Fewer than one in five chefs in the UK is a woman and the number is falling, particularly in London, according to a new study.
Data from the Office of National Statistics, analysed by luxury hospitality recruiter The Change Group, shows that, while the number of chefs employed in the UK grew by over 20,000 new jobs in the past year, the number of women working as chefs has declined by 1,000 in the same period.
It also shows that of the registrations received over the past three years, only one in eight applicants for London chef jobs is a woman.
This is set against research which shows 42% of jobs in hospitality are considered hard to fill and predictions of the potential demise of the industry by high profile chefs at top London restaurants if they can’t get the staff.
The Change Group also undertook a survey of over 508 experienced female chefs to understand how women chefs view their career.
This suggests women chefs are positive about their jobs despite working in very male-dominated environments – some 72 per cent aid they would recommend being a chef as a career to other women.
However, almost two in five of the women chefs who took part say they are not planning to stay working as a chef for the foreseeable future, or are unsure if they will stay. This could mean the overall number of women chefs working in the UK will continue to decline.
The majority of those interviewed were highly experienced: 83 per cent hold permanent positions at chef de partie level or above (80 per cent) and had worked for three years or more (78 per cent). Over a quarter had worked for over a decade and of those researched, two thirds had chosen to become a chef because of a passion for cooking and food.
Although nearly half were working in teams of seven or more chefs, 44% said they were the only woman on their team and 19% said there were no more than two women on their team.
Whilst almost one third said being a woman had negatively affected their career, around the same number think being female does not make any difference.
In fact, around one in six female chefs interviewed felt being a woman is an advantage: they said they had been given more opportunities (31 per cent) and were treated with more respect (56 per cent).
Whilst over half of the women chefs who took part were aged between 21 and 45, the key age group for starting a family, only one in four have children.
Some 52 per cent said that more flexible working hours would make it easier for women to pursue their career as a chef long term.
When asked, women see many aspects of being a chef that make it a particularly good career option for women, including shift working, part time and temporary opportunities and the fact that it’s easy to take a career break.
One chef who has children is Keisha Meakin [pictured], a pastry chef at BaxterStory. She says: “Being a woman didn’t make any difference to my career until I became a mother.
I worked with chefs who encouraged men and women equally and gave me great opportunities. It’s only now that I’ve had a child that I see how being a woman may affect my career moving forwards more than perhaps a man’s.
There is still the pressure of fulfilling the role of a ‘mother’ which feels like fundamentally a woman’s job. It falls to me to make the necessary changes in my career to accommodate looking after the family. I don’t resent that but it means I have to plan my career for the moment around new priorities in a way that I wouldn’t need to if I were a male chef.”
With regard to earnings, women chefs’ salaries are rising, but men still earn 18% more than women. The average salary for female chefs was £22,812.89 [up from £21,500 in 2014], compared to £26,857.72 from male chefs [up from £26,594.26].