The total of chefs in the UK increased by 11.3% while the number of male chefs in the UK rose by just 5.9%, meaning the growth in the number of female chefs is outpacing that of total chefs working in hospitality as a whole.
However, despite this growth, less than a quarter (23.5%) of the total number of chefs in the UK is female.
But if the rate of growth in female and male chefs remains consistent, female chefs could outnumber male chefs by 2022. However, this does not take into account that fact that many women work part-time when compared with men.
Just one-third of men work part-time whereas just one-third of women work full-time, according to hospitality recruitment company The Change Group.
Men also dominate senior managerial roles as well as ownership of restaurants and catering establishments, including pubs. On average over the past five years, more than half (58%) of senior restaurant and catering staff have been men to just 42% women.
Meanwhile, over the past five years, three out of five kitchen and catering assistants have been women, though this appears to be changing as the figure dropped from 67% in 2013 to 62% in 2017. Seven in 10 waiting staff are also female.
The Change Group founder and director Craig Allen welcomed the figures, but with some trepidation. He said: “It is great to see there are more female chefs and that this figure has leapt up in the past year.
“This is certainly a trend that we are seeing in the people that we are placing at London’s top establishments. The hospitality sector wants more female chefs and we are delighted to see so many of London’s top establishments taking steps to recruit more women into their kitchens."
The research is based on Government data from the Office of National Statistics, which is broken down into various parts and represents the total number of employees in those industries in the UK.
In total, the data looks at 1.464m people working in the following categories:
Publicans and managers of licensed premises
Restaurant and catering establishment managers and proprietors
Catering and bar managers
Kitchen and catering assistants
Waiters and waitresses
He added: “However it is worrying that the majority of senior roles are being taken by men and that so many women are working part time. One the one hand, this means they have more flexibility, which could encourage more women to work in hospitality.
“Equally it could also affect the opportunities open to women, as many senior roles are full time. This means that despite the hard numbers, arguably the overall impact which women are having in the hospitality sector is smaller because so many are working in junior roles and part time.”
He outlined how the rise in the number of female chefs could help with the industry-wide recruitment crisis.
Allen added: “The surge in numbers of female chefs joining the industry over the past 12 months could indicate that they are an importance source of talent at a time which is vital as the hospitality sector continues to face a dire talent shortage.
“We may see more women rise to the fore, so the future in terms of employment could be brighter than anticipated for the industry.”
Karen Errington, licensee of the Rat Inn, Anick, in Northumberland, had her say on the rise in the number of female chefs and outlined her concerns for women in the sector.
She said: “It is misleading to draw the conclusion that female chefs will outnumber males based on the findings of the growth in the past 12 months.
“The increase is great – more female chefs can only be a good thing, both in terms of the talent and qualities they can bring to the job and of course, balance of labour.
“However, the reason the growth is so large is due to the existing and historic imbalance between male and female roles.”
Errington highlighted her previous experience in pub kitchens: “Having worked in the past in kitchens in what was always a very male-dominated industry, I can understand first hand that this would be a hugely challenging environment for lots of young girls to enter and a one that only certain individuals could fulfil.
“The growth shows that modern kitchens are becoming a less hostile environment for females and obviously, the more females that enter the trade, the better this will become, which can only be a good thing.
“The other hurdle to retaining and seeing women chefs progress is when it comes to having a family. In many careers there is the possibility of working flexible hours to fit around family life.
“In hospitality this is not really the case as the busiest times are the unsociable, weekend and evening working times so it is really difficult for women to get a work/life balance and stay in the trade. That is why we see many women filling part time and non-managerial roles within the industry.”
Jenny Warner, head chef at The Thomas Cubitt restaurant, in Belgravia, in south-west London, echoed Errington’s comments around women having children and working in kitchens.
She said: “The main issue for women is when it is time to have a family. It must be very hard to work in hospitality and look after a child because of the hours.
“This is especially true when it comes to senior roles. Heading up a kitchen is a very full-time role. How can you be in charge of a kitchen and come and go in order to look after a family?
“It is not something that has a simple answer. Personally I don’t know what I will do when the time comes but luckily for me, aspiring women who have tackled this problem first hand run many departments within Cubitt House.
“People in hospitality tend to find partners within the industry because you share the same passion and understanding of the culture and demands that often people outside the hospitality industry don’t understand.
“This means the shift system doesn’t help if the other parent works exactly the same hours and if you don’t, you will never see each other. I have seen lots of talented women who are doing really well and then drop out when they reach a certain age to have a family. The result is that there are not that many women in senior chef roles.”