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"The reality of working as a female chef is that the sexual harassment is daily."

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.

sexual harrassment in hospitality

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.

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It’s backed up by the survey results: only 36% of hospitality workers believe that their managers take sexual harassment complaints seriously.

No one should have to go to work knowing they’ll experience sexual harassment. So when I heard about the Respect Is The Rule campaign, I jumped at the chance to get involved.

Watch the Respect Is The Rule Campaign video now, which will reveal their daily torment. (Post continues after video.)

The Respect is the Rule campaign aims to tackle sexual harassment in hospitality by asking venues to take a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment in their venues by removing people who sexually harass staff or patrons, displaying posters and distributing training materials to staff and managers,. Basically, we’re asking them to look after their staff.

Being part of a team of like-minded hospo workers committed to changing our industry for the better is exciting. Already, 30 venues have come on board - it’s a great start, but we’ve got a long road ahead of us. We need hundreds of venues on board if we’re truly going to tackle this infestation in our industry. And that requires more resources.

That’s why we’ve launched a crowdfunder - to raise the funds we need to develop training videos, produce and print resources, do website maintenance, increase our online presence, resource local campaign teams, and more. These things are important, but costly.

We have just under a week left of our crowdfunding campaign and need to make nearly $3000 to reach our target. Every bit helps - whether it’s $5 or $10 - everything brings us closer to our goal.

It’s time to change the “boys club” culture of the hospitality industry. It’s time to change the attitudes of customers who can’t seem to grasp that smiling and being friendly is part of the job and not encouragement of inappropriate behaviour.

It’s time for our workplaces to be safe - and with your help, we just might make it happen.

You can donate to the crowdfunding campaign, here.

What is your experience with working in hospitality? How did you handle it?

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