Last year, a team of women founded the Network of Women at CAVA (NoW) to help address diversity in leadership, particularly in the restaurant industry. Members from the restaurant to the executive-level make up this diverse group that is working to create change from the ground up. We sat down with the founding members to learn more about the organization and its goals.   

How would you best describe NoW? 

Amanda Z., Learning + Development Manager: NoW is a group designed and led by women with the goals of fostering community, networking, mentorship, knowledge-sharing, and development for those who identify as women at CAVA + Zoës Kitchen.  

Lori G., Vice President of Ops Services: NoW is a group of talents women in all aspects of our business:  Support Center, Catering, and Restaurant Operations, who want to make a difference in what they do and how they impact our company.  

Although NoW is a women’s network, our goal is to improve our company as a whole – men and women. 

We are doing that by empowering women at CAVA through mentorship, development, community, and knowledge-sharing.

What made you want to create NoW?  

Lori: I’ve been in the food service industry for over 20 years. During that time, I was one of the few people in my organizations who were women. My leaders always coached me that I had to work harder, longer hours, and put more effort into my work because I was a woman. Even my women leaders told me that I needed to act differently. I always felt guilty about taking time for my family and my home life when others around me did not.  

Although this has changed over the years, I never want anyone at CAVA to feel the same way I felt. I want an environment where people are celebrated, have strong career paths and can be a mentor to someone with similar struggles.  

I consulted some mentors of mine, did a lot of research, and then asked a few additional people to join me on this journey to make CAVA an employer of choice for talented women. 

Tell us about a time when an organization like NoW could have helped you in your career.

Amanda:  Something like NoW would’ve been helpful for me at the very beginning of my career. Our experiences as women at work can often leave us feeling isolated, so having a network and a safe space to share and listen has helped me understand how similar my experiences are to those of my colleagues and how our experiences connect us. That sense of community and safety has done wonders for my confidence that I could’ve used when I was just starting out. 

Paris J., Technology Operations Lead: An organization like NoW would have supported me in knowing that I had a community of women leaders that experience the same workplace challenges as me. At times, I’ve felt alone in my career because I felt I had to figure it all out by myself. A community like NoW has shown me the power of having a support system at work. 

Mara B., Assistant Controller: I wish I’d had an organization like NoW when I started working! I was very naïve. I had a strong role model in my working mother growing up, but the rest I learned from being around other amazing women. I often say I grew up at AOL. I was there for 23 years. A lot of people came through those doors, and I learned from both the good and bad. I was fortunate to have both amazing women and male bosses who believed in me. That makes a difference in how you progress. If I’d had NoW and the resources and awareness it provides, I think my “growing up” would have happened faster. 

Lori: I began my career in the 90s in a primarily male-dominated industry. I had only male supervisors and mentors at that time who didn’t always understand or respect my perspective. That resulted in me never challenging what they said. Having a network of like-minded women could have changed my perspective on business at that time.  

What do you hope NoW will accomplish – in both the short and long term?  

Amanda:   NoW is already starting to shed light on the opportunities our company has to become the employer of choice for women.

We’ve started to develop and execute on programming and development for women at the company to ensure we are helping them grow in their careers.

In the long term, I hope to see more women in leadership roles at the company. I also would love to see how NoW at CAVA + ZK can inspire new affinity groups at our company and women’s networks at other restaurant groups.

Paris: I hope that we achieve recognition as being impactful leaders that make time to connect outside of work. Long term, I see an executive board with an equal number of female and male leaders who have the same salary based on role and experience, not gender. 

Mara: In the short term, I hope that the women at CAVA lean on each other and engage in the programming developed. This will only happen if they make time to engage. And I do hope they take the time to invest in themselves.  In the long term, I want everyone to feel empowered to go outside their comfort zone and achieve goals they never thought possible. Take what they learn from others and make a difference. Pay it forward so that my girls have even greater opportunities. 

Lori: A short-term goal is to retain and develop talented women of CAVA through mentorship, knowledge-sharing, and building business acumen. In the long term, we will position CAVA as an employer of choice for talented women. We will also establish strong career paths toward senior leadership. 

Why is it important for an organization like NoW to exist within CAVA or within the restaurant space as a whole?  

