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Delaware Restaurant Association starts women’s leadership accelerator

Katie Tabeling

The Women of Hospitality Leadership Accelerator’s first class includes those who work at Grotto Pizza, Brew Ha Ha, El Azteca, Two Stones Pub and Starboard/Bethany Blues. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DELAWARE RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION

WILMINGTON  — With its eyes set on lifting up women, the Delaware Restaurant Association has launched an accelerator to coach their way to success.

The pilot program launched on March 11 with a cohort of five women from restaurants all across the state. Since the accelerator experience is customized, each woman will be partnered with a leadership coach and local and national industry mentors. There are also opportunities for workshops and other sessions to help women meet their professional and personal goals.

The first class of Women of Hospitality Leadership Accelerator include those who work at Grotto Pizza, Brew Ha Ha, El Azteca, Two Stones Pub and Starboard/Bethany Blues.

DRA President and CEO Carrie Leishman said the goal is to meet a real need in the hospitality sector: to offer professional development programs for those looking to reach the next level of success.

“If you look at our employment numbers, we’re right where we used to be in terms of pre-pandemic. But now the conversation is about keeping workers in the workforce,” Leishman told the Delaware Business Times. “We’re seeing a lot of things introduced, like benefits, work-life balance. But in some ways, the industry is really behind on professional development. We saw the need, and that’s why we’re doing it.”

The DRA is a pioneer on this front, as leadership development programs traditionally focus on white collar positions. What also sets it apart from other hospitality training programs is that it’s structured to be individualized for each participant. 

The accelerator has some events built in, like a Dogfish Head Beer launch for She Needs Business in Rehoboth Beach earlier this month. A portion of the proceeds from the beer launch party will fund the accelerator’s future programming.

Leishman is also planning on bringing the cohort to Washington D.C. to the National Restaurant Association Public Affairs Conference, so they can see advocacy in action.

But Leishman said flexibility is key for the program, as it mirrors the realities of day-to-day work in the hospitality industry.

“Restaurants require flexibility and personalization. What if something happened and a parti

cipant needed to talk to their coach twice in a week? The idea is to meet the individual needs at that moment,” she said. 

The Women of Hospitality Leadership Accelerator will be capped off with a graduation ceremony at the fifth annual Women in Hospitality Conference in the fall.

In the long run, Leishman hopes to continue the accelerator into next year. But more importantly, she wants to see the women who participate continue with professional coaching and thrive in their workplace.

“This is an opportunity to build the talent and leadership we need in this sector. As an organizational leader, I want the whole restaurant industry to move its culture forward toward opening up more doors for developing talent. We just need more tools to get us there,” she said.

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