Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: DRY Soda Co. CEO shares tips for women to climb the ranks & be strong leaders

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Soup-To-Nuts Podcast

Starting or running a business is undeniably hard – for everyone. Even if someone appears to be strolling down easy street, chances are they still wake up panicked in the middle of the night, check their work email on their phones in the bathroom and stress over balancing budgets just like everyone else.

But for many women who are entrepreneurs or executives, there is another layer of anxiety stemming from challenges related to their gender, including unequal access to networks or finance, professional setbacks if they take time off to start or raise a family and limited role models who look like them and can offer a helping hand.

In the foodservice industry, this is reflected in the lower percentage of women than men at nearly every level except entry level, according to the 2018 “Women in the Workplace” report by McKinsey & Company. The annual report, which is based on information from 64,000 employees at 279 food service companies, found that in 2018 only 18% of C-suite positions in food service were filled by women compared to 23% in all companies. Similarly, only 24% of vice presidents, 31% of senior managers and directors and 37% of managers in the foodservice industry were held by women.

And if you think those figures are grim, you should note that are down​ across the board from the previous year, according the report.

What’s more, the McKinsey survey reports that these challenges persist despite women earning more bachelor’s degrees then men for the past 30 years, asking for promotions and negotiating salaries at the same rates as men and negotiating salaries at the same rates as men.

So, what is the hold up? One answer, according to the McKinsey survey, could be denial. It found in companies where only one in 10 senior leaders is a woman, nearly 45% of men think women are well represented in leadership and 28% of women agree.

Since dwelling on a problem rarely solves it, this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts Podcast includes strategies to address some of these challenges from Sharelle Klaus, who suavely points out that many of the lessons she has learned in her 14 years as the CEO and Founder of DRY Soda Company can help any entrepreneur – regardless of gender – be a better leader.

Acknowledge there is problem

Klaus’ first tip for tackling the challenges that hold women back is to acknowledge that there is a problem and to not be intimidated about discussing it.

She explains that for years she didn’t want to talk about what it was like to be a woman CEO because she didn’t want to be perceived as whining if she talked about some of the unique challenges that she faced. But as her daughters grew up and the challenges lingered, she decided to speak out for their sake with the hope that by confronting the challenges publicly future generations might not face them.

“I now talk very bluntly and very transparently about what it is like to be a female CEO and it is challenging, there are real challenges. I don’t care if anyone thinks I am whining. There are true challenges about raising money, about being taken seriously … not having a space at the table,”​ she said.

Be a ‘relentless bitch’

Klaus’ second piece of advice for entrepreneurs is to demand respect, and to be “unapologetically yourself.”

“What I have learned over the last 14 years is that time and success will give you the respect that you are looking for, and it is also just demanding it,”​ she said.

Klaus’ acknowledged that this doesn’t always go over well, and as an example pointed to two different distributors who called her a relentless bitch for forcefully advocating for her brand.

But rather than be put off, Klaus has embraced it and even wears a t-shirt that says relentless bitch.

“I am … because how else is something going to get done if I don’t try to get something done,”​ she said.

Value what you bring to the table

Women who take time off professional to raise children often worry that they will fall behind in their careers or that they won’t have the necessary skills when they return to the workforce. But Klaus notes that the skills parents develop raising children, often apply to their professional jobs.

She explained that parents constantly have to deal with tiny egos, just like in the professional world, and they  know how to sell given their experience selling their kids on getting in cars, eating vegetables and doing chores.

Offer a hand down

Much like running a business, finding a mentor is hard – again, for everbody. But, also again, it can be particularly challenging for women given how few women currently hold leadership positions, which is why Klaus encourages women to offer a hand down to help lift up the women below them.

“Women need access. The biggest thing we have against us is access – access to finance, access to networks, access to businesses. And so, I think, it is really critical that we all sort of take a hand down to someone younger than us and mentor and pull them up and give them access,”​ she said.

Forget about work-life balance and simply embrace the presence

For many women, the struggles their professional career is not their only job – more often than not they also are the primary caretaker at home, which on the surface makes it difficult to find time to take care of themselves.

Klaus acknowledged that this is hard, but not impossible.

“For me, it is not so much work-life balance as it is being present … when I am home,”​ she said. She adds that she shares hobbies with her family to create quality time that everyone can enjoy.

Celebrate your successes

Wearing multiple hats and balancing obligations, isn’t easy, acknowledges Klaus, which is why she celebrates the “daily little successes” – ​a strategy that she so thoroughly believes in that DRY is now launching 750 ml ‘celebration bottles’ of its beverages to help consumers.

“I love to celebrate everything and anything and I celebrate daily little successes – whatever it is for us. It is around how we continue to bring people products that allows them to celebrate without alcohol … especially with our new celebration bottles,”​ she said.

Klaus also remembers celebrating a lot of big moments as the leader of DRY, including when the acclaimed restaurant French Laundry added her product to its menus.

“I created a beverage that is strong enough to pair with food. It is really, really good and it is all about flavors … [and] when you are drinking them it is a beautiful experience,”​ which is why she says she was so excited when the French Laundry paired it with the food, she said.

Beyond that, Klaus notes that DRY continues to have a lot to celebrate – including a newer line of sugar-free beverages and an evolving cultural landscape that favors the success of her business.

“The landscape has totally changed and it is really exciting because what we are seeing now is it is around half of Americans are trying to drink less, but what is interesting is 21- to 34-year-olds are more like two-thirds of them are trying to drink less,”​ and that really creates a huge marketing opportunity for DRY, she said.

Looking forward, Klaus says she also is excited to explore new plants and flavors during her travels around the world with the hope of potentially expanding DRY so that more people can enjoy it.

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