If it wants to move forward, the hospitality industry needs to nurture female talent

Like a lot of young women, many years of my life have been spent sweating on venue floors - and not in the fun, night-clubby way. 

Between serving coffees, navigating the sticky surfaces of a busy pub during happy hour, or battling through cramping arms while waltzing canapes through the guests of yet another engagement party, I’ve given the whole ‘woman in hospitality’ thing a pretty good nudge. 

Beyond the overall sentiment that the service industry can feel fast-paced and sometimes gruelling for anyone who works in it, I often think about the experiences my women-identifying colleagues and I endured that our male peers were lucky enough not to encounter.

Having sexual gestures made behind my back while walking up stairs, an entire bucks party heckling me to take their decorative dildo with me after waiting on their table, and not having my menstrual cramps taken seriously through an 8 hour shift are just a few horrendous examples that spring to mind.

Unfortunately, in lamenting these experiences to (often male) management, I was almost always met with responses like, ‘that’s just how it is,’ or ‘you can’t take these things too seriously.’

To shift these paradigms and ensure less of these awful experiences become normalised for women in hospitality, structural changes need to happen – and that includes more women in leadership.

Kicking off her hospitality career by working as a food runner while studying at university, and moving up to management by the time she’d finished her Masters degree, Owner of Poodle Bar and Bistro Zoe Rubinho, wanted to open her own business in which she could create a culture that catered to women’s needs.

“The industry is missing out on an entire segment of intellect and experience because it’s stuck and is being inflexible,” Zoe says. 

“I know that some bigger groups overlook hiring women at certain stages in their life or overlook promoting women because they assume they won’t return to work after parental leave or refuse to make senior jobs available part-time.”

Zoe adds that hospitality can often feel like a boys club in which women, whether in management, across the pass or on the floor, have to work harder to earn the work-place respect they deserve and as a result, often don’t have their qualms taken seriously.

“Hospitality has come to celebrate a lot of male Chefs, in a ‘rock star’ sort of way, in the same token most food reviewers are men – we have put them on a pedestal,” she says. 

On the bright side, she adds that we’re seeing a wave of brilliant female chefs and front of house women that will help to evolve the industry over time.

From a restaurant owner’s perspective, she believes the key to sustaining this positive change in her restaurant and beyond is by nurturing their talent with authentic and supportive leadership. 

Although women account for 53% of employees in accommodation and food services, a staggeringly low number are seen in managerial and directorial roles which Zoe says, cultivates workplace cultures that neglect to support the strengths and talents of their female employees. 

“I have found often women won’t put their hand up for a promotion because they focus on what they don’t have in their skill set that will hold them back from doing the job whereas I’ve found that a lot of men are able to focus on the skills that they do have,” Zoe says. 

“I think [hospitality leaders] need to learn to value empathy and a softer style of management… and not mistake tenaciousness and aggression in management as ‘getting things done.’”

To encourage equity for women in the industry, Zoe urges other managers and owners to “mentor and give (solicited) advice wherever you can… and build a network of other strong professional women in and outside the hospitality industry.”