'It is undoubtedly harder to be a woman in this industry' by Emma Underwood

The Staff Canteen

Restaurant manager Emma Underwood on why it's harder to be a woman in this industry and why it's so important to rectify the gender balance.

This is my last blog of the year, a series that was started following a response to a piece published by The Staff Canteen about ‘The Image of the (Male) Chef’.

quote 2The response lamented the dominance within the restaurant media of male chefs, and how it is detrimental towards helping the industry to progress as a whole.

As front covers of restaurant magazines are emblazoned with yet another set of tattooed forearms folded over an apron, the resultant message is one that it is only men that truly succeed in this industry, while the women work hard in the background to help them get there. 

With the staff shortage hitting crisis point and set to only worsen with Brexit impending, we are missing out on attracting the vital female sector of the workforce. As list after list are published detailing the most powerful / successful / influential people in the industry inevitably containing far more men than women, it’s difficult to find the right method to act as counteraction.

Many lament the numerous ‘Best Female Chef’ awards as being patronising and encouraging gender separatism, but they do at least promote females in this industry as role models, therefore acting as tools to encourage women to consider working in restaurants full time. 

It is undoubtedly harder to be a woman in this industry. During my 16 years working in restaurants I have encountered numerous obstacles on account of my gender: sexual harassment and sexist comments from both colleagues and guests have been commonplace. Shifts peppered with demands from tables to ‘get my manager and ask what he thinks about the wine’, only to spend yet another staff tea sat amongst all male colleagues passing porn around to one another.

emma blog

Honey Spencer and Elizabeth Haigh of

Bastarda London and Kaizen House.

I have spent many hours this year exchanging horror stories with my female friends about their experiences of sexual discrimination in restaurants, and it is shocking how normalised so many of these horrendous occurrences are. While female-centric lists and awards may be controversial, any support we can provide to women in restaurants is vital and should be encouraged. 

I would never discount the many amazing men there are in this industry, and I’m so grateful for all the help I’ve received from many of them in the course of my career, but the women are truly incredible. I’ve been really fortunate to count many of them as friends, and I can confirm that they are all amazingly supportive and generous. This year we have definitely seen a shift of attention in the media from totally male-dominated to female inclusive, as the Top 100 Restaurants in the UK was full of restaurants run and led by women, but we still have such a long way to go. 

This weekend I worked at a salon dinner pop up with the incredible Honey Spencer and Elizabeth Haigh of Bastarda London and Kaizen House. The event was sold out well in advance, and full of very happy guests. At one point we looked at our team and realised that we had just one male amongst us. This was not deliberate, but perhaps it does show that the gender balance in this industry can be corrected, that there are women who want to work in hospitality and they can have happy and successful careers. Otherwise it will only be this industry’s loss.

Blog by Emma Underwood, Restaurant Manager, Stem

Emma Underwood blog image
Emma Underwood

Emma Underwood is the restaurant manager of Stem, in Mayfair, having previously worked at Where the Light Gets In, based in Stockport and Burnt Truffle in Heswall, part of Gary Usher’s ever-expanding restaurant empire.

Emma started working with Gary in 2012 when she joined the Sticky Walnut team as a waitress before moving to the sister restaurant, Burnt Truffle as the general manager.

Emma is also part of the TMRW Project along with food writer Anna Sulan Masing  which was set up in 2015.

The project acts as a platform for people starting out early in their career to help them grow, learn and connect with each other. It hosts the Chefs of Tomorrow Dinners, the front of house initiative The Switch, and a series of talks and panel discussions.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th December 2018

'It is undoubtedly harder to be a woman in this industry' by Emma Underwood