Five things you didn’t know about being a female chef

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Five things you didn’t know about being a female chef

Sarah Gibbs is a #MINDRMAMA of two and a public policy expert who misses New York even though she loves her new home of Raleigh, North Carolina. 

The restaurant and food industry is notorious for being male-dominated and a particularly difficult place to succeed as a woman - especially if you are a mother or aspire to be. A lack of support for pregnancy/childbirth, rare parental leave policies and challenging nighttime hours make it difficult to continue climbing the career ladder as a chef. As a result, many decide to take a step back or change course once they become moms. While some in the industry have begun to discuss efforts to retain top female talent and ways to create a more family-friendly work environment, there still is a lot of work to be done.

All the more reason to celebrate innovative chefs like Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy, who has become an outspoken champion for women in the restaurant world. We will be chatting with Amanda on April 19th at our collaboration event with Nibble+squeak. (Tickets are sold out, but you can still join the waitlist and follow along on our Insta stories on the day.) In honor of this exciting event, here are five things you didn’t know - but should - about being a woman in the restaurant world. 

  1. Many female chefs decide to dial back their career once they start a family. The restaurant industry is a particularly difficult field for work-life balance. Men overwhelmingly hold the highest paying kitchen jobs at the most prominent independent restaurants across the United States. According to a 2014 Bloomberg News study, women held just 6.3 percent or 10 out of 160 head chef positions at the 15 most prominent U.S. restaurant groups. Women are everywhere in the restaurant industry - both in the front and back of the house - but careers often plateau or drop off once babies come into the picture. Like women in many professional fields, there are a number of reasons women decide to take a step back from their career, but the traditional atmosphere and work-hard/play-hard attitudes of professional kitchens combined with a lack of supportive parental-leave policies may contribute to decisions to change course once their little one is born.
     
  2. Challenges facing working mothers in the restaurant world are especially difficult. We all know that it is hard to balance being a mom and working/volunteering/insert passion other than parenting here. But the challenges that come with being a mom and achieving success in the the restaurant industry seem particularly difficult. This is especially true in fine-dining. Long hours - often at night- make it difficult to find childcare. Chefs are on the hook for working whenever the restaurant is open, including weekends, holidays and when your little one is home sick. Additionally, profit margins are notoriously small at restaurants, making it financially difficult to offer maternal support or healthcare benefits to new mothers. As a result, many chefs in their 20s and 30s decide to pursue other positions in the restaurant industry after they become moms, including corporate or consultant positions.
     
  3. Parental leave policies are starting to pop up in the industry, but there still is a long way to go. In 2017, Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group (which includes Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke and The Modern) introduced a groundbreaking parental leave policy. According to their policy, every full time employee with more than one year of employment is eligible to receive four weeks of 100 percent base wages after a child is born or adopted. After that, they will receive 60 percent of base wages for an additional four weeks. David Chang's restaurant group Momofuku offers four weeks of paid leave plus vacation time. One company that may become a model for some in the industry is Starbucks, who in October of last year rolled out a parental leave policy offering up to 18 weeks of leave to new parents. These policies - though not yet the norm - are starting to shine a light on a critical issue and are helping to create a more hospitable workplace for new parents. They are also enabling parents to grow in their culinary careers as they are better able to reintegrate into the workplace once their parental leave is over. 
     
  4. Many high-profile mama chefs are also business owners. While challenges to balancing a life as a successful chef and mother are steep, there are a number of innovative and inspiring women who are doing it all. And many of them are also successful restaurant owners. Owning a business comes with its own obstacles, but it also affords the flexibility of being your own boss and calling the shots regarding time off and staffing. Alex Raij, mother of two and owner of El Quinto Pino, Txikito, and La Vara is one of our favorite New York City mama chefs. We also are inspired by Vivian Howard - mom to twins, chef/owner of Chef and the Farmer in North Carolina, and recent James Beard award winner for her PBS series “A Chef’s Life.”
     
  5. More women are going to culinary school and are getting recognized for their culinary work. For two years in a row, female students have outnumbered the male students at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), now at 51.6% women. This is a first in its 72 year history. In 1946, the CIA’s first year, there was only 1 female student out of a class of 50. More women are also getting recognized for their work in the culinary arts. The 2018 James Beard nominations include a record number of women - 39 of the 82 chefs recognized. This number is up from 26 women nominated last year. Women also are the majority of the nominees in a number of categories including Outstanding Restaurateur, Rising Star Chef of the Year and Best Chef New York City. We are excited that Amanda Cohen is one of the nominees for Best Chef New York City! Awards will be announced in May, so watch this space.

Are you joining us on April 19th for our event at Dirty Candy? Drop us a line in the comments if so to let us know what you're most excited about. Didn't click quickly enough before tickets sold out? Worry not, there's a lot more coming up this month at Mindr (hint: it includes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you and your little to meet a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and tickets won't last.)

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Let's talk about mom guilt.

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Let's talk about mom guilt.

Sarah Lux-Lee is the founder of Mindr. When she's not creating opportunities for new parents to learn and grow with their littles by their sides, you can find her at the swings with her almost two-year-old, Ella.

It’s been a really exciting time for Mindr. Our team is growing (welcome, Rebecca!) and we’ve been busy bees working on what comes next for the Mindr community. We’re building some amazing partnerships (check out our upcoming collaboration with the masters of dining with pipsqueaks, Nibble + Squeak) and just around the corner we’ve got another history-making event to follow our recent afternoon at the United Nations (watch this space). But all this activity comes at the cost of time I can’t spend with Ella, and so something I’ve been thinking a lot about is mom guilt.

