“We always aim to recruit the best person for the job,” said Rebecca Yazbek, director of Surry Hills diner, Nomad. “It just so happens that in our business, the best person for head chef, assistant restaurant manager, sommelier, baker, and our floor staff have all been women.”
Promoting gender equity in the workplace isn’t about hiring women for the sake of it. It’s not about dismissing the perfectly qualified male simply to hit a target or make a statement. It’s about realising that men and women contribute different skills and qualities to a business – and it’s about celebrating that fact.
It’s also about encouraging business operators to understand that diversity and flexibility in the workforce inevitably delivers better results, both for team members and customers.
This is what Women in Hospitality (WOHO) is all about. Founded by Julia Campbell, the organisation aims to support and foster the
professional development of females in the foodservice industry. It wants to see the opening of more restaurants like Nomad, because as encouraging as its situation is, it’s not exactly representative.
“Women make up over 55 percent of the industry, yet only 15 percent are in senior management positions,” Campbell said. “Fifty-eight percent of bartenders and baristas are women, however men are 2.5 times more likely to be the highest earners in those occupations.”
WOHO aims to correct this imbalance, and has some incredibly talented and respected foodservice professionals on its board including (and not limited to) Lyndey Milan, Lisa Hobbs, Anna Pavoni, Jane Hyland, Jane Strode and Lisa Margan.
Campbell’s experience with a similar organisation based in the US, Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, established some 15 years ago, showed her the impact that relationship-building and mentorship can have on female representation in the hospitality sector.
“I saw the power that a group of women motivated to support each other can deliver. Our industry is by no means an easy one and women face very different issues to males. I want to provide the infrastructure to give women the ability to find and provide support for each other,” she said.
WOHO – which officially launched in Sydney in June and has plans to grow nationally – offers an online community for its members where they can post questions in forums and contact each other. There are also quarterly events organised by the board, and smaller networking events curated by members.
Its mentoring program is led by Jane Strode and there’s also an editorial component headed up by Delicious magazine’s Kerrie McCallum, Lyndey Milan and Danielle Bowling (me!), former editor of Hospitality magazine.
At WOHO’s launch event, a lot of the discussion surrounding gender diversity started off with confirmation that – of course – the best candidate should always be the one offered the job. Women shouldn’t be handed roles as a form of tokenism or political correctness. But that doesn’t mean businesses can’t adjust their structure to give women the same professional opportunities as their male counterparts.
Nomad’s Rebecca Yazbek agrees. “Whilst I don’t believe in quotas or only hiring because of one’s sex, women bring a different dynamic, perspective and energy to our industry. I think all industries struggle with retention and promotion when women who choose to have a family reach that time in their life. The wonderful opportunity that exists in our space is the flexible hours – in our business we actively try to work around family schedules.”
The hospitality industry is notorious for juggling both a skills shortage and troublesome retention rates. Regardless of the sex of staff members, employers often find it hard to keep a hold of talented workers. Identifying what your employees actually want to achieve while working for you is a good starting point, Yazbek said.
“When I find good talent, my aim is to ensure they feel part of what we are trying to achieve at Nomad. We want them to have a sense of ownership over their work and pride in their workplace. I try and figure out what it is they are looking for – whether it be career progression or work/life balance, and then I do what I can to achieve it for them.”
Being such a male-dominated industry, hospitality has a lot of ground-work to make up before it truly claim to offer a diverse workforce, but it’s something that businesses can no longer turn a blind eye to, said Adelaide Gardiner, marketing director at Rockpool Dining Group.
“It’s essential for every industry to promote a balanced workforce, but it’s particularly important for those that have a history of being male-dominated. They have the most work to do,” she said.
“The foodservice industry is a large recruiter, but unsocial working hours, high rates of casual employment and high turnover in venues means it’s a tough industry to recruit into. Smart operators need to look to all segments of the adult population as potential employees – male and female, millennials and older workers – if they want to fill roles. Providing equal opportunities across all divisions: from front of house to back of house, and in head office roles, will help retain staff in an industry that has reputation for hemorrhaging workers. Why would businesses not want to do that?”
The landscape within the Rockpool Dining Group is encouraging, Gardiner said, but like most businesses in the sector, it still has some way to go.
“We have a strong focus on training and development, so there are opportunities for progression within the company for all genders.
We also look to promote internally wherever possible: and we find this helps to retain good talent, whether they’re female or male.
“We have strong women in our workforce at the senior management level. They’re exceptional mentors to their teams, and without a doubt would be an inspirational force for the younger generation of women they work with.”
It goes without saying that the Solotel group, which operates venues including Aria, Chiswick, North Bondi Fish, Opera Bar and Paddo Inn, is in agreenace with its peers that individuals should be hired based on their skills not their sex, but given its size and structure, the business has been able to implement some formal initiatives to drive gender diversity.
The company’s head office boasts an almost 50/50 gender split, including in leadership roles. Venue management roles are sitting at almost 40 percent women and Solotel is committed to increasing it to 50 percent over the next 12–18 months.
Throughout the year, Solotel does comprehensive calculations on its diversity using metrics to report on the ratio of men to women, their age range and whether they’re local or international workers.
These calculations inform senior managers on the current climate of the hiring landscape, while also shedding light on the effectiveness of various HR initiatives. These initiatives are targeted at equal participation and opportunity, and include a leadership program, a talent management framework and the Next Generation program, which encompasses Solotel’s trainee managers, apprentice chefs and interns, and is set to launch later this year.
“It’s not necessary to purposely hire and promote people in order to affect [change] – and it just shouldn’t be about that,” said Justine Baker, Solotel’s chief operating officer. “[But] it’s essential that anyone who is in a position to be able to promote female participation in the hospitality industry, does so.
“Hospitality is perceived as a male-dominated industry because so many of the leadership roles are assumed by men so it’s quite easy to see how females in entry level positions feel less inspired to remain and progress in the industry than their male counterparts. The talent pool at that entry level is, for the most part, equally made up of males and females, so there is equal opportunity to develop, mentor and progress females as there is males.”