we directly employ are female,” Kerri said.

San Churro also made it a priority to invest in more L&D (learning and development) and training programmes. The group also has relaunched its Learning Management System to reinvigorate its career development programmes within the organisation. These opportunities led to 62% of the group’s promotions being that of women.

One specific initiative that Kerri believes has a positive impact on their workforce productivity is flexible working arrangements, particularly at the Support Office, with a handful of roles now 100% remote. Flexibility has improved participation and lowered turnover, ensuring that employees learn and grow. This, together with the San Churro’s leave policies, and gender and diversity inclusion policies create an inclusive environment for employees.

Meanwhile, talking about the recent trends and changes in the QSR industry, Kerri said she is excited to see brands innovate and challenge.

“It has been a tough operating environment over the last 5 years. When times are tough, to stay on top, brands need to innovate, and we are starting to see some great examples of this in the market. From our point of view, we created new formats and new concepts. We’ve worked hard on new product launches that put the customer at heart. All of these efforts strengthen San Churro’s unique position in the marketplace leaving us well placed for rapid footprint growth and in turn, create further opportunities to expand the places in which we play” she said.

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