Viewpoint: Creating a gender-balanced workforce

24 June 2016
Viewpoint: Creating a gender-balanced workforce

You may ask why this is something we should be looking at. The national chef shortage is well reported, however we were surprised to learn that only 18.5% of the UK's chef workforce is made up of women.

This is a shockingly low number. We looked at our business and while it was pleasing to see that out of the 4,300-plus chefs we employ, 35% were female, we felt this still wasn't good enough.

Therefore, we decided to look at the obstacles preventing women from firstly, entering the industry and then secondly, not progressing within it or leaving. We found that long working hours and irregular working patterns made a career as a chef a challenging choice for many women, especially those who also juggle a family life or have aspirations to do so. But we feel a lot of the barriers that exist can be broken down just through the differences present in the contract-catering business.

Contract catering offers a great alternative for women seeking to go into cooking professionally. We work in many sectors, such as education, military, business and industry, sports, and leisure and hospitality.

What they all offer is flexibility - term-time working, flexible hours, and, in some areas, the ability to work Monday to Friday. The Women in Food programme is now working to more clearly identify where these flexible options exist and where they can be more easily put in place. Additionally, when we looked at the issue further and spoke to many of our talented female chefs about their career progression, we found that many lacked confidence to put themselves forward when opportunities arose. Therefore, Women in Food is looking to create a mentoring programme as well as more tailored learning and development to help our female chefs move up

within the business. In order to ensure we remain focused and deliver on our targets, we have set up a Women in Food board, which I chair, along with colleagues from across the business. We are passionate about providing genuine opportunities for female chefs and are so encouraged by the response we have received from not only our own staff, but also the wider industry.

We hope that Women in Food will make a real difference, but it's important to note that it's not just about our women. We believe that by achieving a balanced workforce, it will result in a more productive and positive working environment for everyone.

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