Maria Canabal, journalist and founder of Parabere Forum is on a mission to raise awareness on the importance of gender balance in the food industry.
She has the figures to prove that the plight of women in the restaurant as well as the food industry is not something that would make any industry proud. Women are paid 28 per cent less than men in the industry making it the second worse industry of all. Only the IT industry fares worse.
She was speaking at the first ever congress of the W Food Festival organised in Namur for the first time by Generation W, the collective of chefs from the Belgian region of Wallonia.
Food events have a tendency to miss women. Only MAD, the conference organised by Danish chef René Redzepi every two years in Copehagen achieves gender balance. Most of the other conferences have a very dismal female representation with Taste of Paris having just 5% and Omnovore 14%. Only 2 per cent of judges in the San Pellegrino Young chefs are women and there are none for the Bocuse d’Or event.
The Michelin guide and the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list are also culprits when it comes to recognising the talents of women. “Only three per cent of Michelin star restaurants are led by a female chef and there are only 4% of women in the World’s 50 Best restaurants list and these are paired with men,” Maria said.
Maria attributes three reasons why we have reached this stage. “There is no question that the restaurant business has a masculine culture, the working conditions are tough, chefs work long hours and women also tend to create their own barriers,” she said.
The reasons are also historical and come from Auguste Escoffier’s time. “He spoke about a brigade in his kitchen using military language. A kitchen is based on control.” However, Maria says that a women’s core value is empathy and that leads to having to behave like someone you are not.
She has a warning for restaurant owners however. “There is no question that the restaurant business is tough. People want to go out on holidays and in the evenings and that will not change. But what we are seeing is that millennials are now sharing in the upbringing of their children. That means that long working hours will soon become a problem for everyone and not just women,” she said.
Women also tend to have no time for public relations, many times seeing it as a secondary issue.
“There are various reasons why this needs to change. Firstly, we need to attract talents. By 2022, in the UK alone the industry will require 11,000 new chefs. Restaurant are on the constant lookout for staff. Replacing talent is also extremely costly. It is estimated that to replace someone costs 200-250 per cent of the salary. It is more costly to replace people than to have an empty table,” she said.
She said half-jokingly that if restauranteurs did not believe in gender balance, they should still strive for it because it is statistically proven that gender diverse teams are 40% more innovative.
Maria sees three solutions to tackle the problem. First there needs to be a fair inclusive environment which means monitor staff to ensure that there is no discrimination in terms of how people talk to the staff. The gender pay gap needs to be eliminated.
“We also need to promote work life balance. This is essential since burn-out is a huge problem in the industry,” she said. It is an issue that effects not only female but also male chefs. “We cannot change the time people go out to eat but we need to find more flexible working arrangements. We need to start a conversation around working half-days or not working on the weekends for example.”
“We also need to support female talents not by discriminating in their favour but by making an effort to recruit women.” Maria cited Coca Cola as an example. They started tor read all CVs and automatically started to recruit more women. “We need to practice reverse mentoring with female talents,” she said.
The goal of Parabere Forum is to bring together leaders from all over the world – women and men – representing the government, academic circles and culture in order to give a new perspective to key issues on food. Parabere Forum wants to create a powerful, global network in order to strengthen the influence of women in the food sector. Parabere Forum also wants to draw up innovative action plans and debates to encourage women’s contribution in the food sector and promote diversity in gastronomy.