Willa Jean Chef Kelly Fields Shares Insight on Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Culture, Supporting Employees During COVID-19

 

Arlington, Va., July 22, 2020 – Eagle Hill Consulting has released Episode 3 of its podcast, cultur(ED), featuring conversations with top culture makers. The guest on this latest episode is Kelly Fields, chef and owner of Willa Jean, a nationally acclaimed restaurant in New Orleans known for its classic southern cuisine and inclusive atmosphere.

During the podcast, Fields discusses how even from the conceptualization phase, the goal was to create a restaurant culture that was equally inclusive for employees and customers. She says that diversity and inclusion is something that requires daily attention, and her top rule is to carefully listen to her team and the public each day.

Fields explains that for her, creating a diverse and inclusive environment is about “removing ego, showing up and having difficult and uncomfortable conversations, putting your own defensiveness away, and listening.” She says “it is all about the culture. It’s about the experience of being here and making sure that everyone feels empowered to be themselves and to show up as they are.”

Established in 2015, Willa Jean quickly became one of the most successful new restaurants in a city known for its world-class chefs and restaurants. And in 2019, Fields was named Outstanding Pastry Chef at the James Beard Awards, the highest honor in the culinary field.

“Organizations really are shifting their mindset on diversity and inclusion, understanding that it’s so much more than doing the right thing,” says Melissa Jezior, the host of cultur(ED) and CEO of Eagle Hill Consulting. “Diversity and inclusion strengthens an organization and its performance. But, companies are struggling with how to shift to a more diverse and inclusive culture.”

“Leaders can learn much from how Kelly Fields has embraced diversity and inclusion as a foundational element of her business. She understands that it is a continual work in progress, and it requires persistent attention and nurturing,” Jezior said.

Fields also discusses the decision to continue providing health insurance to Willa Jean’s employees who were furloughed during COVID-19, a unique move given that few restaurants offer health benefits.

“It’s the ethical thing to do,” Kelly says. “We furloughed most of the staff because of a health crisis. And to think about laying them off and losing their health benefits during a health crisis? It just goes so far against who we are as a company. It wasn’t even a discussion.”

In addition to Willa Jean, Fields is committed to making an impact within the community by mentoring emerging chefs. In 2017, she launched the Yes Ma’am foundation to inspire, encourage and mentor the next generation of women in the restaurant and hospitality industry.

Fields will release her first cookbook on September 8, 2020, The Good Book of Southern Baking: A Revival of Biscuits, Cakes, and Cornbread. The book is an approachable encyclopedia of modern southern baking, showcasing New Orleans baking traditions.

Listen to the interview and subscribe to the podcast here.

cultur(ED) features conversations with top culturemakers in the world today from a variety of industries and backgrounds to unpack the visible and not-so-visible forces that make up this often overlooked super power of an organization.

Episode One of Season Two featured Amy Brandwein, chef and owner of Centrolina and Piccolina, two of the most successful and acclaimed restaurants in the country. Brandwein explains that culture is oxygen for customers and employees, and that culture has been one of the roads to the restaurant’s success. In Episode 2, Virginia Ali, owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl, shares how her restaurant offers more than just food – it brings people together. Recognized as one of the nation’s most iconic Black-owned restaurants, she shares her journey of building a family business that has endured monumental challenges.

Season One provided insight on how business leaders apply culture and mindset practices implemented by top athletes and coaches. Episode One featured two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA Women’s World Cup champion Abby Wambach. Episode Two provided insight from National Soccer Hall of Fame coach Anson Dorrance. Episode Three offered insight from Cathy Reese, Hall of Fame coach of the University of Maryland national championship women’s’ lacrosse team. Episode Four featured former professional  women’s soccer player Lindsay Henson’s views on creating business teams with a “refuse to lose” mindset, while Episode Five discussed with Victoria Blake her experience on the University of Wisconsin’s volleyball team that climbed from the bottom to make the NCAA championship game.

Eagle Hill Consulting LLC is a woman-owned business that provides unconventional management consulting services in the areas of Strategy & Performance, Talent, and Change. The company’s expertise in delivering innovative solutions to unique challenges spans across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, from financial services to healthcare to media & entertainment. Eagle Hill has offices in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, Boston, MA and Seattle, WA. More information is available at www.eaglehillconsulting.com.