International Women’s Day: Is hospitality really the best industry for women to work in?

The Staff Canteen

Is hospitality ahead of the game when it comes to equality in the workplace? The Staff Canteen interviewed some of the industry's most successful women to find out

According to a report recently published by PR firm Reboothospitality is more diverse, has more women in positions of power and has done more to overcome the gender pay gap than most other sectors.

In light of this information, we spoke to Amy Poon, owner of Poon’s restaurant, Sarah Hayward, Head chef of Tom Kerridge’s The Coach, Josie Savry, general manager of the Rose & Crown in Clapham, Sarah Heward, owner of The Real Food Café, Tyndrum, Scottish Highlands, and Valentina Aviotti, owner of Da Noi in Chester, to shed light on their experiences as women in hospitality.

'Why are women pigeon-holed into the homemakers and child-bearers and yet, in hospitality, which is an industry all about that, the front runners are men?'

Sarah Hayward, who has worked for The Tom Kerridge Group for the past eight years, prior to which she worked at Simon Radley's restaurant at The Chester Grosvenor and at Hywel Jones' at Lucknam Park, said that being a woman has never caused her any problems.

"[Tom Kerridge has] given me opportunities that other chefs haven't. Instead of me asking for the next step, he's gone 'right, I think you're ready for this now' and has given it to me and you just have to prove that you are ready for it."

"I'm not worried about retaining our star next year because I'm a woman," she said. "I'm worried about retaining our star next year because it'll be my first year in the kitchen as the head chef and that then becomes my food. That's the bit that worries me. It's nothing to do with the fact I am a woman."

That having been said, she added: "I think it will always be a very male-dominated industry, that's just the way it has always been and will always be." 

By comparison, Valentina Aviotti had a much more negative experience of working in kitchens. Being a woman in such an environment, she said, " is not always easy.” 

"Working in a kitchen is a big challenge; maybe people think women are not really strong enough to cope with a similar job. Men are not always very welcoming."

Until she opened her own restaurant, the owner of Da Noi never felt like she was taken seriously in her role as a chef, noting that as compared to the front of house, kitchens always tend to have less parity.

"I remember it was quite hard in the beginning for me to be accepted. That situation changed massively when I opened my own place."

Josie Savry agreed, and said that although as a woman you get rewarded for your work eventually, the problem comes from the general environment: "Like any industry, women do have to work harder to prove their value and their worth. But I can see how, compared to other industries, women are able to prosper much easier."

Even though the study noted that hospitality has more women in positions of power than many other industries, for the GM of the Rose and Crown in Clapham, "everywhere needs much more improvement. If you look at the recognised leaders of the hospitality sector, they are all men. I always say, 'why is that?' Why are, in a personal sense, women pigeon-holed into the homemakers and child-bearers and yet, hospitality, which is an industry all about that, the front runners are men?"

Thankfully, she added, we are starting to see more celebrity female chefs represented in the media, but it still feels like women have to graft longer and harder to get a spot in the limelight. She said, "it takes the women after having 10, 15, 20-year careers to finally get some recognition for how talented they are."

At the other end of the spectrum, Amy Poon worries that focusing too much on gender over skill may be counterproductive, noting an issue with tokenism.

While tackling discrimination is of utmost importance, she said, finding the best person must always be the priority: "When you think about diversity, it's got to be more than lip service." 

"I'm very wary of looking at a person as a man, as a woman... I think why don't you look at a person as a person and whether they are a good person for the job you want done." 

Speaking to Amy's point about tokenism, Josie pointed out that if we are having to resort to hiring people on the basis of their gender or the colour of their skin, then there is a deeper issue at hand.

“If you’re looking around your team and you realise you only have a certain demographic and you only have white people and you think to yourself ‘oh, we should go out and hire people of colour. Then that shows there’s a fundamental issue problem that needs looking at in the first place.” 

Silver Linings

Despite the difficulties, the fact that an increasing number of women are not only leading successful careers but profess a real love for the hospitality industry can only be a good thing. 

Sarah Hayward is unwavering in her love for the industry. "What you put in, you get back," she said, "Although hospitality is an extremely tough industry, I think it's the most rewarding one too."

For Sarah Heward, the laborious nature of the work equates to how rewarding it is. "It can be very tough, so you need good people around you," she said, "It's really challenging but the upside is more than you can buy."

In a piece of advice to anyone considering joining the hospitality industry, Josie said: "Anything worth having means overcoming, in a certain sense, adversity. Any position, where you're in a leadership position brings criticism along with it... You just have to keep focused in your mind of what your end goal is."

Despite its less than perfect aspects, all have found their place in the industry, and are working towards making it a better place for everyone who might want to join it.

Sarah Hayward said: "I love hospitality, I think it's amazing and if you've got that passion for it that reflects in what you do and how you work. Because if you didn't love it, I don't think you'd be able to do it. It's a lifestyle, it isn't just a career. Maybe I'm a bit weird, but I really love it."


Article written by Harper McCarley

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th March 2022

International Women’s Day: Is hospitality really the best industry for women to work in?