In honour of International Women’s Day last month (8 March), women from across the hospitality industry joined forces at Tredwell’s Restaurant in Covent Garden, central London, to thrash out the issues of being a woman in the trade and what can be done to solve them.
Hosted by marketing agency boss Ann Elliott, the roundtable discussion, which was in association with Knorr, highlighted the experiences the women in the room have encountered in their career and what needed to change within the industry to ensure women are encouraged to get into the hospitality trade in the first place and what can be done to make it a welcoming and approachable place for all to work.
Stosie Madi, chef-patron and co-owner of the Parkers Arms in Newton-in-Bowland, Lancashire, called for more female role models that younger women can emulate early on in their careers.
She said: “The problem is the industry is always very male dominated. It would be very nice to have someone to look up to, someone who actually does everything you do in a pub and is championed for it. It would give people something to work up to but everyone that is a woman and cooks in a pub or restaurant is a role model for me.”
“There are lots of female chefs out there who are great role models but the pub industry is so male dominated – it is like swimming and not being able to see the other side.
“There’s nothing out there that says there should be women pub owners that cook, but they should be encouraged and highlighted through the media.
“I’m not here to knock men, far from it, but it would be very nice to have role models that aren’t just chefs.”
Better logical skills
Madi explained how being female in a male-orientated industry hasn’t had much of a negative impact on her career.
She said: “Being a woman has never hindered me. It has got to be equal for everyone. Women do not want to be in a kitchen for 90 hours a week. As a woman, you can multi-task. That has been the biggest advantage of being a woman.”
Sally Abé, head chef of the Harwood Arms in Fulham, west London, agreed with Madi’s comments on women making better chefs than their male counterparts due to their organisation and logical skills.
However, roundtable host Elliott looked outside the kitchen and into the board level of businesses. She emphasised the importance of having women on an executive board.
She said: “We have to stand up for women in this sector because, for most men, there is an incentive to change. I have sat passively waiting for something to happen. The problem is getting women on to boards.”
Three key aspects
Knorr executive chef Audrey Crone highlighted the three points she believed were the key to being a good role model.
She said: “Recognise, encourage and mentor are the three things I want to do. Tell girls that it is OK to say no to things [such as long working hours].”
But there were also comments on how negatively the hospitality industry is portrayed to women coming into the trade.
The Parkers Arms’ co-owner Kathy Smith said: “A lot of mothers that I come across say they don’t know how I can let my daughter go into this industry and that they would never let their child go into it.
“My daughter works in a Michelin-starred restaurant, works 16-plus hours a day but most mothers have a perception this industry isn’t for their child, male or female. It’s too hard.”
However, this then turned into positive discussion when Elliott asked the group for examples on how being a woman has helped them progress through their career.
Seafood Pub Company’s Joycelyn Neve said: “Press coverage. When we first started, [being female] made the story more interesting.”
Teamwork means no insults
When it comes to working in a team with men and women, the group agreed they had experiences of ‘banter’, where comments would be made that may not have always been appropriate.
But, the Harwood Arms’ Sally Abé emphasised how this had meant her business would be run in a way that inappropriate comments wouldn’t be tolerated.
She added: “In my kitchen, banter doesn’t happen. It is not that we are all sensitive but I have used my experiences to create a positive environment, where everyone helps each other and brings each other up.
“We don’t insult each other or call each other names, none of that is allowed and I make that very clear when I interview people. It is a really nice place to work. I have got 50% women in my kitchen now.”
The group went on to discuss how women tend to play themselves down when it comes to their abilities, whereas men are more likely to highlight their successes.
For the future, women need to speak out more about their achievements and pass on their experiences.
Elliott called for women in the industry at present to pass down self-belief to those entering the trade now.
Abé echoed Elliott’s sentiments and said: “A man is confident and a woman is bossy. I have been told I am bossy but of course I am, I am the boss! It is about changing attitudes and empowering women. Telling women they can do it and to believe in themselves.”
Restaurateur and 2017 National Chef of the Year Ruth Hansom said: “Instil confidence by saying ‘I am a chef’ not ‘I am a female and a chef’. Then people will treat you like a chef. Believe you can achieve what you want with that drive.”
The hospitality industry needs to make the trade a pleasant and equal place to work for all but more needs to be done to get women in to it.
By being strong role models, who encourage females to believe in themselves and have confidence in their ability, is the way forward and everyone in and outside of the trade needs to shout about the achievements women are making.
Ann Elliott, CEO of marketing agency Elliotts:
We all have a role to play, we all have to help women believe they are capable and it is not because they are women, but being a woman is not a disadvantage. Women need to really believe in themselves and to talk themselves up rather than talk themselves down.
Kellie Rixon, owner of consultancy Rixon Associates:
Events like today are really critical because it is about realising that you’re not alone. Realising that people share the same views and passions and that we have to make a change together. Collectively there’s real power in our message and we want to make some fundamental change in our industry.
Stosie Madi, chef-patron of the Parkers Arms, Newton-in-Bowland, Lancashire:
I enjoy seeing other women in power who are business leaders, who I did not know existed before. The conversation was fantastic in that I got to find out all different sides from women in this industry. It has been very enlightening to see that we all share a similar story and that we all need to do something to make a change.
Audrey Crone, executive chef Ireland at Unilever:
The event was about celebrating women and chefs in industry year round and not just one day of the year. They play such an important role in the industry and it is important to have events like these so we can get together, discuss and make [the industry] a better place for people for the future.
Sally Abé, head chef of the Harwood Arms, Fulham, west London:
It is important to bring women together to show that we can support each other and bring each other up and make sure we are all on an equal playing field in the industry.
There is a massive support network for women in our industry and there are lots of people out there to reach out to, to promote each other and bring women up through the ranks.
Suzanne Smith, independent consultant:
We have to believe in ourselves and know that intrinsically we have an awful lot of skills and experience to bolster each other and to encourage more women to seek out roles within the hospitality sector, that there is a place for them.
Donna Berry, chef-patron of the Swan in Bampton, Devon:
We do have to support each other. Women in particular work really hard, probably harder than the men but we do a lot of other things as well as just work so we need to support each other and say ‘we are not bad actually, we are good at what we do’.