INSIDER: Let's talk about sex

It’s quite the conversation starter these days, as top US celebrity chefs and restaurateurs Mario Batali, John Besh and Ken Friedman, accused of sexual harassment, step down from their restaurant empires. With 89 per cent of hospitality workers experiencing sexual harassment at work*, says Jill Dupleix, when will the Australian restaurant industry call ‘time’s up’?

‘So who will be the first to fall?’ It’s the latest party game when hospo folk get together for a drink. One media organisation has even put together a list of the ‘most likely’ figures in the Australian restaurant industry, ready to publish as soon as the victims speak out.

These big players are just the tip of a bloody, big iceberg, however. Because females still cop it, day after day and night after night, in restaurants, bars, clubs, pubs, training colleges and fast-food franchises. Work colleagues bailing up a young, female apprentice in the cool room. The grabbing of bums, groping of tits, squeezing of legs. Endless comments made about shape, size and sexual proclivity that offend, humiliate and intimidate. Porn in the staff room. And bosses who brush
off complaints or look the other way when diners think that a 10 per cent tip gives them free rein to put their hands where they like.

As the excellent Pete Wells wrote in The New York Times, “Something has gone grotesquely wrong when chefs brag that the chickens they buy lived happy, stress-free lives, but can’t promise us that the women they employ aren’t being assaulted in the storage room.”

Then there are the tired old lines we’ve heard all our lives: “You seem to attract that kind of thing”; “Just laugh it off”; “Boys will be boys”; “Take it as a compliment”; “It’s not his fault”; “Suck it up, it’s all part of the deal”; “You were asking for it”. These are things no girl or woman should hear in 2018. They’re not asking for it. They don’t take it as a compliment. And they’re not laughing it off.

The real dynamics here are power and gender. When you don’t pay women as much as men, when you hire a male instead of an equally talented female, when you exclude women from management roles and overlook them for promotions, when you encourage (or fail to discourage) a blokey, sexist, work culture - you create the perfect environment for workplace bullying and its kissing cousin, sexual harassment.

Thankfully, girls will be girls, and there are helpful new initiatives bubbling up in Australia such as Paige Auburt’s Coleman’s Academy, dedicated to the education and support of women in the bartending industry, and Julia Campbell’s Women In Hospitality (WOHO) for women working in all areas of hospitality.

Because if girls and women continue to be treated as second class citizens by the industry, they will simply leave and do something else. And there will be only one thing left to say about the boys left behind: they were asking for it.

*According to national trade union, United Voice.