We Have a Big Problem

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By Stephanie Hammerwold

The recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s long history of harassing and assaulting women and the many women sharing their own stories of assault and harassment have shown that such behavior in the workplace is an epidemic. It is not just a problem that can be attributed to Weinstein and a few other men in power. The sheer number of women telling their own stories is cause for alarm. The pervasiveness of harassment seems to be one of the most well-known secrets of the modern workplace.

Just How Common is the Problem?

In the last few days, the #metoo hashtag has been trending on social media. Countless women have shared their own stories. But many of us did not need social media to confirm what we already knew: harassment is a huge problem in the workplace, even in the 21st century. I do not know any woman who does not have a story of workplace harassment, and I think if you started asking around, you would realize the same thing about the women you know.

One example from my own life comes from a time I was reviewing resumes with a man in upper management. We were sitting close because we were both looking at my computer screen. We were scrolling through the resumes when I suddenly felt his hand resting on my thigh. Not wanting to make a scene, I did not say anything. I shifted in my seat to communicate silently that I was uncomfortable, and the man removed his hand. I was working in HR at the time, and I did not speak up. I let it go because I convinced myself that I did not want to cause trouble. I knew that complaining would have led to an investigation and a possible written warning for the man involved. This was someone I had to interact with regularly, and I feared that it would make future interactions awkward and uncomfortable. Even though in every new employee orientation I led I told new hires to speak up if they experience or witness harassment, I remained silent.

Why is it so Hard to Speak up?

So, why do people who experience harassment remain silent? Why did someone like me—someone who investigated harassment claims as part of her job—not speak up? It is the fear of not being believed. With so many situations like mine and the countless other stories women have been sharing recently, the only evidence is one person’s word against another. Rarely is there security video, a witness or some other proverbial smoking gun that corroborates someone’s version of events. No one wants to come forward with a story of harassment, only to face countless questions that challenge the validity of their claim.

In addition, there is also the sense of not wanting to cause conflict. We fear that we might upset our harasser. I know I did. But when it comes down to it, this is ridiculous. The victim of harassment is not to blame for what happened, so she should not face that burden. Unfortunately though, this is often what happens. It is bad enough that it keeps many silent. That is why it is so important that we all start sharing our stories now. It does not have to be on social media; it can be with one close friend. Even the small conversations are a reminder that we are not alone in having experienced this. There is a community of people ready to believe our stories and offer support. We also need to believe and support each other.

What Can HR Do?

Harassment investigations have always been one of the most challenging parts of my job as an HR professional. As I mentioned before, it often comes down to one person’s word against another. Management is putting on the pressure to find solid confirmation before signing off on major disciplinary action or termination. It becomes even more challenging when the accused is someone in upper management or a longtime or key employee. I have been in situations where I recommended termination in such cases, only to have upper management decide on a warning because they did not want to lose someone the deemed to betoo important to fire. Sadly, a warning does little to stem the behavior in such cases.

We need to start by taking claims of harassment seriously. I have seen some of my HR colleagues immediately jump to finding ways to say the behavior was not harassment. They try to explain it away as a misunderstanding. This is why employees do not come forward to talk about harassment. It takes tremendous bravery to walk into HR and tell the story of experiencing harassment. When the result of that is a dismissive HR person, it makes bringing forward such complaints feel pointless—especially when the employee still has to face the harasser on a regular basis.

We also need to take harassment prevention training seriously. It is common practice these days to do online training that employees can passively participate in. This is not enough. We need to redesign our harassment prevention training so that we can have real discussion about this problem. Someone like Weinstein should not have been allowed to continue for that many years when his bad behavior was well known. There are countless other Weinsteins out there in many other industries. This is not just a problem in the entertainment industry. It is everywhere.

