Yesterday, Heston Blumenthal came out in the media discussing the problem of hiring women as chefs. Perhaps he needed some publicity or needed some more visitors to his restaurants, who knows. But, whatever the reasons for his comments, this just substantiates the belief that somehow women, just maybe, don’t belong in the workplace. Celebrities really need to consider the comments they make and the impact words they have may have on important issues in the world around them. Whether we like a chosen celebrity or not, a lot of them have influence.
Let’s start with Heston’s comments. To quote (source iNews):
“I have always employed female chefs, but historically and ultimately, the body clock starts working. It’s evolution, and it is one thing to have a 9-5 job and quite another to be a chef with kids.
“So, that makes it difficult . [The physical strain of lifting] Heavy pots and pans…. But I think it is much better now that it was 15 years ago. This I can speak for.”
Let’s Talk Pots and Pans
Mr. Blumenthal, if you don’t think that a woman can lift a heavy pot or pan after having children, I would challenge to carry a kicking and screaming toddler out of Legoland, under your arm and back to the car park. It is no short walk let me tell you, the kicks are pretty painful and it is akin to carrying a thrashing octopus with metal wellingtons at the end of their arms. Trust me, I’ve done it. Have you ever tried the car seat battle? Where you have to wrestle a reluctant child into a car seat, using your elbow as a lever, whilst trying to strap them in and not crack yours or their heads at the same time? I’d take a heavy pan any day of the week.
If you don’t think women are strong or fast enough, look at the incredible Allyson Felix who broke Usain Bolt’s World Record, 10 months postpartum after a c-section no less, to see that women are formidable. Yes even after children, I would argue perhaps even more so.
Ingrained Sexism in Certain Vocations
On a more serious note, I do wonder whether Heston’s comments have been taken out of context, and what he is actually trying to point out is a larger problem in his industry. That the working hours of a chef are not conducive with balancing family life.
So many industries are built on the back of having one working parent in the family and one parent at home, historically a woman. The pervasive culture of presenteeism, the belief that you have to work longer hours to progress, work unsociable hours and shifts to show you really want it. They are all from a time when the world was different. So many people need to wake up and realise this is not the world we live in now. In most families, both parents have to work in order to pay the bills. It’s a fact of life. It’s not ok, to shut a gender out of an industry, just as it’s not ok to deny a certain gender the right to vote.
Heston’s main comments are that the working hours of a chef do not work after someone has children. I would argue, this is not an issue for just women, it’s an issue for ALL parents. Men and women. An industry where the work life balance needs addressing and where it’s more than time the ridiculously long shifts were changed. In doing research for this post I read that it wasn’t uncommon for a chef to work 80-100 hours a week. How is this healthy for any human being, whether they are a parent or not? Surely it’s unsustainable and a recipe for serious health issues?
It’s time for a change, in sector where burning yourself into the ground seems to be akin to success, maybe it’s not a formula that can carry on to exist in the modern world.
Shift work, evening work, can and does work for other sectors and employs many women. I know parents that work in hospitals, at the airport, or into the evening at the supermarket working well into the early hours. It is all completely doable with children, if you change what has always been, to what it should be. Look at flexible work patterns and manage your staff efficiently.
To reiterate, this is not a female issue, it is an issue for all parents and all people that might just want a life. If you want to nurture and encourage great talent that will make your business flourish, you need to look at how to make it better for those who can deliver. Foster loyalty, a healthy environment, a work-life balance and you will reap the rewards.
Old fashioned notions that most women just aren’t tough enough to hack it, need to burying along with the belief that men shouldn’t be looking after their children. The sooner we all shout out loud and demand change, the quicker we will achieve gender equality.