Last week, in and around the Twin Cities, the Women Chefs and Restauranteurs (WCR) held their annual National Conference. Well-known chefs and entrepreneurs like Carla Hall, Amanda Cohen, Lidia Bastianich, Elizabeth Falkner, and Gale Gand, to name just a few, came together to discuss women in the workforce, entrepreneurism, personal struggles, the #MeToo movement, and, ultimately, how to succeed as a woman in the kitchen.
A restaurant kitchen, that is.
And this year was especially important: WCR is officially celebrating 25 years of helping women succeed in restaurants, and breaking glass ceilings all across the country. It was inspirational, to say the least, to hear how far things have come. But also sobering to realize how far there still is to go:
Kristen Lee Charleson, Executive Director of WCR, began the conference with a few facts: Today, only 20% of chefs in America are female, and only 7% are head chefs. And the pay gap is real: They make, on average, 28% less in income than their male counterparts.
But the conference was not one of lamentation or defeat. Quite the opposite, actually: It was quite clear throughout the conference that, as everyone’s voices echoed, “The Future is Women”, that it is an exciting time to be a female chef in America. And, as the culture of equality (albeit slowly) gains traction, and as many of the old guard, old traditions and practices are addressed and done away with, especially as a result of the #MeToo movement, it’s becoming clear that the future is now.
Both obvious, and more abstract, actions can be taken to ensure that we continue on a path of progress toward tangible change. Here are a few top takeaways from the panel discussions:
- Build confidence: Girls aren’t taught to be confident, and you have to be confident to demand fare wages and seek career opportunities.
- Remind yourself and others that YOU are important, YOU mean something, YOU bring value.
- If you’re an employer, humanize your employees; women and men both. Hold everyone to the same standards, including personal appearance.
- Take ownership over your life and career: YOU call the shots.
- Vote with your dollar. Support businesses that value women, pay fare wages, and practice equality amongst all people.
- If you run your own business, fail forward: Learn how to move past a failure and use to your advantage.
Kim Bartmann, president of WCR and one of the Twin Cities most powerful and successful restaurateurs (check out her empire here), and a major reason why the conference was held in Minneapolis this year (it was in LA last year, and Seattle the year before that), made sure to stress the importance of support for women in our own food scene:
From Jamie Malone, who cheffed Grand Cafe to a Top-10-In-The-Country ranking (read about that here: Chef Jamie Malone’s Grand Cafe Named Best in the Country by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl), to perennial James Beard nominee Michelle Gayer of Salty Tart, all the way up to Bartmann herself.
For those unable to take part in the conference, many of the thoughts, ideas, and information presented can be found in these recommended books/articles/pieces of literature:
- That’s What She Said, by Kimothy Joy – a how-to book for women to open up the conversation
- Erin Wade’s article in The Washington Post, I’m a female chef. Here’s how my restaurant dealt with harassment from customers.
- Take the Heat, Women Chefs and Gender Inequality in the Professional Kitchen, by Deborah A. Harris and Patti Giuffre
- The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, by Valerie Young
We have the tools, the tips, and the tricks. We have the momentum. It’s time to get out there and make our voices heard. And one of the best ways to get involved? Become a member of a professional group like WCR.
Want to know more? Continue celebrating and read this article next: Minnesota ranked #1 best state for women