Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Not just bare facts

First, just the facts: Hooters of America, the casual chain that features waitresses in tank tops and short shorts, is a sponsor of the Women’s Foodservice Forum, a group devoted to elevating women into leadership positions at foodservice companies. Its logo—that big orange “Hooters,” which even the chain acknowledges is slang for part of the female anatomy—was much in view at the WFF’s annual leadership development conference in Dallas, where I am as I write this. The other nearly 3,000 people here are largely executive women in business attire, hoping to rise into C-level posts, if not board rooms.

Now, the politically correct analysis: How could this happen? A poor man’s Playboy Club, which openly hires waitresses on the basis of how well they meet an adolescent male fantasy, allowed to associate its name with a cause that celebrates the abilities and potential of women? It just doesn’t fit.

The reality: Good for Hooters, not only for furthering a noble cause, but also for being straightforward about what it is and what it does. “Sex appeal is legal and it sells,” declares the chain’s website. “Claims that Hooters exploits attractive women are as ridiculous as saying the NFL exploits men who are big and fast.”

It acknowledges hiring women “who best fit the image of the Hooters Girls.” But “Hooters' business motto sums it up, ‘You can sell the sizzle, but you have to deliver the steak.’” In other words, you need ability, too, and that’s solely what it’s about at the management level.

I didn’t feel that way when I was handed a registration packet and first spied the Hooters logo. But I’ve spoken with other members of the WFF, who speak highly of the chain’s active member in the association, vice president of training and development Kat Cole, a former Hooters Girl herself. As they suggested, is that work any different than being an actress, model or newscaster? Through Cole and the support of the WFF, the chain is acting to enhanced opportunity for women. It has its shtick, for sure, and some, like me, may not appreciate it as much as others. But the organization deserves credit for working in other respects to bolster the prospects of women. And for that, it deserves praise, not politically correct censure.

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