As American businesses become increasingly conscious of the disparity between the number of men and women in leadership positions, many are working to correct the balance by explicitly seeking out qualified women for roles previously occupied by men. While those efforts are undoubtedly steps in the right direction, many women still find themselves uncomfortable in work environments that are rooted in a male culture.
Thanks to a long history of gender equality throughout their ranks, the Togo’s franchise has avoided the pain of restructuring their leadership and culture to accommodate more women. In fact, half of the sandwich brand’s highest executive-level leadership are women, and that equality is reflected down through every level of the corporate office as well as the brand’s many franchise locations, where women flourish both as employees and franchise owners.
“Everyone is here on merit,” said Anna Nero, Vice President, Marketing for Togo’s. “The women directors on our team are not here because of some sort of program to diversify the board.”
One of the reasons male-dominated work environments tend to perpetuate themselves is that businesses rely on references to find qualified candidates for open positions, and the majority of referred candidates share backgrounds with the people who referred them. So for historically male-dominated businesses, even those that strive to hire based on merit, the pool of qualified candidates is often disproportionately male.
“The only way merit-based hiring works is if you have qualified female candidates interested in applying,” said Lidia Larson, Sr. Manager of Franchise Development for Togo’s. “Togo’s has always attracted strong, qualified women. Anna is here because she is just plain good at what she does, same can be said for Susan Koch [CFO], Leslie Dean [Vice President, Supply Chain] and everyone else in leadership positions at Togo’s, men and women.”
As a franchise system, Togo’s has long attracted female owners. Rose Le, a five-unit Togo’s owner in Northern California, said there are a number of operational advantages that the Togo’s model offers to women.
“I think this kind of work comes naturally to a lot of women, particularly moms,” Le said. “Moms are great multi-taskers; they have to be, and that’s an important skill in this business. You’ve also got to be able to manage a staff of employees, you’ve got to work sensitively and compassionately with customers, and you’ve got to have an eagle-eye for quality control. These are all things that moms do best.”
Le said Togo’s corporate culture has made it easy for her to run her Togo’s and still make time for her family.
“As a mom, I’ve seen so much support from Togo’s,” Le said. “They are very attuned to the demands of my life outside of work, and it’s never been an issue. One of the great things about a business like this is that you can leave to pick your kid up from school or take them to the doctor if you need to. You are not chained to a computer in an office from nine to five.”
Many Togo’s owners, regardless of gender, come to the brand as a way to escape the drudgery of office work. That was the case for Letha Tran, a three-unit owner in the Bay Area, who left her job in human resources to open her first Togo’s.
“Years ago, I changed jobs because I was looking for something much more satisfying,” Tran said. “Now, I can wake up every day and say that I love my job. Owning a Togo’s is my pride and joy.”
Tran and Le are just two of the hundreds of female Togo’s owners and employees who have found in the brand a place to thrive professionally without having to adjust to a male-dominated culture. Le said that just having female representation in Togo’s corporate leadership goes a long way to make Togo’s a place where women can succeed.
“It’s always helpful to work with someone who shares your perspective,” Le said. “That’s why it’s so important to have diversity in leadership. Working with Togo’s has been a wonderful experience for me. I’ve always felt understood, and I’ve always been treated with warmth, like family. I think anyone, man or woman, with a passion for the brand and an entrepreneurial drive can find success here.”