#MeToo influenced three females in the restaurant world to start Women in Hospitality United to advocate for women’s rights and policy change in their industry
The hospitality industry needs to do a better job at serving its female employees.
That’s the impetus for Women in Hospitality United, a New York City-based organization working to empower women working in restaurants, hotels, management and other service industry sectors. Its goal: Foster a safe space for discussing issues facing women in the industry including sexual harassment, and set women up for success with mentorship programs that encourage them to start their own businesses. The initiative’s first inaugural event will happen on Sept. 24.
The organization was founded by three female hospitality vets, including Elizabeth Meltz, who worked with Mario Batali’s B&B Hospitality Group for more than a decade, and spoke out to Eater in June about how the disgraced chef — who was accused of sexual harassment in December — made the workplace “uncomfortable.” Erin Fairbanks of consulting firm GROUT, and Liz Murray, the director of HR and communications at the Marlow Collective, a restaurant group, are also leading the charge.
“We first got a group of women together after the first #MeToo allegations came out, specifically about chefs and restaurateurs. We’ve been thinking about women’s empowerment, and the role of women in the hospitality space,” Fairbanks told Moneyish of inspiration behind the organization.
A number of high-profile chefs and restaurateurs came under fire last fall after dozens of women spoke out about sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein, sparking the #MeToo movement. Among the chefs who was then called out for sexual harassment: Mario Batali, who took a leave from his restaurant empire and cooking show “The Chew” after misconduct reports spanning from a 20-year period were surfaced. And Ken Friedman, the founder of the Spotted Pig in New York City, and New Orleans chef John Besh faced similar accusations.
The heated, high-stress, male-dominated environment of the kitchen helps foster this kind of behavior in the restaurant industry. An alarming 80% of female restaurant workers experienced harassment from a coworker on the job, while two-thirds were harassed by a manager, according to a study by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. And workers that rely on tips are even more at risk. Workers in states with low minimum wage for tipped workers — $2.13 an hour — are twice as likely to experience sexual harassment as those in states that pay full minimum wage to tipped restaurant workers, who may be empowered not to tolerate misconduct since they’re not relying solely on tips.
“Most of the projects are about mental health, code of conduct, thinking about wellness in other ways,” Murray said, of the Women In Hospitality United initiative.
Its inaugural project is called Solution Sprint, a one-day crowdsourced event happening on Sept. 24 at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn for workers across the food industry to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing the industry. The agenda includes creating an industry-wide code of conduct; setting realistic approaches to sexual harassment training; and addressing an equity policy that ensures diversity at panels and conferences.
“It became,‘how do we think about finances, long-term career planning and how to deal with harassment or personal issues?’” said Fairbanks, of the upcoming event.
Other topics up for discussion include maternity leave and the pay gap between men and women in hospitality. It’s worth noting that male restaurant workers made an average of $4,728 per year more than women. And women hospitality workers make $0.76 less per hour than men, according to a report released by Gecko Hospitality.
“Without a strong parental leave policy it makes it really hard for women in this industry to take a break or have a family or really plan strategically,” Murray noted.
There’s some progress that’s already been made on giving employees more support on the parenting front. Earlier this week, Eataly, the international Italian retail market and dining hall, announced its parental leave policy in the U.S. which will allow parents to take up to eight weeks of paid leave following childbirth or adoption. All Eataly employees that have been at the company for at least one consecutive year are eligible for the new program, regardless of hours worked per week.
And last year, Danny Meyer’s restaurant group Union Square Hospitality, which operates popular restaurants like Gramercy Tavern and The Modern, implemented a policy for front and back of house workers that have been on staff for a year 100% of their base wages for the first four weeks after their child is born or adopted. After that, all employees will be offered 60% of their base wages for the next four weeks. Still, the majority of restaurants, especially in the fast food space, don’t have parental leave options for employees making it difficult for workers to take time off to start families.
“The importance of a bonding period between parent and new child is immeasurable. As a family business we understand this importance in a unique way and wanted to ensure that all employees, regardless of role or hours worked, can spend time with their newly arrived child,” Nicola Farinetti, CEO of Eataly USA, said in a statement. “We are committed to providing a positive work environment that allows employees to have a sense of balance as they grow in their careers with Eataly.”
In addition to setting an agenda for change in the workplace, Women in Hospitality United will also offer a mentorship program to aspiring entrepreneurs, pairing them with industry vets who can coach them on ideas and introduce them to the right people to help get them off the ground. To join the movement, all interested can sign up via the Women in Hospitality United Website for free.
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