Amanda: We have so many talented women in our restaurants and Support Center who may not grow into leadership roles if they are not provided the right environment to succeed. We know that having diverse leadership can lead to financial success for the business, so how do we close this gap? We believe NoW can help us get there.

Paris: Because the restaurant space is so fast-paced and about taking care of others, organizations like NoW help women slow down and take time to focus on ourselves and our growth. NoW is a community within CAVA that makes time for self-care and self-development for women in the restaurant industry. 

NoW is a community within CAVA that makes time for self-care and self-development for women in the restaurant industry. 

Mara: Networking is hard. Finding mentors and role models can be hard. I feel that NoW gives the women at CAVA an instant network of folks to lean on and connect with.  

Lori: Diversity networking groups enable unique and creative thinking. It brings different, diverse talents together working toward a common goal. In turn, this increased retention and productivity. It helps to build a stronger brand and makes the company a more desirable employer. 

How do you envision NoW influencing the future of CAVA? 

Amanda: At the very least, NOW will influence CAVA by raising awareness about the importance of diversity in leadership and the challenges women face when growing their careers. Even better, NOW will help develop women into strong and confident leaders in the organization. And at its best, we will drive real business results for the organization by ensuring we attract, retain, and develop talented women who will contribute to and lead key company initiatives.  

Paris: I see NoW creating an opportunity for CAVA to be one of the best places to work in the world because of our development in people. I believe through our events, initiatives, and mentorship, NoW will create opportunities for women in CAVA to be the top leaders of the world.

Mara: NoW will influence the mindset of those that are members as well as the company as a whole.  I also think it will give women in the organization opportunities to work on committees that are outside of their expertise, giving them experiences they wouldn’t otherwise be able to have. 

Lori: I expect additional leaders in the organization to feel empowered to build other diverse organizations. NOW can establish a structure for them to do so. 

What does diversity in leadership mean to you? 

Amanda: Something we talk about frequently is how important it is that the leadership at our company is as diverse as the guests we serve each day. It’s bringing different voices and perspectives to the table to ensure the best, and not necessarily the loudest, idea is heard. 

Paris: Diversity in leadership means that there is a melting pot of different minds and backgrounds working to create products and services for the world. To serve the world, we must have leadership that is reflective of the people we serve. 

Mara: Diversity in leadership goes beyond just having women included.

It’s about people with diverse backgrounds to bring different perspectives – men, women, younger, older, single, married, variety of cultures. I thrive off hearing other’s ideas and perspectives. It’s what helps me be creative.

Lori: It means that we have a leadership team that reflects and is diverse as the guests we serve every day.  

What women mentors do you have or have had in the past? How do you think they have helped you in your career personally? 

Amanda:I have been so fortunate to have managers-turned-mentors in my career. They helped me through leading by example and showing what is possible for women when it comes to things I’ve struggled with – balancing work and life, participating confidently in meetings, being professional without compromising femininity, and more. They’ve also helped me by seeing me for my potential and guiding me toward opportunities to stretch my skills and reach my goals when I may not have had the courage to seek them out myself. 

Paris: My mentor in college, her name was Danielle Perry. She was only a year older than me, but she was a part of the organizations that made an impact on our campus of Howard University. I observed her as a being a courageous, powerful, and responsible leader. I wanted to make that same impact with the students and community, so I boldly walked up to her and asked her to be my mentor. She immediately gave me a role to be her assistant in our student body government. In this position, I got to shadow general body meetings and learn how to vocalize my opinion and vote. I also got to see and support the amazing programming she put on for our students. After she graduated, I ran for student body representative and was elected and got to step into my innate role as a leader for the first time. In my career, I remember my experience with Danielle, and I always channel her courage, power, and responsibility as I lead my Technology team and create future leaders. 

Mara: I’ve never actually had an official mentor relationship. But I’ve been fortunate to work for some amazing women that have guided me through my career. I’d say they helped me learn the importance of teamwork, balancing family & work, listening, and generally lifting me as they progressed as well. 

Lori: My current and past mentors have helped me to understand that I am not alone in my day-to-day challenges. They’ve helped me with my growth by asking difficult questions, challenging me in my decisions, and giving me advice along the way. My mentors helped me most by guiding me to make my own decisions and not giving me the answers.  


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