Only 6 percent of top chefs are women, and some blame the lack of paid maternity leave

Feb 15, 2016, 11:05 AM | Updated: 11:08 am
Rachel Marshall (left), owner of Rachel's Ginger Beer, Montana and Nacho Boracho & Molly Moon Neitzel, owner of Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream, both provide all employees with 12 weeks of paid family leave. (Photo by Rachel Belle)

Over the past couple years, there’s been much debate among the American restaurant industry about why there are so few female top chefs.

“Something like 4-6% of top chefs are women. It’s really kind of depressing,” says Amanda Kludt, editor-in-chief of the website Eater.

She recently wrote a popular piece called “Escaping the Restaurant Industry’s Motherhood Trap. How paid parental leave could solve the culinary gender gap.”

“I’ve always thought one of the reasons that more females don’t move up in the culinary space is because they’re taking care of their children, they are the moms and it starts with maternity leave. When they get pregnant, a lot of women just end up not coming back because they can’t afford to.”

The United States and Papua New Guinea are the only industrialized nations in the world that don’t offer paid leave to new mothers and fathers. And if you work at a restaurant with less than 50 employees, have worked there for under a year or aren’t a full time employee, you aren’t even entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from the FMLA.

“A lot of women in the industry will go back after two weeks because they don’t want to miss out on that payment. It’s a really big deal to have a baby, it does a lot to your body. And you want to be there for your child. So going back to work after two weeks, though I know Marissa Mayer did it, it’s harder if you’re just an hourly worker in the restaurant industry.”

Kludt interviewed chefs, male and female restaurant owners and restaurant workers around the country. Famed New York chef David Chang told Amanda it’s often impossible for restaurants to afford to pay for leave.

“The margins are very slim in restaurants,” Kludt says. “There’s not a lot that people have to play with to give good benefits to their employees. I think a lot of restaurateurs would say, and I would agree, that this is something the government needs to help with because they can’t find the money to do it. It would bankrupt them and they would go out of business.”

Here in Seattle, Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream provides 12 weeks of 100% paid leave for moms and dads who just had a baby, adopted or are fostering one. Owner Molly Moon Neitzel says she made the choice after having her baby a few years ago.

“I had an employee, in my first year of business, have a baby within the company and I didn’t offer her paid family leave and it was hugely regrettable,” says Neitzel. “Then, the most interesting factor that led me to create the policy, was talking to a few men in our company who were trying to decide if Molly Moon’s could be their forever job or if it wasn’t really a career kind of company and they needed to move on and find a more grownup job. I wanted to do this as a retention plan and say, no, Molly Moon’s can be your career.”

But she thinks the government should be paying for family leave, and hopes to lead by example with her program’s success.

“I think that paid parental leave needs to be a part of FICA federal taxes and those are four things that you may or may not use. It’s just like LNI taxes, it’s just like unemployment taxes, these are social programs that we need to make the fabric of our society strong.”

Paid leave aside, Kludt found several examples of women being discriminated against for having children. A successful chef, who wanted to remain anonymous, was working with two male partners to open her own restaurant.

“When she was going over all the legal paperwork, there was a clause saying that if she wasn’t actively working for any period of time, that she would have to give up all of her equity. And when she asked what active employment meant, they said, ‘For example, if you got pregnant, you wouldn’t be able to work for a period of time, therefore you would give up all of your equity.’ It was such a shock to her and so offensive. It’s not really illegal because you can put whatever you want in a contract between two people. But it really shows what kinds of subtle discrimination happens to women that we don’t hear about.”

In Kludt’s article, she says 80% of Americans are in favor of paid parental leave.

Rachel Belle

King County repair event...
Rachel Belle

King County free repair events keep your stuff out of the landfill

King County Solid Waste Division sponsors 15 to 20 free repair events a year at various libraries and community centers. Volunteers fix and mend about 80% of the items people bring in.
4 years ago
"I had always wanted to go to school but it was never something that was an opportunity," Shawna Co...
Rachel Belle

Seattle Milk Fund pays for childcare so low income parents can afford college

The second oldest non-profit in Seattle, Seattle Milk Fund spends $300,000 on childcare every year, so low-income parents can afford to go to college and make more money for their family.
7 years ago
Georgie Kunkel began doing stand-up comedy in her 80s, and at 95 she gets on stage once a month to ...
Kipp Robertson

Seattle’s 95-year-old stand-up comedian ain’t no joke

West Seattle's Georgie Kunkel started doing stand-up comedy in her 80s, and at 95 she gets on stage once a month to tell funny stories taken from her life.
7 years ago

Sponsored Articles

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.
Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.
SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Only 6 percent of top chefs are women, and some blame the lack of paid maternity leave