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Why are so many female chefs leaving the industry?

By Sophie Witts , 24-Feb-2016
Last updated on 24-Feb-2016 at 14:07 GMT2016-02-24T14:07:47Z

Thinkstock/Fuse
Thinkstock/Fuse

The number of female chefs in the UK is falling with nearly two in five women considering leaving the industry, so what needs to be done to reverse this trend?

According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) fewer than one in five chefs in the UK is a woman (18.5 per cent), down from last year.

In London the shortage may be even starker. Research from hospitality recruiter The Change Group shows that over the past three years only one in eight applicants for chef jobs in the capital have been female.

And while the number of chefs employed in the UK grew by over 20,000 in the past year, the number of women working in the industry has declined by 1000 in the same period.

But despite high profile female chefs such as Monica Galetti and Clare Smyth  making headlines with plans to launch their first solo restaurants, the shortage could be set to worsen over the next few years.

The Change Group asked 508 experienced female chefs for their views on working in the industry.

Although nearly three quarters said they would recommend the career to other women, two in five said they were either planning to leave the industry or were ‘unsure’ if they would stay.

What are the difficulties?

Ana Seini Ma’ilei is a sous chef at Aubaine on the Brompton Road and has been working for 10 years as a chef.

She admitted that it was ‘hard’ working in the industry with a five year old daughter and that both she and her chef husband had to juggle part time shifts.

She said: “We don’t have childcare because we just couldn’t afford it. When I started off I didn’t think it would be that difficult for women. But I’ve come across a lot of male chefs who underestimate female chefs. They think women can’t carry stuff, that we'll be moody at that time of the month. But it always makes me try harder and prove them wrong in a way."

Only 25 per cent of the chefs surveyed had children, and 52 per cent of them said that more flexible working hours would make it easier for women to pursue a career in the industry long-term.

Sabrina Gidda, head chef at Bernardi’s, said: “I’ve done two Roux scholarships and I was the only female in last year’s competition. I find it a bit worrying that from the 120 chefs who participated that I was the only woman. That doesn’t make me feel great.

“I think being a woman has made absolutely no different to my career. If anything I think it was quite a positive thing for companies I work for to have a single, young, Asian female chef. I was given lots of opportunities and I was also quite focused about chasing them down.”

What can employers do?

Monica Galetti made headlines in November after saying woman had ‘to put their career first’ to succeed as a chef at the expense of having a family.

However, she told BigHospitality that it was ‘possible to balance the two’ and that employers needed to better assist women in doing so.

“Some support from workplaces would go a long way to helping [women] stay in this amazing industry,” said Galetti.

Craig Allen, director of The Change Group, said that the issue was a ‘huge concern’ for the hospitality sector given the ‘dire’ chef shortage across the country.

“Employers need to look at how to offer greater flexibility to enable both men and women to juggle work and family, and potentially tailor roles to make it easier for women to become and stay chefs,” he said.