The thing with mom guilt is that once it lodges itself within you, it can’t help but multiply. The tiniest seed of an idea that there must be something wrong with the decisions you’re making, the priorities you’re following, or the parenting approach you’re adopting, grows branches that reach into your workplace and your home, and the quiet spaces for reflection in between. If you’re like me, they tend to flower at the end of a long day, when you should finally be taking the opportunity to rest but instead you worry about whether you’re getting it right.

Although it’s a burden most of us carry quietly, none of us is alone in feeling it. “Spend five minutes talking to any new working mother, and you’re almost sure to hear the word guilt,” says Lauren Smith Brody, founder of The Fifth Trimester consultancy and author of the book by the same name. “I surveyed and/or interviewed more than 800 of them—CEOs and hourly workers, adoptive moms, single mothers, and traditional, married moms, too. The G-word came up again and again.”

This coming Tuesday, I’m appearing on a panel for the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community about the intersection of parenting and ambition. Also on the panel is psychotherapist Erica Komisar, whose book Being There suggests that a mother’s physical absence from her child (for example, due to work or further study) in the first three years of life may trigger mental disorders for that child later on. In Erica’s view, the intense mom guilt that this approach inevitably triggers is a good thing. “Women who feel guilty—it’s a ‘signal’ feeling, that something’s wrong, that they’re in conflict,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “If they go talk to a therapist or deal with the conflict head-on, they often make different choices and better choices.”

At Mindr, we take the view that new parents need options, not guilt. We create opportunities for people to learn, grow and connect with their little ones by their sides, whether they’re staying home or back at work. We believe fulfilled parents make for happy kiddos, and that investing time in our interests, goals and ambitions as adults – and letting the next generation see and become a part of that journey – can only strengthen our relationships and make us better parents and role models.

We believe fulfilled parents make for happy kiddos, and that investing time in our interests, goals and ambitions as adults – and letting the next generation see and become a part of that journey – can only strengthen our relationships and make us better parents and role models.

But of course, that doesn’t stop me feeling guilty. So what can we do to help make the guilt subside? Here are some of the things I’m trying – but I’m still figuring it out, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Be strict (with ourselves) about screen time

I’ve found that the more time I spend being “productive” on my phone, the more guilty I feel. My constant connectivity and accessibility means I’m never fully working (hi, photo of my friend’s adorable cat!) and I’m never fully switched off (oh look, an email, I’d better respond immediately!) Difficult as it is to disconnect (and to manage expectations about my availability), I’m trying to put my phone away both during quality time with Ella and during intense periods of concentration on work. It’s a pretty new thing and I’m a self-confessed phone addict so I’ll let you know how it goes.

Don’t evaluate yourself day by day

If you’re anything like me, there’ll rarely be a day when you get everything right. Some days I’m concentrating so hard on work that I’m not fully present even when I get home, and other days I launch myself so fully into the swing-side laughs that I let a deadline pass accidentally. Find a period of time that works for you, and check in with yourself to see whether you’ve struck a balance over that whole period. Lauren Smith Brody suggests evaluating about every three months; for me, it’s a shorter period of a week. If by the end of the week I feel like I haven’t focused enough on Ella, I try to make the weekend all about family time. If we’ve had some great adventures together that week, I allow myself some hours of weekend work to catch up.

Remember how much they appreciate the little things

For me, mom guilt often leads to feeling like a grand gesture is required. I’ll scour the local listings for something really special to do with Ella, and feel frustrated if I come up blank. Friend and founder of the Beyond Mom community, Randi Zinn, is great at reminding me to think little – going for a walk, sharing a tasty treat, or being silly at the park are important moments of connection and shouldn’t be overlooked.

So those are some things I’m working on. How do you manage your mom guilt? And for the dads in the house, do you feel guilty too?

Sarah
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The #MINDRMAMA guide to building a fashion empire

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The #MINDRMAMA guide to building a fashion empire

"A career makes a lot more sense in hindsight."

We recently heard from Annie Thorp, CMO of fast-growing womenswear company MM.LaFleur, about her experience pitching Silicon Valley venture capitalists with a breast pump in her handbag, and building a company from scratch to revolutionize the way we shop. Big thanks to Annie and MM.LaFleur for talking us through her entrepreneurial journey, to Bluestone Lane for hosting us, and to Bloom Maternity for the gorgeous event snaps.

PEEK AT THE GALLERY BY BLOOM MATERNITY

ANNIE ON THE MM JOURNEY

We struggled to get funding. We knocked on a lot of doors, we got a lot of doors slammed in our face. We did a lot of trunk shows. My nine-month-old turned into a twelve-month-old turned into a fifteen-month-old, and then I was pregnant again. We raised our first round of funding, about a million dollar seed round from a couple of different people, but we still weren’t making our numbers, and then this epiphany hit: it’s not just about the dress. It was great that we had the dress, but we needed to make it easier to shop for the dress, because the thing is, even if women need dresses they don’t have time to buy dresses. And then we developed our stylist-enabled sales model… And overnight, our sales tripled.
— Annie Thorp, MM.LaFleur

NEXT UP

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Dine with ONE OF NYC'S LEADING FEMALE CHEFS

Join Mindr and Nibble + Squeak on 4/19 at 5-7pm for a three course baby-friendly dinner at award-winning restaurant Dirt Candy and an interview with its innovative owner and chef, Amanda Cohen.

 

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