By Paul Schlienz

From the back-of-house to front-of-house to corporate headquarters, women are increasingly central to the future of restaurants.

According to research by the National Restaurant Association, 61 percent of adult women have worked in a restaurant at some point in their lives, and female-owned restaurants are growing at a faster pace than ownership of restaurants overall.

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“Between 2007 and 2012, the number of women-owned restaurants jumped by 40 percent, and today 33 percent of American restaurants are majority owned by women,” National Restaurant Association President and CEO Dawn Sweeney said in 2017. “Another 15 percent are equally co-owned by women and men.”

Women’s importance in quick-service restaurants, in addition to their ability to receive and seize on opportunities, has increased by leaps and bounds in the past 10 to 15 years, according to Carrie Luxem, president of the Illinois-based Restaurant HR Group.

The success of Barbara Johnson, Washington Hospitality member and McDonald’s franchisee extraordinaire, tells the story of these opportunities.

She started her career under the golden arches just out of high school. After proving herself as an employee, at 20 years of age Johnson asked for the manager’s position. She got the job.

Eight years later, she became a partner in the business, which had two locations at the time. Within another 18 months, she went from owning two to seven McDonald’s locations. Today, she owns nine McDonald’s with restaurants in Oak Harbor, Stanwood, Burlington, Sedro-Woolley, Mt. Vernon, Smokey Point and Everett.

“Barbara is an inspiration for all women,” said Kim Hildahl, the Washington Hospitality Association’s area coordinator for Northwest Washington. “She’s shown that if you set your mind to achieve a dream and stay dedicated to your mission, you can become a successful entrepreneur.”

“With nine McDonald’s locations under her helm, she is providing opportunities for success to all her team members.”

So, why did Barbara Johnson choose a career in quick-service?

“My main reason for choosing a quick-service career at McDonald’s was that I loved people,” she said. “I loved the staff and I loved the customers. When I started there, at the Oak Harbor McDonald’s, I was working part-time and taking college courses in nursing, but I liked working at the restaurant so much that I went full-time, dropped college and made a career of it.”

Although she loved the work, it wasn’t always an easy ride.

“In the beginning, it was a man’s world in management,” she recalled. “If you were a woman, you had to prove yourself more than the average guy. I always worked hard, especially when the going was tough. You just find ways to be successful in challenging times.”

Nevertheless, she persevered and stayed focused on her goals.

“I just learned from everyone,” Johnson said. “Whatever I didn’t know, I learned. And even now, I’m the same way. I’m still learning.”

Johnson is a big believer in mentorship, and she used it to her advantage as she built her career. She urges young women who want to pursue careers in quick-service to follow this approach.

“Find people who have skills you want and get them to mentor you,” she said.

“People like to be around people who are successful, but sometimes we’re afraid to approach these people who’ve made successes of themselves, and we really shouldn’t have this reluctance. When you see a successful person, keep in mind that somewhere along the way someone mentored them and gave them the gift of the knowledge they needed to build a career. Very often if you approach a successful person, they will want to give you the knowledge they received that helped them get where they are today.”

“It’s a wonderful cycle that keeps repeating itself, and you need to take advantage of it.”

Johnson also urges young women to think entrepreneurially.

“If you really want to be successful, you need to start thinking like an entrepreneur,” Johnson said. “Always look for opportunities and needs you can fulfill.”

Johnson has found McDonald’s to be a great place for women to work and grow in their careers, and the numbers support her claim. Today 70 percent of all U.S. McDonald’s employees are women or members of minority groups. And 45 percent of its franchises are woman or minority-owned.

Networking, however, is one area where Johnson sees women need to improve.

“There are lots of opportunities to get positions, and lots of opportunities to prove yourself by working hard, but as women, we need to figure out how to network better than we’ve been doing,” she said.

“Networking is really important in advancing your career, and the guys have always used things like spending time on the golf course for that purpose. The golf course still tends to be a male domain, so we women need to create opportunities of our own for networking. It’s very important.”

McDonald’s, as a corporation, is doing much to encourage this kind of networking among women.

Its Women’s Leadership Network is a McDonald’s global initiative that was created to shine a light on women’s massive contributions to McDonald’s throughout the world, and works to create an environment where women have the opportunity to grow and succeed. All women at McDonald’s automatically become members of the network from the day they are hired.

The network promotes talent development by focusing on leadership competencies, business acumen and career planning. Additionally, it has a mentoring strategy that creates an avenue for women to network and learn from each other.

And Barbara Johnson is one of those women McDonald’s employees can learn a lot from.

After many years in the business, she still sees a bright future for herself and her employees.

“Our franchise has nine restaurants, and we’re still growing,” Johnson said. “I have team members that want to grow. I do it for them. I mentor lots of young people. and it is most gratifying to see them succeed in their lives whether they stay at McDonald’s or end up pursuing a different career path.

“Every day I get up and ask myself how I can make a difference. It’s my motivation.”[/expander_maker]