Women Start To Assert Themselves In Hospitality Sector Though Less Than One In Four Chefs Is Female

An analysis of the last five years of employment data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), including new data from the past 12 months, by luxury hospitality recruiter The Change Group shows a shift in how women are working in hospitality, albeit mostly part time and at a more junior level.

There are consistently more women than men working in hospitality. Currently 54% of hospitality workers are female.

Overall the number of female chefs in the UK grew by 34% over the past 12 months, the biggest single rise over the past five years. Meanwhile, the number of male chefs in the UK increased by only 5.9%, and the total number of chefs rose by 11.3%. This means that the growth in the number of female chefs is outpacing the rise in the number of chefs working in hospitality as a whole.

However, despite this significant growth in the number of female chefs, still less than one in four (23.5%) of the total number of chefs in the UK is female.

If the rate of growth in female and male chefs remains consistent, female chefs could potentially outnumber male chefs by 2022. However, a significant factor in the impact that women can have in the business is that many more women than men work part time: only a third of men work part time, while only a third of women work full time.

Men also dominate senior managerial roles as well as ownership of restaurants and catering establishments. On average over the past five years, 58% of senior restaurant and catering staff have been men to only 42% women.

Meanwhile, women dramatically and consistently outnumber men in what are termed “elementary services occupations” within the ONS data. Over the past five years, three out of five kitchen and catering assistants have been women though the tide may be gradually turning as this figure is declining from 67% in 2013 to 62% in 2017. Seven out of ten waiting staff are also female.

Founder and director of The Change Group, Craig Allen, is cautiously optimistic about what the national statistics reveal about gender equality in the hospitality sector as a whole – and more specifically in senior roles and in the kitchen. “It is great to see that there are more female chefs and that this figure has leapt up in the past year. This is certainly a trend that we are seeing in the people that we are placing at London’s top establishments. The hospitality sector wants more female chefs and we are delighted to see so many of London’s top establishments taking steps to recruit more women into their kitchens.

“However, it is worrying that the majority of senior roles are being taken by men, and also that so many women are working part time. On the one hand, this means that they have more flexibility, which could encourage more women to work in hospitality. Equally, it could also affect the opportunities open to women, as many senior roles are full time. This means that despite the hard numbers, arguably the overall impact which women are having in the hospitality sector is smaller, because so many are working in junior roles and part time.

“The surge in the number of female chefs joining the industry over the past 12 months could indicate that they are an important source of talent at a time which is vital as the hospitality sector continues to face a dire talent shortage. We may see more women rise to the fore, so the future in terms of employment could be brighter than anticipated for the industry.”

Jenny Warner, head chef of The Thomas Cubitt, said, “I think the main issue for women is when it’s time to have a family. It must be very hard to work in hospitality and look after a child because of the hours. This is especially true when it comes to senior roles. Heading up a kitchen is a very full time role. How can you be in charge of a kitchen and come and go in order to look after a family? It’s not something that has a simple answer. Personally I don’t know what I will do when the time comes, but luckily for me, aspiring women who have tackled this problem first hand run many departments within Cubitt House.

“People in hospitality tend to find partners within the industry because you share the same passion and understanding of the culture and demands that often people outside the hospitality industry don’t understand. This means the shift system doesn’t help if the other parent works exactly the same hours, and if you don’t, you will never see each other. I’ve seen lots of talented women that are doing really well and then drop out when they reach a certain age to have a family. The result is that there aren’t that many women in senior chef roles.”