Creating a More Inclusive Workplace

Creating a More Inclusive Workplace

Finding the value of inclusion within the franchising business model

Sometimes we set expectations for ourselves that seem blatantly unrealistic. Deep down, however, it’s pursuing the unexpected and achieving the unreachable that drives us

to excel and succeed. This focus and perseverance through adversity is likely what builds enduring and successful businesses.

That makes it easy to forget that there is more than one balance sheet in life, and the one that counts the most and provides the greatest sense of satisfaction has nothing to do with money. It is this other personal balance sheet that tells us whether or not we have made a real difference in the lives of others.

When I was in my 30s, I had the opportunity to understand what success would mean for me. In 1984, I found myself in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where I partnered with a local draper to start a vertical and venetian blind manufacturing company. I had never managed other people before and I had absolutely no business experience. What’s more, I was a foreigner and a minority in an unfamiliar country.

While I wasn’t sure WHO I wanted to be as “the boss” of the business or really how to get there, I was certain who I did NOT want to be, and I didn’t have to look far for inspiration. My Jamaican partner’s drapery factory was right across the road. He was        a smart guy, but an irritable and erratic employer. A stickler for punctuality, in a country where public transportation was undependable, he would always give employees an earful about being

on time in the mornings. There had to be a better way to start the day, so I created a light  breakfast  corner,  opened  the  workshop an hour earlier, and invited my staff to come in before their shift    to socialize and read the paper before punching in at their scheduled time. Everyone came in early as a result.

In response, my partner introduced free lunch at his factory, which was a step in the right direction. It would have been better though, if he had spent less time reminding his employees what a good employer he was. I know he really just wanted their respect, but this is something you have to earn. It cannot be bought.

I think I was a pretty fair employer, but I was strict when it came to getting the work done. However, once a month, we had a social night after work to celebrate birthdays and eat cake, which over time, turned into a pot luck dinner. At those events, I was just one of the group. By the end of my time in Jamaica, my partner would often drop by and talk about his life in Jamaica as a young man, before going abroad to England, and showed a side of himself, his own employees never saw.

While he was shrewder than me and a better business person, he taught me a valuable lesson on the importance of being an inclusive employer and ensuring that everyone felt welcome. He taught me the importance of how we make others feel and how we contribute to this world we live in. You need to have enough money, sure, but money alone does not make you whole.


Franchising is Inherently Inclusive

In 1993, our three-year-old son was diagnosed with autism. It was also the same year that I started The Lunch Lady. Carrying with   me the lessons learned in Jamaica, I knew from the very early stages of founding the company that I wanted to recreate the work culture and positive vibe that we had at Worldwide Vertical Blinds. After all, I had to work there too!

While those first few years of launching the business had their ups and downs, it eventually stabilized. From there, I was introduced to the idea of franchising. As an only child, the concept of bringing franchisees onboard to create my own little The Lunch Lady family had great appeal.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I love franchising! Franchising is the ultimate form of inclusion. We take an idea that is viable, and we share it with other people, providing them with the opportunity to build their own business success as part of the franchise brand. At The Lunch Lady, we strive to develop unique and special relationships with our franchise partners. In turn, they contribute to the growth of the brand, while breathing life into the business with fresh energy and new ideas.

The expression “you are in business for yourself, but not by yourself,” speaks to the greatest elements  of  franchise  culture. As franchisors, we’ve already made a commitment  to  inclusion  by working in the franchise industry. We are all sharing a busi- ness concept with local owner-operators. And where are they coming from? Look around your organization. They are from all over the world and are helping to build a better life for them- selves. In return, they are building a better life for us by supporting the business.


Taking Inclusivity One Step Further

As major players in the franchise industry, we create inclusive communities by sharing a viable business idea with the world. We are also building inclusive brands by awarding franchise units to candidates from all walks of life.

Now, I am asking you to take it one step further: Consider making room in your organization for persons with intellectual disabilities. Why? Because a good workplace should have a place for everyone. Our now 27-year-old son, B, is the Lunch Lady’s Confidential Paper Shredder. He’s perfect for the job. He has absolutely no interest in the contents of the documents he’s shredding, works

steadily, and with a positive attitude. Our franchise partners love   B, because he saves them loads of time. He works on average a couple of shifts a month, loves lunching with the staff, and being part of the office vibe. Our office staff often tell me how much they love having B around the office.

Last August, one of our The Lunch Lady kitchens was featured   in an episode of an award-winning show on TVO called Employ- able Me. It was a great experience. We were one of 12 companies involved, including Canadian Franchise Association members and Pizza Nova. The series provides an in-depth understanding of the challenges young adults such as my son face  in the workplace. The overall lesson: people with intellectual dis- abilities have a lot to offer, they just need a chance to contribute.  We all need to feel we have something to offer, and that we are contributing to our own communities.

Over the course of this year, I have been involved in a project being developed by the CCRW (Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work) called the Disability Confident Employer Program. This program will help prospective employers have a higher level of comfort with hiring individuals with disabilities.

They have also created a site to introduce future employers to   the advantages of supporting a diverse business environment that includes persons with disabilities. I encourage all franchisors to check it out at:


Creating an  Inclusive  Workplace:  It’s  All  About  Perspective I ask you to challenge your own perspective and ensure that when you are talking about diversity, you are also talking about persons with disabilities. Think about what that means! I am still thinking about it and I have a long way to go yet in my own organization.  But I am determined. If we all do a little, our efforts will result in big change. We are already pioneers in our industry. Let’s just take it one step further!



Ruthie Burd, founder of the Lunch Lady was the recipient of the CFA’s first Diversity and Inclusion Champion Award in 2018. Her company prepares and delivers good hot lunches to kids in over 140 Canadian communities. She created the Lunch Lady Foundation in 2018 to provide operational support to not for profit food programs, increase support for healthier choices and advocate for more inclusive workplaces.

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