Chefs and restaurant executives serve as role models in the industry and mentors for emerging generations.

Gender inequality has rarely been a personal soapbox for me—I grew up with four brothers and learned early on to ignore the odds and just assert myself.

But sometimes statistics give me pause. A newscast last month noted the national gap in gender pay is roughly 23 percent; so I went digging for details.

What I found was that women aged 35 and older earned 20 to 25 percent less than their male counterparts, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report released last October. The news is better for younger women—those 25–34 years old earned 92 percent of what their male counterparts earned.

While it celebrates the successes of extraordinary women chefs, our May cover story notes similar incongruities in pay among chefs and recognizes the difficulties women face achieving executive status in the kitchen. (Of 403,000 people employed as chefs or head cooks in 2012, BLS reported only 21.5 percent were women.)

What’s a woman to do? For myself, any success I’ve achieved has less to do with learning to compete in a male-dominated setting and more to do with the role models I had along the way—beginning with my mother, who started and owned a successful business, and my grandmother, who worked in foodservice management from the 1930s to the mid-70’s.

The chefs in our Women of Taste story also talk about the importance of role models, both those who helped them and the responsibility they have to mentor rising stars and emerging generations.

And recently when I spoke with Mickey Mills, who was named president of O’Charley’s in February, she too talked about the need to mentor and advocate for one another. In particular, she highlighted the benefits of participating in the Women’s Foodservice Forum, saying “If I encounter questions or problems, it is my WFF network that I count on to help me.”

Relative to gender discrimination, she offered excellent advice: “Don’t create barriers for yourself—pursue what you will be most happy doing and go after that goal with vigor. And don’t be afraid to use your network as support to achieve your goals.”

We learn from one another, and there will be a great opportunity to do just that during the NRA show at a Sunday morning session dedicated to the “Year of Women in Foodservice: Lessons learned by successful female executives and entrepreneurs.” Co-hosted by WFF, FSR, and our sister publication QSR, the panel features industry leaders Anne Burrell, Stephanie Izard, Edna Morris, and Carin Stutz. Hope to see you there!

Expert Takes, Feature, Leader Insights