By Dana Ferrante ’17
Among many falsehoods perpetuated by cooking shows on TV, the true ratio of men to women in the culinary world seems to be one of the most blatantly disregarded. It is not that there is a dearth of women interested in the industry, as shown by the equal enrollment of both men and women in most culinary schools, but a lack of women in the leadership roles, such as executive chef or general manager. There are no doubt some extremely successful women in the industry— anyone who has been to Joanne Chang’s Flour Bakery or Jody Adams’ Rialto knows this to be true — yet it is the ratio of women to men that reveals the underlying problem.
According to ROCUnited, only 19% of chef positions are held by women. If that doesn’t convince you, consider the Best New Chef winners for Food & Wine Magazine: within the past 26 years, less than 40 out of the 250 winners have been females; that’s a mere 20%. Furthermore, within the past quarter of a century, the yearly James Beard Award for outstanding chef (as a comparison, think the valedictorian of your graduating class) has only been awarded to three women. Though it is unfortunately not that hard for anyone to believe that men outnumber women in this industry, the enormity of the gap makes it something truly hard to ignore.
If you do just a quick google search on this topic, you will quickly find dozens of articles, editorials, and blog posts recounting stories of women who have faced gender discrimination and sexual harassment from the time they entered culinary school. Most have the same major themes, such as women being given lighter fare, receiving less responsibility or being told to not “cry about it.” Who would ever want to work in such an environment?
Of course, there are several other equally important factors at play here, none that involve discrimination, but women’s personal decisions outside the kitchen. To put it lightly, the culinary industry is not known for its employee benefits, meaning maternity leave is nonexistent. As with many industries in today’s world, a choice must often be made between raising a family and pursuing a demanding career. Even further exacerbating the issue, the hours of typical food establishments are incompatible with most childcares services, as kitchen workers generally have to work long nights and weekends. This doesn’t make things easier for any woman, or man, to reach their full potential in the culinary world and still raise a family.
In the end, the gender imbalance and difficulty of raising a family was not created by one entity. Changes need to be made from all ends of the spectrum in order to truly make the food industry a better place for its workers. The leaders of the industry and restaurant general managers need to rethink the way their employees are treated. Furthermore, the same opportunities and support should be available to all genders aspiring to join the industry, at all stages of their careers. That way, those in the industry can focus on what really matters: the food.