I know what many of you are thinking: The problem to find new talent in the kitchen has to do with the working hours and pay and a shift in the expectations and values of young people. Maybe that’s true. But it’s also true that (even) more young women than men leave this field relatively early on. As Julia Komp, Germany’s youngest star chef for many years, once told me: “At the youth competitions there were often even more girls than boys, but they all disappeared from the industry at some point.”
Nowadays, it is seldom the physical demands or the atmosphere in the kitchen –both have improved in (most) modern kitchens, and even “delicate” women can cope with this quite well, or switch jobs if necessary. The main issue is relationships and family planning. Is this just a social issue that the gastronomy industry cannot change? That would oversimplify the issue.
After all, some things are already changing. Increasingly, more and more men are taking paternity leave (to the utter horror of most employers, by the way), including in the gastronomy industry. But many companies could also find solutions. An exception may be top chefs, whose physical presence is also needed in the evening, in part because of the expectations of the guests. Then again, not every restaurant falls into this category. So why not consider part-time work in the kitchen? Or job sharing! Or simply trying things out!
Recently, I’ve gotten to know a lot of women with small children who also started their own business, for example, a small catering company. Or they have developed concepts for school nutrition lessons or pursued further education programs. Employers should also seize the opportunity to take advantage of this passion to work.
About a year ago, Cornelia Poletto told me that when her chef, who had worked for her for 15 years, became pregnant, she came to her and did not know how to deal with the situation. After some thought, Cornelia Poletto “transferred” her to the cooking school, where working hours are much more flexible. Another staff member is only working part-time since her second child was born and now supervises event organization. If you’re open, you often find ways to foster both sides. However, employers and direct managers must also make this possible – and the employees concerned must in turn be willing and able to be flexible as well and juggle different tasks and roles. Cornelia Poletto puts it in a nutshell: “Sometimes all you have to do is want something, and then it works.”
That’s right, everyone has to want it – and that includes women. Whether and when you want to get out or get back in with your family is of course always a personal decision. However, the current retirement situation shows the extent to which these decisions have an impact on your own retirement plan, therefore also creating a high degree of dependency on your partner by that time at the latest. And that is another reason why it is now time for men and women to talk about women in gastronomy, preferably together.