How to recruit more women into the food industry

Out of 250,000 chefs in the country, less than 20 percent are women, and the numbers are reducing year-on-year. It’s the same story across the food and hospitality industry, despite a serious staff shortage, so what can you do to recruit more women into your business?

At the ‘A Profession For All’ Event at Westminster Kingsway College (28.06.18) – some of the food industry’s biggest female names came together to discuss just that, and the resounding message for businesses was ‘ignore women at your peril’.

The panel, which included Andi Oliver (restaurateur, food broadcaster, and Great British menu judge), Ruth Hansom (first female winner of the Young National Chef of the Year) and Judy Joo (Korean-American restaurateur and TV chef) agreed that gender balance in a team leads to more creativity and profit, and attracting female recruits could save many businesses from costly agency fees when they need to fill gaps in their rotas.

Creating a good working environment is one of the most solid ways to start. Women often don’t feel comfortable in the male-dominated work spaces of the food industry. Andi Oliver maintains a calm and professional atmosphere in her kitchens by having a ‘no voice-raising’ rule – something which could, and should, be implemented in all workplaces.

Leaders should be assertive but not aggressive and highly visible in their team, encouraging all members of staff by working alongside them – when their diaries permit – and developing a strong rapport between management and employees. In this way staff feel valued and can come to you if they have any work-related issues. Clear and open lines of communication, including regular check-ins with team members, getting feedback and being open to making changes, means issues affecting the harmony of the workplace can be nipped in the bud early on.

Working in food and hospitality often involves long days and inhospitable hours, so taking time to understand your team’s personal circumstances is crucial. Both genders have parental responsibilities, caring responsibilities and so on. Women in particular might only find it possible to work part-time or have a later start or earlier finish time, so flexibility with hours and shifts is key. Rather than look at this as a problem, recognise that is could be a valuable way of filling gaps in your rotas. Equally though, women should be clear with potential employers the exact days and hours they will be able to work at the interview stage.

Businesses should look to employ more women into executive positions so that they can mentor the younger generation. This is particularly important with mentoring young men, so they see females in senior positions, remain open-minded about gender roles, and are made aware of some of the day-to-day challenges women in male-dominated workplaces encounter. Mentors are crucial to the development of all members of staff, and teaching them strong communication skills will allow them to articulate any problems if they arise.

Despite there still being an imbalance of genders in the industry, times are changing. Many of the panel had started out in kitchens where they were the only woman, but the tables are turning and many are proud to be in a position to recruit and support women in their own kitchens, where women are often the majority. “We have to be careful not to make it an ‘us and them’ situation”, said Ruth Hansom. “Women need to be visible and support each other but also work well alongside their male colleagues.” Andi Oliver added: “Raising someone up doesn’t mean we have to bring someone else down. If men and women are treated as equals, businesses will flourish.”

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