International Women’s Day: An exploration into gender imbalance in the restaurant industry

International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate women and their successes. It’s also a great opportunity to reflect on what it’s like to be a woman — paying attention to the opportunities, obstacles, and realities of womanhood, including where women are choosing to pursue their careers.

Hospitality is a huge industry with over 2.4 million employees, which suggests that there is room for all to pursue a career within it. However, evidence like the gender pay gap and the low numbers of women running restaurants, bars, hotels, and other hospitality environments tells a different story. Here, catering equipment and supplies providers Mitchell & Cooper share some insight into the problem and speak to women who work in the industry to get their perspectives.

Where are all the women?

“While the gender imbalance in hospitality has been improving since 2017, there is still a long way to go towards equality. In the UK, only 18.5% of professional chefs are women and this gap is present at the top of the ladder too — of the UK’s 12 three-star Michelin restaurants, just two are owned by women, and just one female chef made it to the top 10 of the Best Chef Awards’ 100 best chefs of 2022.

Part of the problem may be the difference in pay between male and female hospitality workers. For restaurant and catering managers in the UK, the pay gap is currently at 7.3%. Other concerns may be that restaurant work is too physically demanding, time consuming, and inflexible to appeal to women.

Most alarmingly, across the pond in the US, 71% of female restaurant workers have reported being sexually harassed by customers or their superiors. This could be giving the industry a reputation that’s discouraging of women away from roles in hospitality here in the UK.

How to encourage more female talent to pursue roles in hospitality

If you’re looking for ways to support your staff or encourage more female talent to pursue roles in hospitality, or if you’re a woman wondering how to make it in the industry, there are a few key areas to consider.

Emphasise the different pathways into hospitality

One of the main attractions of a career in hospitality is that there are so many different roles and routes into it. From part-time roles and temp work to management fast-tracking, culinary school, and more, there are plenty of different ways for women to get started in hospitality or switch roles within the industry — it’s just a case of making these different avenues clear.

For example, not all hospitality roles involve cheffing or bar work — there is plenty of room for people with project management, operations, and marketing experience.

Fight misconceptions about the industry

There are preconceptions about working in hospitality that may be preventing women from applying for roles or succeeding within the industry — particularly those that aren’t positive towards women. For example, kitchens are often seen as a masculine environment, while more feminine roles within cheffing are assumed to be baking and pastry-making. However, many of these perceptions are incorrect.

Katie Francis, former chef and Assistant Branch Manager of hospitality staffing agency Off to Work, says: “[Restaurant work can be] a male-dominated environment where there is an assumption that if you’re a female chef you’ll ‘just be doing pastry’. There is a stereotypical view of the main kitchen being this blokey, masculine environment which in most restaurants couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Another misconception may be the skills required to do well in hospitality. Not only are the majority skills that anyone can learn, but in many cases, knowledge, experience, and willingness to learn more important than formal skills or qualifications.

Katie Pearce, director of operations of Off to Work says: “There really is no substitute for lived experience, so get out there and get your hands dirty! It’s also vital to keep your skills up to date even as you progress up the career ladder, it will give you and understanding and empathy for your team. For example, I recently dusted off my hospitality uniform to help our clients at the Resorts World Arena for The Concert for Ukraine. It was an incredible opportunity to give something back and refresh those hospitality skills.”

Remove obstacles for women working in hospitality

It can be difficult for those with families and other commitments outside of work to pursue roles in hospitality when so much of it takes place in the evenings and on weekends. Flexible working options and rotas that are sympathetic to childcare and other commitments can help, but there are still unsolved issues surrounding more serious obstacles such as maternity leave and the gender pay gap.

Employers who address these concerns may find that more women are attracted towards roles in their restaurant or bar. Of course, these policies would benefit everyone —not just women with families. But the fact remains that better maternity leave and more flexibility are something women look for in a job, with Personnel Today reporting that 52% of women have considered leaving their job due to lack of flexible working options.

Opportunities to advance are another crucial aspect of a career that women value, so it’s important to communicate — or establish — a career ladder within your establishment that offers clear paths for progression.”

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