There is an interesting phenomenon occurring as I write this. It’s not that women in hospitality have suddenly and ‘magically’ become ‘good’ at their job, no, we know that women have owned, managed and entirely staffed hospitality venues on a large scale for centuries. We know that they have run bars, done the books, cracked the jokes and cut the shit. We know that women have been pioneers and innovators in this industry and will continue to do so in the future.
What’s ironic is that, only now after years of being present, is the rest of the world just starting to pay attention – but is it necessarily the right attention?
Recently an article titled ‘I’ve Worked in Food for 20 Years. Now You Finally Care About Female Chefs?’ was published in Esquire written by Amanda Cohen, executive chef and owner of New York restaurant, Dirt Candy. With her words drenched in the most perfect sarcasm, Amanda poignantly addresses that the only time women get the chance to ‘get in on the Boys Only coverage’ is when they are drawn the victim or when they are to be the focus of an annual ‘where are all the women’ piece. And if I am to read between the lines then her frank reply is, ‘they are right fucking here, mate’.
In a sobering spell of numbers, Amanda points out the lack of representation by listing varying statistics about female chefs in the media including that ‘over the past 12 months, The New York Times has written major reviews for 44 restaurants. Six of those kitchens are run by women.’ And that, ‘Of the 72 Michelin-starred restaurants in New York, six are run by women. Of the 14 restaurants in the U.S. with three Michelin stars, none have female chefs’.
While the article is both illuminating and hilarious – her lines of prose as sharp as her knife skills – it’s disheartening at the same time. You don’t have to personally know Amanda to grasp that this isn’t the first time she’s tackled the issue of gender bias in the media. But thank god she is relentless in her pursuit and with the running undertone of ‘we’re here, you’re just not looking for us’, Amanda concludes by naming 65 women who are executive chefs, executive sous chefs, or restaurant owners in New York City alone. I can almost hear women around the world joining in resounding applause as I come to the final name.
Not to let this wave of good press pass us by, Alex Ross, a prominent figure in the Australian hospitality industry for over 25 years, took it as an opportunity to create her own list of amazing women in hospitality in Aus.
Taking to Facebook she wrote:
‘Let’s make it easier for those who are struggling to find women in this industry. If all the women who work in hospitality & booze would comment below with their job title, let’s see how long we can make this list.’
Unsurprisingly, the response was overwhelming as hundreds of women in hospitality flooded Alex’s facebook thread stating their name, their title, their employer and how long they’ve been in the industry while also going out of their way to tag many others.
From booking managers, to bar-backs to business advisors, baristas and bartenders, the list demonstrates there is no shortage of women in the hospitality game here. Where there is a defined gap however, is in the type of media coverage they receive.
Rebecca Gibbs, Director of hospitality focused PR & Marketing company, We Are Example, brings light to the fact that while mainstream outlets have been investing the time into identifying the talent right across every facet of the hospitality industry, male talent in the media still grossly outweighs female.
“It is really easy to qualify that with “well there aren’t as many female chefs”, “it’s a smaller pool to choose from”, “if the women aren’t there, then how can we talk about them”, but we all need to try harder. If there aren’t as many female chefs in the upper echelon to profile, for example, then let’s make an effort to shine a light on those who are on their way,” says Rebecca.
When I ask Alex Ross her thoughts around the lack of women in the media when it comes to hospitality, she puts it down to multiple factors.
“One of the frequent replies I get when I question people as to why their competition/event/company/publication doesn’t have enough (or any, in many cases) female representation is that there aren’t any females available, or they don’t know any. But even with minimal effort I can find plenty of examples of professional women doing their thing. My post was proof enough. I also feel that what seems glaringly obvious to me and so many of my fellow professionals, is that it just doesn’t even rate a thought with a lot of these people who are in a position to do something about it.”
Though this isn’t to say there hasn’t been any women focused news or features at all, on the contrary, the interest in women focused lists has become somewhat of a commodity. When we look at this in the big picture I’m not sure it’s a bad thing, but it’s certainly not ideal. We don’t want to see ‘Top 10 women bartenders or chefs or baristas’ we want to see more women celebrated when it’s gender neutral.
