When a male audience member at this year's 50 Best Talks event stood up and questioned guest speaker Dominique Crenn about why she chose a career as a chef over raising children - even though, as Crenn pointed out, she has actually done both - Julia Campbell knew the time had arrived to take action.
Campbell, an accountant with Three Blue Ducks, along with a board of women who have shaped the industry, recently founded Women in Hospitality (WOHO) to not only challenge assumptions like that which faced Crenn, but to provide women with connections, advice, role models and inspiration to ensure they thrive in their hospitality careers.
With a roll-call of supporters including Jane Hyland, Lisa Margan, Anna Pavoni, Lyndey Milan and Lisa Hobbs and 300 members already on board including some of the largest employers in the city such as Rockpool, Solotel and Ormeggio, there's a definite buzz around the organisation and its cause.
Here's what you need to know.
What is it?
WOHO is a not-for-profit inspired by the American organisation Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, and supports women working in all areas of hospitality, from front-of-house to chefs, those in head office, bar staff and sommeliers. The focus is on Sydney for now, but there are plans to expand to the rest of the country. Support comes in the form of mentoring, events, education and online communities.
MC Joanna Savill with members of the WOHO board, Anna Pavoni and Lyndey Milan.
While working in New York and as a member of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, Campbell "saw the power and support a group of motivated women could give each other to help grow in the industry." Upon returning to Sydney, she found the local industry was missing a similar support network.
With hospitality traditionally dominated by men, women may often find themselves the only female staff member in a workplace. Add an intensely physical job, long hours and the unique issues women face in their careers - juggling job opportunities with decisions about family and raising children while working - and you have a pretty demanding career on your hands.
Through WOHO, Campbell wants to see women thrive and reach their full potential, rather than leaving the industry because they feel burnt out.
How does it work?
WOHO's membership costs just $10 a month, and membership is free for apprentices and trainees. Anyone can join - you don't have to be a woman, either.
Members are granted access to online communities where you can ask questions, connect with other people in the industry and organise informal meet-ups at times that suit you and your hours. Communities include front-of-house, head office, sommeliers, chefs and one just for job opportunities.
"If a chef at a small restaurant without a wine program wants to ask some a sommelier for wine advice, they can do that. Or someone opening their own restaurant can ask for advice on a business plan or marketing from people in the head office forum," Campbell says.
Tell me more
There's an exciting mentoring program that features the likes of Danielle Alvarez (Fred's), Nadine Ingram (Flour and Stone), Christine Manfield, Jemma Whiteman (Goodluck Pinbone) and Mike Bennie (Rootstock Sydney). And that's just the start! Every three months, a new round of mentors will come on board. They're matched with mentees with similar interests or goals and meet up face-to-face, spending a minimum number of hours chewing the fat or doing hands-on training together.
Young Henry's are also getting behind it with a scholarship to Sydney TAFE's reinvigorated brewing course.
There will also be events, spanning the educational, the fun and the getting-to-know-people. Anyone can attend but members will get advance notice and members' pricing.
Guests at the Women in Hospitality members' launch event on 29 May 2017.
The nine-member board of is a who's who of Australia's food and drink industry over the past 30 years: Jane Hyland, Lisa Margan, Anna Pavoni, Lyndey Milan and Lisa Hobbs are just some of the women driving the initiative.
In August, there'll be a Q&A with Matt Moran, Laura Baratto (head chef of The Paddington Inn and a Moran team member for over 10 years) and Chelsea Carter (general manager of The Paddington Inn) on how Moran's businesses have supported women.
Also on the cards is a summer barbecue with an all-woman pitmaster line-up, a night focusing on female brewers and an intimate dinner showcasing local female suppliers.
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