#MeToo in the Kitchen

Researchers Giuffre and Harris

A stereotypical idea of a women’s role is cooking. But, the culinary industry often discriminates against women in restaurant kitchens. In a new article, “#Me Too In the Kitchen,” published in Contexts journal, Deborah Harris and Patti Giuffre (both professors in the Department of Sociology) examine workplace harassment in the foodservice industry.

Harris and Giuffre reveal how widespread sexual harassment is in the restaurant industry: “The restaurant industry represents the largest number of sexual harassment complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.” Furthermore, when harassment happens, women in the food services industry often don’t have many options to address it: “Many restaurants do not have a Human Resources department or a process for reporting harassment…Women may also be urged not to report issues of harassment.”

Harris and Giuffre describe how traditions from France–where restaurant kitchens run as strict hierarchies–collided with growing media attention on celebrity chefs to worsen disparity of power between men and women in professional kitchens: “The problem with these depictions is that they reinforced the stereotype that creatives were a breed apart and should not be held to the same standards of behavior as those in more corporate environments.”

Harris and Giuffre offer ways to improve the workplace for women in the restaurant industry. They urge upper management and restaurant owners to set a tone and act on reports of harassment: “Individual restaurant leaders can pay attention to problematic beliefs (or red flags that indicate a lack of understanding of power dynamics at work) in their approach to sexual harassment.” They call for people in power in the restaurant industry to act for change using a social justice framework: “How healthy is your restaurant? Where does your restaurant lie on a continuum of social justice and inclusive practice? Does it maintain the power or privilege of the dominant group? Does it restrict membership and exclude while allowing problems faced by the subordinate group to continue?”

The #metoo movement has often focused on very visible cases of discrimination and sexism, such as the case of women pressured by Hollywood power brokers. Harris and Giuffre remind us of the challenges and threats that women face at all levels of social and economic statuses, and how changes to processes and policies can make a difference. Women’s Equality Day was this week on August 26.