Closing the Diversity Gap in Fast-Casual Franchising


How Franchisors Can Foster a Diverse Work Culture

The franchise industry has made great strides in diversity and inclusion with initiatives like The Black Franchise Leadership Council and Franchising Pride Council. But we still have a long way to go. Although nearly half of all restaurant employees are considered diverse, the International Franchise Association reports that just 30.8 percent of franchisees are minorities. The franchise industry has taken steps to improve ownership numbers for diverse franchisees, but franchisors can take advantage of so many more opportunities to help close the diversity gap, create more diversity in franchising, and cultivate an inclusive environment where all feel welcome.

Aware of this diversity gap and the need to close it, Noodles & Company has strengthened its commitment to building an inclusive work environment and promoting diversity across the company and I’ve seen it firsthand. 

Noodles & Company’s commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion can be seen in several initiatives that other franchisors can adapt. Here’s what we are doing to close the diversity gap in fast-casual franchising.

Adopting MFHA’s Pathways to Black Franchise Ownership Program

Noodles & Company adopted Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance’s (MFHA) Pathways to Black Franchise Ownership program in 2021 to support the goal of creating 100 new Black-owned franchise restaurants by the end of 2023. Noodles & Company was one of the first two restaurant franchise companies to adopt MFHA’s program. The Company made this commitment because it recognizes the need for more Black franchisees and programs to attract prospective franchisees to the industry.

Leadership Representation

Noodles & Company’s leadership representation comprises 54% women within the operations team and 50% on its executive team. Women are historically underrepresented at the operational and executive level, and despite this industry discrepancy, we know how important our female team members are to the success of Noodles, and that’s why we strive for gender parity. Noodles has also earned the Women in the Lead Certification for its investment in women-empowering initiatives for its female team members, which always creates opportunities for women to have a seat at the table, and we were also named one of Forbes Best Companies to Work for Women in 2021. 

ESG Reporting

In October 2021, Noodles & Company issued our first-ever Impact (ESG) Report highlighting milestones and progress the company has made to improve the team member experience, food, planet, and community. Releasing this report shows not only the work that Noodles & Company is doing to make improvements across the organization, but it also shows that we aren’t afraid to share results with the public on these important issues. Any company can make promises to make purposeful changes, but we think it takes a company with integrity to show how they are working towards their goals and how far they must go after setting impressive targets. 

Resource Groups

As part of our new Uncommon Goodness brand positioning to deliver extraordinary team member benefits, Noodles & Company has recently created Noodles Resource Groups (NRGs), PROUD and THRIVE. PROUD focuses on giving the LGBTQIA+ community and allies a platform for discussion, while THRIVE focuses on giving BIPOC team members and allies a space for communication with their fellow team members. These resource groups give Noodles & Company team members a space to connect with each other in a way that they might not have been able to in a traditional work setting to discuss topics they would like to keep within their community. These NRGs show prospective franchisees that all their employees will experience a sense of belonging to our company because there are these groups where they can connect and discuss what’s on their minds.

CEO Action Pledge

Announced in March 2021, Noodles & Company is proud to have joined the CEO Action Pledge to support an open dialogue on difficult conversations, implement and expand unconscious bias education, share best-known inclusion and diversity programs, and engage the board in the development of inclusion and diversity strategies. Like the NRGs, the CEO Action Pledge furthers Noodles & Company’s commitment to its diverse team members and meeting their needs. The CEO Action Pledge shows that we are starting with change at the top to create a more inclusive environment for all team members, including franchisees. This ongoing commitment to implementing necessary changes shows diverse franchisees that Noodles & Company will prioritize their needs and the needs of the team members at their restaurants. 

Inclusion & Diversity Advisory Council

To increase transparency and ensure that diversity continues to be a priority for the company, Noodles & Company formed an Inclusion and Diversity Advisory Council to foster, promote, grow, develop, and retain a robust, inclusive work environment. The development of the council highlights how we view inclusion and diversity as a necessity for our business, while the development of the diversity resource library, DEI training and partnering with the MFHA to build cultural intelligence within teams shows that Noodles & Company is making the changes necessary to be culturally aware and understanding for all our team members. These actions display Noodles & Company’s commitment to providing the resources necessary so everyone within the company is culturally aware. 

By making these pledges and changes, Noodles & Company fosters an inclusive and diverse environment that cultivates career groups and development opportunities for everyone at all levels. From direct commitments like adopting MFHA’s Pathways to Black Franchise Ownership program to creating a supportive and inclusive environment with Noodles Resource Groups and an internal Inclusion and Diversity Advisory Council, we are clearing the way for more diversity in the industry. Diversity benefits everyone, from making a company more understanding of the needs of all its guests to improving the communities where diverse franchisees open restaurants. For a company to meet its full potential, everyone must have a seat at the table.

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John Ramsay is vice president of franchise sales for Noodles & Company, a leader in fast-casual franchising with more than 450 restaurants. Ramsay brings 30 years of experience in franchising and development with large mature organizations and emerging growth concepts. Ramsay has developed more than 900 restaurants, covering all 50 states and 12 countries.
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