Posted By - Kate Spencer On October 02, 2015

Women in the Workplace. Women in the Culinary Workplace.

The Wall Street Journal released a special report this week (September 30, 2015) with and McKinsey & Co. that takes a look at the “What’s Holding Women Back” in the workplace. The basic summary is that despite support at the top, gender equality is a long way off.

Interestingly, The Wall Street Journal had a task force that studied “The XX Factor: What’s Holding Women Back?” in 2012 and the lead to the story was “You would think the problem would be solved by now.” So the 2015 version is a little bit of “how about now?”

In the 2012 study, CEOs all agreed that there’s a good case for gender diversity in business, but women didn’t believe or witness their CEO’s commitment. At the companion Women in the Economy Conference in 2012, 200 top leaders gathered to come up with a plan to make better use of female talent. The major obstacle was determined to be attrition: women were landing 53% of entry level jobs, but then it fell to 35% at the director level, 24% among SVPs and only 19% in the C-Suite.

At the time, only 17 of Fortune 500 CEOs were female, up from 12 in 2011. 

Cut to 2015. Now 23 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. “At the current pace of progress, we are more than 100 years away from gender equality in the C-suite,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Founder of, a sponsor of the study.   

As it turns out, it is not just attrition - widely assumed due to family concerns - that accounts for the shrinking ranks as you go up the ladder in any organization. It truly is about barriers for advancement. Less than 15% of the top five leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500 are held by women, according to a CNNMoney analysis

Sheryl Sandberg pointed out that “Women are hurt by having less access to senior-level mentors and sponsors in the workplace than men, and this needs to change.” And in a research report by Cornell University Hospitality in February 2014, co-authored by Dr. Susan Fleming Ph.D., one of the keys to career advancement was “the significance of finding a sponsor” and surrounding “yourself with people who are committed to help you grow.” 

It is a theme that COOKGIRL has heard throughout our market tour this year. From Chicago to San Francisco to Los Angeles and now on to New York, we heard again and again that when women have a strong mentor, they are more likely to succeed. You reach for the bar that is set for you. In this spirit, COOKGIRL will continue to connect women in the culinary world and celebrate new talent - adding more women to THE LIST and looking for talent in all areas of the industry. Because while the percentage of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 is sobering, culinary is even worse off with women accounting for only 11% of Executive Chefs and 20% of all chefs and head cooks (US Bureau of Labor & Statistics).

“The world of elite cooking is a small one and women chefs are often not invited to be part of this boys’ club. Women need to find ways to attract this media attention and help shape their own portrayals in the media. Women chefs can do this by banding together. Research on women’s support groups in other male-dominated fields indicates that women sometimes criticize women-centered organizations because they feel that they do not help women actually move up in their workplace hierarchies…..a ghettoization effect….but when women come together in large numbers, they can help sponsor events that showcase their work.” This assessment is from Taking The Heat: Women Chefs and Gender Inequality in the Professional Kitchen by Deborah A. Harris and Patti Giuffre, who are gender scholars focusing on the role of work in perpetuating and challenging gender inequality (Rutgers University Press, 2015).

As Charlotte Druckman noted in her fabulous 2012 book, Skirt Steak - which was largely the inspiration for COOKGIRL - a major hurdle for women is access to the capital needed to open their own establishments.

In searching for recommendations to balance the gender inequality in culinary organizations, Deborah Harris and Patti Giuffree went on to say, “When women are closely affiliated with the successful chefs, and when they have a track record of awards and positive media attention, these conditions can work together to make it easier for women chefs to become chef-owners. This can help women who aspire to become culinary empire builders… Women who mentor other women can be a major resource in challenging the gender dynamics of the gastronomic field.”

Let’s level the playing field in the food world. Let’s not assume that women opt out because it is a time-consuming career with what can be grueling hours. We can do better and with your help, make an impact to help women grow their businesses.  So join COOKGIRL, sign up for our e-newsletter COOKGIRL COURIER, follow us on social media @cookgirlnation, participate in the conversation, and give to the COOKGIRL FOUNDATION to help us meet our goals to give our first grants in 2016.

And let’s all Cook On!

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