It seems somewhat counter-intuitive to hand the floor over to men when discussing the best ways to empower women. There’s no shortage of people who believe that men simply cannot be feminists; they couldn’t possibly understand the obstacles and hardships faced by women over the years. Are we just exacerbating the issue by asking them to comment on how women can climb the ranks – both professionally and socially?
That’s one way to look at it.
But another is to face reality and to use the undeniable position that men have in hospitality – a position where, in 2015, they made up 90 percent of the industry’s CEOs – to help shift the focus so it’s a little more balanced.
Can we really have a problem with asking men who genuinely believe in the value of diversity to publicly explain why, and to demonstrate ways in which it can be achieved?
“If ‘feminism’ is used in the true context of supporting a movement that’s about granting women political, social and economic equality, well, call me a feminist,” said Mitch Edwards, marketing manager at Australian Pork.
Edwards is part of the team that launched the extremely well regarded PorkStars campaign, which sees leading chefs encouraging their peers to include Australian pork products on foodservice menus. Over the years, the campaign has featured industry legends including Janni Kyritsis, Christine Manfield, Alex Herbert, Mark Jensen, Ian Curley and even Fergus Henderson.
Edwards has been immersed in Australia’s hospitality industry for longer than he’d care to admit, and he credits a few key women for his successes.
“Judith Ruello was my manager when I joined AUS-Meat in around 1990. She was intelligent, passionate and driven, and totally helped me transition from the food side of the industry to the corporate marketing side. I remember her being labelled as a ‘ball breaker feminist’, but I just saw her as brilliant and intimidating to the men around her – who she was far more capable than.
“Another was Frances Cassidy who was with the MLA in New York around 1994. This woman was amazing … and was not only an enormous coach to me professionally, but also personally – I owe her so much,” Edwards said.
Without these women, Edwards isn’t sure he’d be where he is today, and he says the entire hospitality industry, regardless of their sex or rank, has a duty to help empower women so they can continue to inspire and motivate others.
“I think we all have a responsibility to champion equality, in any industry. Apart from standing up for equal rights, we need good people to be encouraged to stay and commit to the hospitality industry. We need to embrace females and males and all ethnicities, and to give people a reason to want to stay and succeed,” he said.
Essential to ensuring women stay in the industry is making sure they feel part of the team. Particularly relevant for back of house scenarios, where the gender divide can be most apparent, women shouldn’t feel like they need to be part of the ‘boys club’ to truly fit in.
“[The industry needs to] treat females equal to males – and pay them the same. Females should be celebrated for their differences to males and if there’s a situation when females are outnumbered, they should be made comfortable, and likewise in the reverse.”
Ken Burgin, founder of hospitality consultancy, Profitable Hospitality, agrees that men need to get their hands dirty if they truly want to see change.
“Given that men usually have more access to the power that will drive change, let’s take advantage of that in a positive way,” he said.
There’s no doubt that the hospitality industry is increasingly aware of its need to recruit and retain more women, but talk is cheap.
“It won’t just happen by wishing and hoping, and merit-based promotion always seems to produce male winners. What a surprise!” Burgin said. “It may not be popular, but I believe you need formal targets or quotas – if the ALP can set 30 percent and make it work, that’s a good one to start with.
“I believe a business committed to gender equality should also set specific targets – there are women who will be suitable. Make diversity the mantra (it should also include racial diversity, the other elephant in the room). If recruiting women is hard, start looking in different places and make sure your workplace looks like a place where women would want to spend their days – many are not.”
There are also practical benefits to shifting more of your focus to women.
“If we’re worried about labour shortages, we can’t be ignoring half the population,” said Burgin. “In fact, there are a fair few women in hospitality in base level jobs, but they are much harder to find in senior and management roles. I definitely see and experience a different quality of leadership from women, and it’s an important factor in creating a more harmonious workplace. To be frank, men are better at their job in a mixed workplace.”
Burgin lists John McFadden executive chef at ParkRoyal Darling Harbour and Paul Rifkin, executive chef at the Campbelltown Catholic Club as true pioneers in this space.
Across the entire team at the Campbelltown Catholic Club, there’s a ratio of 60:40, women to men.
Rifkin, however, prefers to hire on merit rather than metrics. “I don’t deliberately employ a chef because she’s female; I hire on skill,” he said. “[But] I have always enjoyed working with women in kitchens. They bring a sense of calmness and level headed thinking, yet can really get things done with strong leadership. The majority of apprentices I start are female these days – usually between 60 and 75 percent.”
While 70 percent of the chefs at the club are males, Rifkin said there’s a far better split in management positions.
“We have a good balance of male and female supervisors and managers – the majority of supervisors are women. They have strong leadership and set a good example to other staff. They are able to engage with customers and direct staff. With so many females in leadership roles, it sets a very good example to younger female staff, who realise that there is a career opportunity available.”
So other than making a concerted effort to seek out women when recruiting or promoting, what can men do to improve the landscape?
“Be mindful and change the way you speak to and around women. Equality is when one is able to speak to both a man and a woman with the same respect.
“Don’t assume a woman can’t handle the pressure of leadership by bypassing them for a male to take the senior roles. If you step back and look at both male and female staff equally then you can make informed decisions on all aspects of capability within the workplace.”
Another really important element is to make your efforts public knowledge. Talk to people, demonstrate how changes can be implemented and highlight the benefits that follow.
Rifkin and the Campbelltown Catholic Club are doing this in spades, even following the lead of the Blacktown Workers Club, which was the first in Australia to attain White Ribbon Accreditation.
The White Ribbon Workplace Accreditation Program recognises workplaces that are taking active steps to stop violence against women.
According to its website, the program builds on existing gender equality and diversity initiatives, providing the tools to strengthen a culture of respect and fairness. It supports organisations to respond to and prevent violence against women, regardless of where it occurs, while supporting employees to challenge inappropriate behaviour and strengthen gender equality in the wider community.
“As an employer, we are working to build awareness and education in order to change men’s attitudes regarding women and gender equality. [We’re doing this by] empowering and supporting women in our community and through local partnerships with support organisations,” said Rifkin.
“The White Ribbon mission is to develop a nation that respects women, in which every woman lives in safety, free from all forms of abuse. The purpose is to engage men to make women’s safety a man’s issue too.”
The Accreditation program isn’t just about preventing violence against women and enabling them to protect themselves against abuse. As Rifkin said, it’s about ensuring organisations realise – from the top down – that achieving gender equality, equal opportunity and diversity in the workplace isn’t just the goal for minorities. It’s a man’s issue too.