Plate IQ

Women in the Restaurant Industry

A woman chef forms dumplings.

Although the world has become a better place to be a woman in the last several decades, there are still some industries that have not caught up from a sexist past. One industry in which women still report being treated unfairly is the food service industry.

According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, the median hourly wage women receive is less than it is for men in 10 of the 11 jobs in the foodservice industry that were surveyed. The differences for the entry level positions such as dishwashers and food preparation workers were only a few cents per hour, but the difference between the hourly wages for managers was nearly three dollars.

Survey confirms gender discrimination

A survey called “Tipped Over the Edge: Gender Inequality in the Restaurant Industry” had similar findings. It revealed that full time women servers were earning 68% of what male servers earned. It also concluded that women who are employed in the restaurant industry faced poverty wages, systemic discrimination, and a comparative lack of sick days. 90% of the restaurant workers in the survey reported that they were not provided with health benefits or employer-paid sick days.

Why such a gap in earnings?

There's some evidence to support the idea that women are more likely to take time off to raise their children, so they lose time which would have resulted in more experience leading to higher positions. But even more important are the roles that women fill in the restaurant industry. According to the “Tipped Over the Edge” study, the industry tends to hire women for only 19% of the chef positions. Women are more likely to be confined to the lower paying roles in the industry, such as in family style or quick service restaurants rather than higher paying roles in fine dining establishments.

Throw in a potentially hostile working environment and it's no wonder that women may be "dropping out" of the system. Women in restaurants also had to deal with five times more harassment than the general female workforce (nearly 37% of sexual harassment charges filed by women to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission came from the restaurant industry). 

Also, men may feel more confident negotiating with employers about money and asking for a raise. However, many experts say that even these reasons don’t explain how significant the disparity is. It is thought that the gender pay gap has to do with other forces that exist within the system. Sexism is rooted deep and it is difficult to change, although hardworking and talented women chefs are starting to transform the landscape of this industry.

A Fine Line

The feature length documentary A Fine Line by Aliana Productions explores the inequality that runs throughout the restaurant industry. It explains why only 6% of restaurant owners and executive chefs are women. The film looks into some of the common misconceptions about women in the restaurant industry, as well as how many restaurants are hesitant to hire women who they think are likely to have a child or start a family.

It also interviews and celebrates the impressive careers of world-renowned women chefs such as Mashama Bailey, Carrie Nahabedian, Maria Loi, Barbara Lynch, Sylvia Weinstock, April Bloomfield, Lidia Bastianich, and Dominique Crenn. The film highlights how the number of women-owned restaurants has increased significantly in the last few years.

The central narrative of the film focuses on New England restaurateur and single mother Valerie James, who overcame significant obstacles while making her dreams a reality. Valerie is the mother of filmmaker Joanna James. Joanna was shocked when she learned than less than 7% of chef-restaurant owners were women — she grew up watching her mother do it so well that the inequality didn’t occur to her.

The film is scheduled to premiere in 2017. It will be screened at the “Farm to Fork to Film” event that will take place at Boston Public Market on April 3rd. There will also be a panel of women chefs answering questions from the audience — including Valerie James, Tiffani Faison, Jody Adams and Barbara Lynch. The funds raised at the event will not only go towards the production costs of the film, but will also support a paid parental leave and workplace equality campaign.

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Plate IQ is an automated accounts payable solution that helps restaurants save time, improve the accuracy of their data, and gain insight into their expenses by automatically extracting data from uploaded invoices.