Rohini Dey wants women to be more “direct and demanding”
This story is part of “Ceiling Smashers,” a series in which successful women across industries tell Moneyish how they broke down professional barriers.
Rohini Dey, the 49-year-old founder of the Indian-Latin fusion restaurant Vermilion, appeared in 2015 on the eight-episode CNBC reality show “Consumed: The Real Restaurant Business.” But some of the Twitter and email feedback she received, she told Moneyish, centered around calling her “so bossy” and “too direct,” as opposed to substance. “I didn’t see any of that for the men,” she told Moneyish. “That seems to be the norm for most women leaders.”
That anecdote is but one “silly example” of the American tendency to encourage women to be “maternal and likable and nice,” Dey said, when they really should be “direct and demanding” — investing in both financial literacy and ways to proactively self-promote. “Many women are reticent either about public speaking or about promoting themselves or asking for the next thing,” she said. “That’s a big deterrent to careers.”
Dey, a former economist who logged stints at the World Bank and McKinsey & Co. before breaking into the restaurant business, has run a Vermilion restaurant in Chicago for the last 14 years; until recently, she also had a since-shuttered New York location. With her remaining time, she seeks to push women through the “gastro ceiling” and boost senior female leadership in her industry through the James Beard Foundation’s Women in Culinary Leadership program, which she co-founded in 2012 with her mentor and former JBF Foundation president Susan Ungaro.
“The goal is for women to not just think about running the kitchen, but also about owning the kitchen,” Dey said. “In my industry, less than 7% of executive chefs in leading restaurants are women.”
While she sees signs of improvement, she said, “something more drastic needs to be done to shake it up.” “I don’t think the current status quo is conducive to parity even in the next century” at its present pace, she said. Fortunately, Dey added, many male industry mentors do take in and bolster women “with grace.” “Support is there … we just have to tap into it and do it the right way. And fast.”
The Delhi School of Economics alumna says she’s “fortunate in the sense that I have a very credible background and training and investment in myself … I can’t say that I’ve ever faced any bounds or limits.” “But that’s not what I see across the board with other women,” she added, “and that’s what I want to set out to change.”
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