Comment: Challenging gender stereotypes

A leading expert on gender and tourism, Dr. Heather Jeffrey discusses getting women into industry kitchens
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Commercial kitchen women, Women chefs, Restaurants

One of the most prevailing gender-based stereotypes that appear to travel across continents is that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, and yet when it comes to the commercial kitchen women are few and far between.

Academic studies estimate that around 80% of head chefs are male in the Republic of Ireland and in the United Kingdom approximately 23% of chefs are female, and only three women made it into the Top 100 chefs in the World in 2017. In 2014, Bloomberg reported that at 15 well-known restaurant groups in the USA only 6.3 per cent of chef positions were held by women. Furthermore, only 10 out of the 172 Michelin-starred restaurants in the world have female head chefs.

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This could be celebrated as an occasion where traditional gender stereotypes are challenged, as it appears cooking is a male activity. Sadly the dismal statistics concerning women chefs are more likely due to stereotypes of leadership as a male quality. It is also more likely due to a lack of opportunity, barriers, and potentially hostile environments. There is undoubtedly a wider social movement towards equality as highlighted by various social media movements. Women are consumers too and they may turn away from businesses that are entirely led by men that do not appear to be providing equal opportunities.

Technological advancements in the food and beverage industry might be opening up more doors for women chefs who want to lead their own kitchen, such as Deliveroo only restaurants. In order to remain competitive, the food and beverage industry must take note of wider social movements. In addition to this, women chefs benefit business. In the UAE, women-led restaurants are on-trend and reflect the diversity of society, they talk to a wider audience. Examples of this might include Mantoushe, which attracts a more health conscious fast food consumer. From a more cynical perspective, female chefs are so rare that if a restaurant is led by a woman, it will certainly capture the attention of the media.

It is time to ask as an industry, what businesses can do to attract female talent and provide an environment where that talent can grow and develop. It is important to challenge the status quo in order to allow women chefs to flourish and this might be achieved by mentoring schemes, by addressing issues of work-life balance (which both men and women chefs could benefit from), or by publicising role models. One initiative the industry could introduce might be ‘the best woman chef of the year’ in order to celebrate those already in the industry, which would also highlight women role models for aspiring chefs.

Dr. Heather Jeffrey is a leading expert in gender and tourism. A dedicated academic, Heather leads the postgraduate tourism and hospitality programs at Middlesex University, Dubai. Email her at H.L.Jeffrey@MDX.ac.ae, or tweet her @H_L_Jeffrey.

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