Women Working in Professional Kitchens and Their Obstacles
The International Women's Month is celebrated in March, with March 8th marking as International Women's Day. This historical date is important to remind us how much we have advanced about women's rights and that there is still a lot of work ahead.
The notion of gender equality is well established in terms of how people who identify as different genders still have equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities. However, "equality in the kitchen" remains under-researched, under-supported, and often taken for granted.
The food industry, especially restaurants, is an example of an environment where there is much to evolve regarding inclusion and gender equality in work environments. This industry has long been criticized for its lack of diverse representation, particularly in terms of the disparity in gender inclusion. We grew up watching our mothers and grandmothers cooking for the family. Historically, women have always cooked at home, but this was seen as domestic and not 'real' work. Therefore, professional kitchens are dominated by men, and this is because it is considered a heavy job, a hostile environment, and many still have this conception that women cannot handle the pressure of working in a kitchen.
A proof of this is the data collected in a survey carried out by Data USA in 2019, which showed that men represent 77.3% of the workforce and women represent only 22.6%. In addition, men earn a lot more than women in the US. For example, the average salary for men is $38,465 and for women is $28,270. Another example is the famous list of the 50 best restaurants in the world, always criticized for awarding mostly male chefs. In the 2021 list, only one female chef managed to be among the Top 10, Chef Pía León. And in the list of the 50 best restaurants in 2021, only four were led by women.
In an environment known for its fast pace, aggressive tactics, and long working hours, leadership roles for women have traditionally been rare. However, one challenge that may be making organizational change difficult in the industry is subconscious bias – the tendency to hire those with whom you share something in common. Research said that unconscious bias towards people who are not of the same race, educational level, economic status and don't have the same personality, fears, or values as the person responsible for hiring is much more common than we think.
Additionally, work environments like restaurants tend to fuel power imbalances for women, leaving them more susceptible to sexual harassment and retaliation. With far more men than women at the top, the restaurant industry has been challenged to institute change and promote safe work environments. A 2014 study by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United found that 80% of female restaurant workers experienced harassment from a coworker, while two-thirds experienced harassment from a manager.
In recent years, the segment has seen more successful women aiming to rise through the ranks and break through the glass ceiling in the food industry. However, the odds are still stacked against women in a world that have grown accustomed to male leaders, reinforcing a pattern where women are continually challenged to prove themselves worthy.
Some measures that can be taken to promote equality in the foodservice industry are:
Step 1: Recognition of the Past
The first step of change requires admitting what didn't work. As an industry, the restaurant world transmitted and promoted a culture that included physical and emotional abuse and suffering, which were not only unhealthy for everyone involved but were also notably successful in excluding women from feeling safe and included in this space. This step is perhaps the most difficult, as it requires everyone in the industry to take a hard look at where our culture is weak and be brave enough to step away from some aspects of what we sometimes assume defines this profession.
Step 2: Commitment to a New Future
Women need to know that the industry wants them to be in the kitchen. In turn, the industry needs to decide at a sectoral level that it is committed to getting women into professional kitchens, influencing the food world, and making decisions that affect how it is operated. This can happen through women sitting on boards, being judges on TV shows, being recognized for their contributions, and even having cooking schools committed to recruiting and supporting female students as they begin their dream of a career in the field.
Step 3: Engagement in the Recruitment Process
Every restaurant must consider reaching and recruiting female employees, from interns to high-profile positions. A question that you can do to yourself is: Are women applying for cook positions? And if not, why? Each restaurant needs to look at how it brings female talent or what it is doing to repel potential candidates.
Step 4: Opening Communication
When female talent is part of the team, what needs to be considered is the space they are given. This is challenging, as paying attention to the specific hiring experience requires the restaurant to honestly examine how its culture around gender often influences the women on the staff. The most direct way to learn about the female team member's experience is to provide them with ways to communicate this directly to management without fear of reprisal.
Step 5: Eradication of Bias
Owners and managers must be willing to provide opportunities for team members to explore where they may have unexamined gender biases through training. Unfortunately, some managers can carry unknown biases that, until identified, can guide them in their hiring decisions and influence how they approach gender-based issues in the workplace. This step requires financial commitment and time in training and coaching, but until the gender-informed narratives are not eradicated, behavior cannot change.
Step 6: Proactive Feedback
Finally, when the female staff member leaves a restaurant, she should receive an exit questionnaire that specifically asks for feedback on her experience in terms of gender equality. This feedback should be considered carefully, and changes made to respond to what was not in place for that particular team member.
Gender inclusion can be anywhere. We understand that women can occupy any position, and that's why our products are gender neutral and please all tastes. Our Vintage Chef Knife Backpack is very versatile and available in different colors. Our knives are the perfect size to be used by anyone. Go to our “Shop” and check out our products and be surprised by the variety we have to offer!
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