The Future for Women in Hospitality

May 30, 2017

How has womens’ role in hospitality evolved over the years? Is there more work to be done? Influential women from all walks of the hospitality world share their thoughts.

Written by Hospitality Magazine.

Lauren Eldridge, pastry chef at Pei Modern, Sydney

Do you feel women are still under-represented?

I think women are still under-represented.  On a micro level, the ratio of male to female employees is still heavily skewed towards men, from apprentices to head chefs.  On a macro level, there are events held all over the world – talks, dinners, charity events – that are all male.  Organisers either don’t even consider including women, or they will include one or two almost as a token of diversity.

In what ways have women progressed in the sector?

In the last few years I have noticed more women’s hospitality groups forming and making themselves heard. In Australia, there is Fully Booked – Women in Food & Drink, Coleman’s Academy, Females in Food and Women in Hospitality.  Internationally Parabere Forum is a huge database of people in the sector who support each other while raising awareness of the inequalities faced in such a male dominated industry.  These groups are a strong way to show that we will not let the industry continue the way it has been, with women being dismissed or ignored.

Fiona McLean, head teacher, hospitality and commercial cookery, Sydney TAFE

In 1981 I completed a pre-apprenticeship course at East Sydney TAFE, and my class comprised 50 percent women, which was very unusual. All other classes were mostly 100 percent men. In 1982 I landed an apprenticeship at Summit Restaurant at Australian Square in Sydney; 30 percent of the apprentices were female and about half left the industry before the end of their training – mostly because of the intensity of the work and its physical nature. We were carrying around 30kg of flour and it could be very tough! Life as a female apprentice was hard. You had to be as strong as a male, if not stronger. You had to be better than any male apprentice to be given opportunities, otherwise you weren’t noticed.

Thankfully, over the years more females have joined the industry. There is a greater female presence in kitchens today, however, there are still few high profile female chefs.

There has been a significant shift now with 50 to 60 percent of TAFE classes consisting of women. Whilst the industry enjoys the skills that women bring to the job, generally speaking, women don’t stay in the industry – whether it be due to the physical demands, or the need to look after a young family.

Annette Lacey, director of wine and beverage, Lotus Dining

Do you feel women are still under-represented?

Most definitely in wine. I often will go to tastings or masterclasses and there is a ratio of 2:15 female to male in these classes. It is never a problem, as the men in the wine industry in Sydney are great – it’s more an observation.

In what ways have women progressed in the sector?

We have a lot of high profile female sommeliers, chefs and restaurant managers who have received accolades from their peers. This has a flow-on effect to those coming up through the ranks. The one positive point to note is there doesn’t seem to be that ‘glass ceiling’ that is often present in other industries. It’s also more accepted in the wine industry that women hold prominent positions and do it well.

Moving forward, what would you like to see?

I don’t like to look at it as a women only problem. I think for everyone it is a challenge to rise to the top of your chosen field, it requires motivation, dedication and the desire to succeed. I would like to see those people, irrelevant of sex, be successful. I am a big believer in education to support your career – I think it adds an extra dimension to what you can offer customers and your employer.

Sharlee Gibb, event producer, founder, Fully Booked Women

‪Do you feel women are still under-represented?

‪I don’t think women are under-represented in kitchens; there are lots of amazing female chefs (actually we call them ‘cheffes’ these days) not just the two or three that get rattled off when someone says ‘we need a female chef, who should we use?’ I feel they are under-represented by media, festival curators and event makers. I hope these decision makers start to explore the pool of talent out there rather than just go with the easy story.

‪Moving forward, what would you like to see?

‪I would like to see more women in head chef roles; they can be great leaders and nurturers as well as being brilliant cooks. Events and festivals need to start putting more women in the talent line-up. I recently approached a food festival and gave them a list of 10 cheffes they could look at adding to their program. All were awesome women cooking amazing food. Needless to say the line-up was released and they were four women of 51 chefs.

Julia Campbell, founder of Women in Hospitality, and financial accountant for the Three Blue Ducks group

In what ways have women progressed in the sector?

There are more successful females across all areas of the industry inspiring future female industry leaders. In Australia, from Annette Lacey, Sarah Doyle to Claire Van Vuuren and internationally, the international best bartender in Diageo’s World’s Best competition was a female this year. Putting a spotlight on these women shows a career path that females can aspire to take.

What else needs to be done?  

Australia has arguably one of the most exciting food scenes in the world at the moment. We are in a position to continue to shine a spotlight equally on the talented females in the industry alongside the males at the outset and on the world stage.

Aside from inspiration, we need the infrastructure to support the next generation of women who face very different issues to men in the workplace. We need to give them the ability to find support to tackle these issues head on, back themselves and enjoy longevity in the industry.

Stephanie Alexander

Do you feel women are still under-represented?

I don’t know. It’s mostly men who get the accolades and head up long-standing operations. But all of these men would have female staff. There’s no avoiding the issue that top level positions in the restaurant industry not only require personal stamina, but they are incompatible with family life. Many women seem to be employed in linked industries, such as hospitality management, consultancy, small businesses that are food-related.

How much change have you witnessed in regards to womens’ involvement in the sector?

In the years that I operated Stephanie’s Restaurant (1976-1997), I saw the rise of the food media and the development of a much greater interest in food, especially French food after the advent of nouvelle cuisine in 1985. I employed a female apprentice and no doubt many more females started apprenticeships. Other female members of my staff were enthusiastic and intelligent home cooks, rather than having any qualifications (myself included).

Are you able to name a couple of young women that you consider to be particularly promising?

Women like Nicky Riemer, Annie Smithers and Karen Martini have shown that a female can achieve at the highest level – and Sharlee Gibb who’s in a related industry. These are women who have done it their way.

Lyndey Milan, food and cooking show personality, co-founder and patron of Tasting Success

In 2016 Tasting Success celebrated 10 years. It was launched as an innovative program designed to develop the culinary skills and confidence of female apprentice chefs and commercial cookery students at TAFE NSW – Ultimo. It consists of a series of masterclasses, media and confidence training workshops and 35 hours of workplace mentoring with high profile chefs such as Alex Herbert, Chris Manfield, Kylie Kwong, Jane Strode, Peter Gilmore, Matt Moran, Martin Benn, Michael Moore, Mark Best and many others, all at the top of their field. Obviously there’s a need for male mentors as there simply aren’t enough females!

The program has now been expanded to include both men and women, in recognition that retention in the industry is critical for both sexes. The new program provides students with the professional and life skills to sustain balance and achieve success in all aspects of their life and in the hospitality industry.

However, there are still some gender specific sessions as there are issues, which affect only women.

Even now a flip through the Good Food Guide does not throw up many female executive chefs. By and large, there are only male judges on the popular TV shows like MasterChef. Thank heavens for Maggie in the Great Australian Bake-off and Karen on My Kitchen Rules!

While I would love to see a true meritocracy, it just doesn’t exist. My dream is for everyone to have an equal opportunity to become unequal – access to great education and support for all, and then with hard work, dedication, commitment, talent and a desire to succeed let the cream come to the top. We need to keep working to ensure this happens, to help and mentor those coming after us and ensure they can have a great future in food.

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