Why Women Can’t Cook (in the Nation’s Best Restaurants)

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Photo: Wavebreak Media LTD

What’s the worst possible career to have if you’re a woman and you’re thinking about having children (or already do)? In the United States, one of the industrialized countries in the world with no mandated paid maternity leave, you can probably take your pick from a host of options, but Amanda Kludt at Eater has made a compelling case for most of the jobs in the culinary world, in the kitchen and out: maitre d’, manager, sommelier, line cook, chef — these are full-time careers, where women are abysmally underrepresented.

Plenty of op-eds have asked why there aren’t more top women chefs and guessed at the answers: discrimination, long hours, aggressive (read: hostile?) work environments. Maybe women just don’t like cooking?

But Kludt makes a pretty compelling case that there are fewer women working in top kitchens across the U.S. simply because their policies — written and unwritten — aren’t friendly to any woman who has or will have children. One big reason for this, she writes, is that restaurants’ margins are notoriously tight, making them less likely to offer the types of benefits to employees that other companies are slowly (so slowly) moving toward.

The few women who do succeed in such a competitive industry often have to make incredible sacrifices, though that doesn’t really set the restaurant business apart, as any working mother can tell you. And, as any working mother will also tell you, things don’t get better simply because we finally recognize the source of the problem. But it certainly gets the ball rolling.