as part of my graduation with distinction packet, I organized a panel of speakers to talk about women in the food industry. It took a long time to organize, mostly because of scheduling issues, but then it finally happened! Chef Sarah Langan, Chef Laureen Gauthier, and Michelle Ford, all of the New England Culinary Institute (NECI), were able to offer their thoughts and advice. The idea was basically to present a panel of experienced women in the food industry to talk about the specific issues women face, and also to offer some strategies. There were about 15 attendees, mostly students, there. I spoke briefly to introduce myself and the rationale for the panel.
We’ve all heard the expression “There’s No Crying in the Kitchen”, and yet: I’ve cried many times in the kitchen. I’ve had a bit of a rough experience behind the line, and in various classes. Which is one of the reasons I switched to the hospitality program for the BA portion of my education at NECI. There is a definite lack of female cooks and chefs in the kitchen, and there may be many reasons for that. The kitchen is not conducive to having a family; and since women are generally the caretakers or their families, the long and non-traditional hours of the kitchen make it hard. Historically, the professional kitchen has been the realm of men – and this generally means the atmosphere in the kitchen is not that friendly to women: the sexist jokes and sexual harassment were commonplace for a long time. Things have changed a bit (or so I’m told) since decades ago; however, women still face adversary conditions (including being paid about 77% of what male chefs earn) in professional kitchens. On the baking and pastry side, there tend to be lots more women, however the pay gap is still there. And for women in leadership positions in the front of the house, they make up only about 17% of senior management teams. (citation male chefs & another citation, citation pastry, citation FOH)
After this short intro, all the panelists had really great things to say. Chef Sarah talked about her experiences as one of the only women at her culinary school at the time, and also some times when looking for work, she was told to her face that she wouldn’t get the job because she was a woman. She also recommended a book called “A Woman’s Place is in the Kitchen” by Ann Cooper, which features her among many other female chefs.
The panelists agreed on many issues, including laying your groundwork early by setting boundaries. Advocate for yourself, know your own worth, and focus on your own achievements rather than on others’. Set goals for yourself, and learn how to talk to everyone; communicate directly, and choose your battles. Try to balance your home life and work life, and keep a level head. Also, the panelist agreed that they preferred a gender diverse workplace.
Overall, the panel was a big success. It was everything I hoped it would be. I especially appreciated that the men in the audience seemed to understand better what exactly women are up against.
Thanks again to the panelists! You made this happen!