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Blog at Chefify

Why are there so few female chefs - the gender balance in the culinary industry

Jan 28 2019 - 10:01am
Unfortunately, the culinary industry is not a particularly positive example of a strong gender balance. With, only 20.9% of chefs being female in the USA and less than a fifth of the professional chef population being female in the UK, there’s a wonder of what’s really going on with the gender balance in the culinary industry?

Cultural perceptions


There’s no doubt that cultural perceptions still focus on women being the primary preparer of food for the table at home. And yet, when you mention the word ‘chef’, the image that jumps into most people’s minds is a man in chef’s whites. Whether this is the result of a lack of high profile female chefs, or a dominant view that success takes male form, it no doubt influences those coming up the ranks – and the people hiring them.


Women remain primary caregivers

Women become parents earlier (around 27, men 30+), which can interfere at a crucial stage of career development. Men are also much less likely to take (or be able to take) more than two weeks of paternity leave, securing a relatively uninterrupted career path for a father and not for a mother. Despite the fact that the value of childcare to society is worth more than the entire financial sector, it is still not a priority and a lack of flexible working and at-work crèches, plus sometimes painfully chauvinistic attitudes to the need to spend time at home with kids, make it very difficult for women to procreate and make it to the top.


Cooking styles?

It has been suggested that men treat a kitchen as a lab (i.e. are more innovative) while women are ‘regional, traditional and nurturing’. This idea has huge holes – researchers from Texas State University, for example, note that technical ability is rarely remarked on in a female chef – even if it’s there in gallons. Men are praised for technical innovation but women are instead praised for following a tradition. Innovative women are rarely mentioned. This contributes to the (often wrong) perception that the genders have specific cooking styles. However, what is true is that this may have a knock on effect on industry opportunities, whether it’s preventing female chefs being hired by an employer who believes they won’t be innovative enough, or creating an off-putting expectation in a potential female recruit that they will be expected to be ‘nurturing’ and ‘traditional.’


It’s part of a wider issue – not just the restaurant sector

As chef Angela Hartnett says, “I find it bizarre that it always comes up, as I don’t think catering is the only industry where there are fewer women. It just seems like everyone hones in on it.” And she has a point – in the film industry, for example, just 11.5% of UK films released in the decade between 2005 and 2014 were directed exclusively by women, and only 18% of senior managers at financial industry firms are female. While the restaurant industry doesn’t exactly set a shining equality example, it’s certainly not alone. The question is, what can be done about it.

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