“The more that we see female talent on television, in the magazines and on social media, the more that young girls are going to aspire to be part of this industry, and that’s the only way we’re going to see a real cultural shift in hospitality,” explains Rebecca.
Someone that has openly challenged today’s hospitality landscape and publicly ‘demanded’ diversity, is Iain Griffiths, co-founder of Lyan company in the UK (Dandelyan, etc.) and co-founder of much loved Trash Tiki.
“It perhaps sounds aggressive saying you have to demand it, but the current state of our industry is one that shows there is still a lot of work to be done before diversity and equality are going to be reached and politely asking has got us approximately sweet fuck all. Seeing bars like Lost Lake in Chicago, and the way they actively and vocally employ and train minorities, to then experience a bar which is honestly one of the best in America, it shows what success demanding diversity can bring. We should all want a diverse and inclusive industry, those who don’t have some much greater issues to address internally.”
While we understand that that there is a much larger, systemic issue that underlies this, Alex indicates there is also often a deeper boundary at hand, one where some women struggle to be openly proud of their achievements.
“There is so much ingrained into our culture about how we as women are meant to be. Being anything but modest can be a terrifying experience as the criticism that may follow can be brutal. You get too confident and proud, you get shot down. You stay quiet, then it’s your fault you’re not in the limelight. It can be a no-win situation. I know for a fact eyes begin to roll when I start talking about it because I’m ‘stirring the pot’. And to be completely honest about it, after 25 years in the industry, I’m just so tired of it. My bouts of bravado are few and far between, my energy to fight it is waning. Because I’ve been trying for so fucking long. Even I’m sick of the sound of the same shit coming out of my mouth. So yeah, I guess the main thing I got out of that thread was a renewed energy. These fucking brilliant humans gave me and each other an extra boost to fight the good fight. That just thrills me to bits.”
It’s glaringly obvious what we might do as a culture to stop media viewing men and women through gender specific lenses, but is it all so easily said and done?
Rebecca omits that it’s not just down to the journalists writing the stories. “As a publicist, I know that I have a huge role in deciding who is promoted and pitched for editorial, and marketers have a responsibility in educating our clients and employers about the need to profile more women.”
According to Alex, the solution starts simply. “It begins as everyone making a conscious effort to seek out women in the industry to support and highlight them”.
She asks for brands and liquor companies to create more equal opportunities, “Hire more female brand ambassadors, encourage more female bartenders to enter your competitions, ensure there are always women included in your events whether it’s as a competitor, judge or MC.”
To publications, she says, “Make a deliberate effort to ensure an even spread of males and females in your mags (and on the cover!). Are you interviewing a bunch of bartenders/BAs/venue owners etc for an article? Just make sure half of them are women. Needing cocktail specs? Ask some women also.”
Speaking to the same degree, Iain offers that the industry as a whole set goals of being balanced 50/50 across employment, event panels, media and more. “Even if you don’t always hit it, that conscious approach will shine through. Also surround yourself with people who want to help make these changes a reality, listen to those voices of change from industry leaders like Para Bere Forum and Ashtin Berry or to general baddasses changing the entire world like Cindy Gallop. Basically stop fucking nodding along in silence when these issues are raised, and instead get yourself informed and be an active participant in helping bring about change.”
And as Rebecca puts it, complacency can be incredibly dangerous. “For us to reflect on our own privilege, and understand that if we are in a position of greater power, it is our responsibility to help advance the power of those who need it.
As we step into this new year, it’s clear the hospitality industry is calling those in the position to make these decisions, to actively make the effort, take the time and make a change. Let’s hope they’re all listening.
At MTP we have had a principle of interviewing those recommended to us by our community which has meant our gender ratio for profiles is not always 50/50. So as to not stand idly by ‘nodding our heads in silence’ our new principle will be to not solely rely on recommendations but to seek both equality and diversity in our content – beginning with women from the list created by Alex Ross. On top of this, we hope this means we will also receive a greater variety of recommendations for interview – I encourage you to please submit them to me at Brittany@meetthepeople.co