Women in the front line

23 June 2005
Women in the front line

Tracey White, head chef, Bobsleigh Inn, Hemel Hempstead

tracey-white 100x100
tracey-white 100x100

When I was working as a commis there was a very nasty French chef who believed women didn't have a place in the industry. He used to haul me up in front of the brigade and belittle me, which was quite demoralising.

I had to work twice as hard to be recognised in a man's world, and the bottom line is I had to become one of the boys. I was quite shy before, but I'm not shocked by anything any more. It would never have worked if I'd been airy-fairy.

Macdonald Hotels has backed me and pushed me 100%, and being their first female head chef has made my sex more apparent - but I do believe that all this male-female stuff is a load of crap.

People need to be able to do the job no matter what sex they are. If I have children, it would stop my career, as I wouldn't be able to do my job in the same way; but I don't want them at the moment - my career is the most important thing.

Joelle Marti, Wine Manager, the Great Eastern Hotel, London

Joelle-Marti 100x100
Joelle-Marti 100x100

I had to prove myself twice as much as the boys. But, part of my character does not want to fail so determination and passion were the keys in my crucial starting years.

It's no good if you are in a bad mood once a month - that even annoys me. There are two types of women - those who say they can't do things and those who are totally enthusiastic and will muck in.

I may be very naïve, but I don't think there is a problem here - it's far worse in France or in the City. I have a colleague and we joke about rude bits and bobs but it makes us laugh - is that sexist?

If anything, being female helps once you are past the initial starting point, as customers are less likely to be rude to women. But the golden rule is never to use the fact you are a woman to get away with doing less work. If you work the same way everyone else does and at the beginning work a bit harder, you prove you can do the job.

Claire Clark, head pastry chef, The Wolseley, London

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claire-clark 100x100

You can't be over-sensitive working in a kitchen. People say things in the heat of the moment to get the job done, but they don't really mean it and it's forgotten afterwards.

There are loads of sexist remarks in the kitchen, but guys are demeaning whether you are a woman, fat, ginger or spotty.

As a vicar's daughter my nickname used to be "Vicar's knickers", and a chef once cut all the buttons off my jacket with a chef's knife without a word of explanation. I chose to leave and walk away from that environment.

You just have to prove yourself and be initiated into the kitchen. The chefs need to see how hard you are and how long before you cry, etc. The more you prove you are strong, part of the team, and willing to work together, the more slack and respect you get.

Kitchens are hot and demanding places, and you do need to be a strong person, but guys also like having a girl in the kitchen so they can talk to you about relationships, worries and even cut fingers.

Know Your Rights Legislation against discrimination has now been around for 30 years. If you think you're being discriminated against the key points to remember are:

  • Make it known that the harasser's conduct is unwelcome and keep a diary of events.
  • Raise a grievance and don't suffer in silence. You cannot be penalised for doing so, as that would be victimisation. The law does protect the complainant if the complaint is made in good faith.
  • The law changed in 2003 and it's now unlawful to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation, sex or race. You don't have to be gay to bring a claim - you only have to be perceived as such.
  • If you are not satisfied with the grievance procedure you have the right to go through an employment tribunal and claim for loss of earnings due to discrimination and for injury to feelings where awards range from £500 - £25,000.
  • Discrimination claims can be made against the individual harasser/discriminator, and it's not uncommon for an award to be made against an individual.

Information supplied by Alexandra Davidson, partner, Berwin Leighton Paisner

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