I started an apprenticeship to become a chef 12 years ago. I knew nothing about the realities of a career in hospitality at the time.
The first female chef I met asked me if I’d like to know what it’s like for women working in kitchens.
It didn’t really occur to me that she meant I should prepare myself for sexual harassment and misogynistic attitudes coming from both colleagues and customers. It didn’t take long for me to understand why she had asked that question.
In my first year I worked with a chef whose fascination with breasts bordered on obsession. He’d watch the women who walked past the front of the restaurant and declare “boobs” as he squeezed the fleshy part of my upper arm. He once pointed out to me that my right breast was larger than the left.
Listen to the female CEO who has had sexual harassment allegations lodged against her. (Post continues after audio.)
As is typical of chefs, I moved on to a new job after a year, and a new job six months after that and with each move discovered that this behaviour was not unusual.
I worked in another kitchen where the sexist banter became too much for me and so I started to look for a new job.
I went to an interview at a prestigious restaurant in Melbourne’s inner north. I’d just sat down with the chef when the restaurant owner walked into the dining room and commented that it wasn’t fair that his interviews were never with the good looking girls.
I’ve heard male chefs list which staff members they’d have sex with, comment on the appearance of female staff, and tell detailed stories about their latest conquests. I’m one of the lucky ones – a new survey, conducted by the hospitality union, United Voice, found 19% of women working in hospitality have been sexually assaulted.
Jess at work. Image: supplied.
I’ve heard my front of house colleagues recount stories about customers grabbing them, being yanked onto the laps of drunk men, being propositioned, having groups of men return to the restaurant after closing to catch them when they finish work. The common theme amongst the stories is that even when they mentioned this behaviour to their manager, it was generally excused if the customer was a big spender.