By Alison Bowen
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Chicago restaurateur Rohini Dey spelled out just how far the restaurant industry still has to go in advancing and supporting women. Dey says just 7 percent of the leading executive chefs are female.
Women in the hospitality industry gathered recently at the iO Theater to talk about advancing female leadership in an industry dominated by men.
The list of topics alone reflected the variety of issues women experience that their male counterparts rarely encounter, sexual harassment, the need to practice self-defense, what to say when a colleague calls you a profanity.
Chicago restaurateur Rohini Dey spelled out just how far the restaurant industry still has to go. Just 7 percent of the leading executive chefs are women, she said.
“The woman restaurateur is a rarity,” said Dey, who opened Vermilion restaurant in River North in 2004.
Women should aim not only to run restaurants, she said, but also to own them. And she said many conversations set the bar too low. For example, she said ending sexual harassment would be a beginning, not an end goal.
“That’s not our aspiration for ourselves, is not to be harassed,” she said. “I think in a way we are setting our goals too low.”
In a Chicago Tribune article this year, city chefs detailed their own experiences with sexual harassment and the role it plays in restaurant culture.
The event, part of a Bacardi-sponsored series highlighting women in leadership, aimed to both celebrate and protect women who work in restaurants and bars. The five-city tour began in February; after dates in Houston, Miami, and San Francisco, it finishes in New York in April.
Charna Halpern, co-founder and artistic director of the iO Theater, told the crowd she didn’t consider her gender detrimental as she rose through a male-dominated industry.
“I was just hellbent on doing something that I loved,” she said. “I didn’t think being a woman was a detriment in any way. I was always strong and fearless, which I think also helped.”
Still, she and other panelists acknowledge that in male-dominated fields, women can be labeled harshly for the same behavior as men.
Chicago leadership coach Maria Campillo recommended that women reframe the conversation if someone uses a profane label.
“If someone tells you that you’re a b—h and you say, ‘When I’m asking you to be your better self, if that’s being a b—h, then I guess I am a b—h.’ ”
Halpern chimed in, “You’re being a leader.”