As I have argued on this blog before, we need to start addressing consent and respect in schools. These are values that should be instilled in people in childhood. Any of my HR colleagues who have sat in a room full of adults and trained them on preventing workplace harassment knows that it can be impossible to try to change the minds of those who do not acknowledge that harassment is a workplace problem. These are the people who sit in a training and say things like, “Well, what if I was just being friendly, and the woman misunderstood it and cries harassment?” If the first time we are talking about harassment prevention is when people reach adulthood, it can be extremely difficult to do years of normalizing harassing behavior. Many of the stories I have heard, especially in the last few days, are very clearly inappropriate and go far beyond what any reasonable person would consider a misunderstanding. Putting your hand on a coworker's thigh, for example, is never appropriate in the workplace.

Those of us who work in HR also need to speak up. When we know there is someone in upper management with a well-known reputation for harassing employees, say something. When the powers that be try to dismiss such claims, fight back. Enlist others in power to join you in that fight. Yes, there is risk, but if we remain silent, we are complicit. It is going to take HR professionals and those in power to say, “Enough!” Change needs to happen from the top.

The Challenge Ahead

As more information on Weinstein comes out, we need to keep reminding ourselves that his story is not an anomaly. While his story may be unusual in that it is so high profile and involves a number of famous victims, it is common. We live in a country that elected a president who has a well-documented history of inappropriate behavior toward women. Not only was there the infamous Access Hollywood tape, but he is known for walking into the changing room at a pageant he owned where young women were in various states of dress as they prepared to take the stage. In a culture that is fine with such a man being president, it is clear we have a lot of work to do.

For anyone in a position of power at a company, it is imperative that we speak up. Those in leadership positions must call out bad behavior and take the appropriate disciplinary action, even if it means firing a longtime manager or someone who is seen as an asset to the company. If someone harasses employees, are they really an asset? For each complaint of harassment we dismiss or ignore, it means that there is the potential that more people will be harassed.

Take Note: Addressing Bad Behavior in the Workplace


By Stephanie Hammerwold

After what has been one of the highest profile terminations of the year, former FBI Director James Comey recently testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. From an HR perspective, one of the key things to come out of Comey's story of the events leading up to his termination was the fact that Comey took notes on his interactions with the president. While it is currently unclear what the results of all the testimony from Comey and others will mean, there are lessons to be learned here about what to do when you suspect your boss or another authority at work are engaged in ongoing questionable or inappropriate behavior.

Why Documentation Matters

In my HR career, I have done a fair number of workplace investigations. Sometimes I was lucky and had compelling evidence such as security camera footage, text messages or emails that backed up the complainant's story. But more often than not, a workplace investigation comes down to one person's word against another. In these situations, the HR person investigating the complaint has to sort through interviews and statements to determine as best they can what actually happened. The situation between Comey and the president was like this, so we are left with what many have called a he said/he said situation.

We can learn a lot from Comey's actions prior to his termination. Comey chose to document conversations with the president in memos. He stated that he did so because he was worried the president would lie about the nature of their meetings. While notes about meetings are subject to bias and do not provide the solid proof that things like emails or security camera footage can, they do add credibility to someone's version of events. This points to the biggest piece of advice I give any friend telling me of problems with a particular person at work: document what is happening.

What to Document

When we try to recall events from the past, our memories can get fuzzy, and specific details can slip from our minds. Writing things down immediately after they happened means you have a clearer recollection of what happened. It also gives you a chance to write down facts before you have had a chance to talk it through with someone else, think about what happened or do anything else that can add layers of interpretation and meaning to the initial interaction.

Be as specific as possible. Include dates and times, names of any witnesses and details about what happened and what was said. Keeping careful records of what is happening strengthens your complaint and gives HR a clear sense of the problem. It can be challenging for HR when you come forward and simply say your boss is treating you horribly; however, if you present notes showing details of a meeting where the boss yelled at an employee and other moments of bad behavior, it gives HR specific issues to address with the bad boss. Documenting repeated incidents also helps establish a pattern of bad behavior, which is something your HR department should quickly address.

