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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.)