It took me over ten years to earn respect in the hospitality industry and I fight for it still, every day. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I didn’t graduate with a degree in business, that I never went to culinary school, or that my network was small in the early years. My world is dominated by men and it’s been a struggle because of it. Try to name ten women in Chicago that own their own restaurant, are a GM at a restaurant, or are even executive chefs at a restaurant. If you were even able to name ten, I bet it took longer than it should have. And let me be clear, by “my world” I mean the business management/ownership side of the hospitality industry, not the entry level service side. Because that side, is the complete opposite. Women dominate positions like servers, hostesses, bartenders, shot girls, bottle service girls, and brand ambassadors. And although every role is important, there seems to be consistency with who works certain roles or who lands certain opportunities.

I don’t honestly believe that there are very many sexist men anymore. So I’m not saying that all this behavior is intentional; it’s habitual if anything. In fact, I’m not even saying it’s anyone’s fault other than our own (women, I’m actually talking about us). I have a lot of opinions that are based off my own experiences but I thought it to be wise if I got a second opinion, especially from a successful woman in the industry, Leigh Loftus.

Why do you think the restaurant business is dominated by men?

Men respect success and reputation and from what I’ve seen they work with people who’ve proven both in our industry. I don’t spend time convincing people that I'm established, because I have a lot of clients that speak for themselves.

Leigh Loftus

“My integrity is part of me. You don’t buy or fake integrity/reputation, you earn it.” explains Leigh, of Loftus Incorporated. Leigh is a personal friend of mine, and one of the most talented and hard working food photographers I’ve ever worked with. She is also one of the few female friends I have that works primarily with the hospitality industry and that means of course, primarily with men. Leigh and I have gone out on the town several times to network and meet new business prospects. We refer each other work and work together whenever possible. We respect each other and there is nothing other than true friendship and loyalty. But that’s hard to find with women, am I right ladies?

There’s an interesting dynamic here, but you have to pay close attention. You see, my original question to Leigh was this – why do you think the restaurant business is dominated by men? She answered the question by simply stating in her own words that men have a camaraderie and a respect for success. This led us to believe that men believe most women in this industry don’t possess and/or are not capable of this quality, which is why we’re not as accepted as our industry peers. It could also lead us to believe that women don’t value other women’s success and prefer to be in competition with each other instead of supporting one another. As I stated before, I don’t think there’s an overwhelming amount of sexism going on, I think it goes far deeper than that. I think we’re also failing to mention another key factor that plays a role in everything we as humans do; sex.

I do believe that there are a lot of women that finagle their way up the totem pole and leverage sex. Leveraging once can capitalize your growth but then after that, men may not take you seriously. Says Leigh.

It doesn’t sound like these men ever had respect for us to begin with but hey, what do I know. And perhaps that’s a very good point to bring up. If women would stop approaching every situation with “sex sells” maybe we would be taken more seriously. Men don’t get the luxury of batting their lashes and sitting next to the rich guy that bought the bottle. They have to be rich too, or bring something of extreme value in order to be accepted and respected. Women should have to do the same, but because most don’t (because it’s easier not to and men fall for it almost every time), men assume us to be incompetent and not qualified.

“I dated someone that had every connection possible and he would not make introductions for me. Quite frankly, I think he was jealous of me, because when you’re dating someone you’re proud of, you speak highly of them. I didn’t date him for his connections. I dated him because I was truly interested in him. But I can’t speak for many others.” admits Leigh. “Dating someone that is highly connected in this industry can be difficult because it can ruin relationships built if the romantic relationship goes sour. If the value of the introduction is mutually beneficial, it validates what’s said next. It is then up to me to secure the connection outside of the personal realm and it is still valuable to both parties.” So basically if we women want to keep our clients after the romance has faded, we have to keep the boyfriend or make sure that connection is secured on our own? Or perhaps we should avoid dating someone for their connections to begin with. And to play devil’s advocate, if you lose a connection because you lost a boyfriend, you didn’t secure that connection to begin with. Your network is your net worth, so your personality better be strong enough to hold on to those connections regardless of a lost romance.

So I’ll ask the question again, why is the restaurant industry dominated by men? Here’s the dynamic – although women blame men, we as women allow their behavior by taking the easy road. So the next time you’re tempted to bat your lashes, choose wisely. It has a bigger impact than you think; on men, on women, and on the industry. Have a little integrity ladies, it goes a long way.