What to Do with Documentation

For most of us, taking the steps Comey did to get his memos to the New York Times are unnecessary. When you notice bad behavior is ongoing, it is time to take things to HR. With your documentation in hand, you have details that go beyond, "My boss is mean." Specific details give HR a firm place to start their investigation. Submitting your notes will also ensure that your version of events is clearly documented.

Even after HR has wrapped up an investigation and taken appropriate disciplinary action against the offending party, keep an eye on the situation. If things get bad again, document the incidents and report them to HR, so they can take further disciplinary action.

The advice in this post refers to ongoing issues, but keep in mind that it is good to document a single serious incident as well. If something is severe, always report it to HR right away. But even if you have told your story to HR, it is still a good idea to take a moment to write down your version of events shortly after it happened. Once again, it helps ensure that you get important details down on paper before your memory gets hazy.

Some Final Thoughs

While the types of incidents we investigate in the workplace are not quite at the level of the events unfolding in DC, we can take important lessons from the investigation. Most relevant to the average workplace is the value of good documentation. In HR we often remind managers to document performance problems and conversations with employees, and the same holds true for employees who notice ongoing problems with a coworker or boss. It strengthens your complaint and helps provide accurate and specific detail about what you experienced.

Consent and the Locker Room: Why Words Matter


By Stephanie Hammerwold

Recently video surfaced of Donald Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women. You have probably seen the video by now, so there is no need to link to the clip of his vulgar language here. Countless hours have been spent analyzing, criticizing and in some cases defending what Trump said in the clip as well as similar comments he has made throughout the course of his campaign. Those that defend Trump, and Trump himself, explain it away as “locker-room talk.” As a feminist and someone who has spent a good part of my HR career leading training on preventing workplace harassment, this explanation makes me cringe.

When we talk about preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, we are trying to help foster workplaces free of these kinds of comments as well as many of the other comments we have heard Trump make about women and a wide variety of people who fall into protected classes. With the election only a few weeks away, and one of the top two contenders for president being a man who does things that could get him fired for harassment in an ordinary job, I think it is important that we take a moment and look at why it is necessary that we call out this kind of bad behavior both in the workplace and when it comes to the highest office in the U.S.

Consent & Respect

The most disturbing thing about the Trump’s comments is not his use of a vulgar word to describe a part of a woman’s body; it was his complete disregard for consent. In fact, he was boasting about sexually assaulting women. As I mentioned in my recent post on harassment training, it is important that harassment prevention education includes discussions about consent, and this should start with how we talk about appropriate behavior with kids in school.

Those who defend Trump ignore the fact that his original message spoke of lack of consent. This points to a big problem in how many people still do not grasp this concept. It is never OK to touch a woman (or anyone for that matter) without their consent. When business leaders and people running for president express ideas that disregard consent, it shows a profound lack of respect for women. This attitude is harmful to everyone.

In a speech Michelle Obama gave in New Hampshire on October 13, she explained what happens if we speak the way Trump did, “We're telling our sons that it's OK to humiliate women. We're telling our daughters that this is how they deserve to be treated. We're telling all our kids that bigotry and bullying are perfectly acceptable in the leader of their country.”

Trump’s words and the words of others who behave like him harm all of us. People like him set a bad example for how to treat women—the message is that women do not deserve to be respected. Now, more than ever, it is necessary that we denounce this type of behavior and demand that our leaders behave in a way that is respectful to all people.

Changing the Idea that “Boys Will be Boys”

Underlying much of the response from those that defend Trump’s comments or dismiss them as “locker-room talk” is this sense that boys will be boys. Most women have come across the consequences of this attitude at least once in their lives. It is the kind of attitude that dismisses sexist comments, catcalling or inappropriate touching. It is time we put an end to this.

In the days following the release of the Trump recording, I was moved by the number of my male friends who were appalled by what Trump said and who said they never spoke with their friends in that manner. Again, it was not about the vulgar word Trump used, but his complete disregard for consent. It gives me hope that there are plenty of men out there, including our current president, who never think it is acceptable to talk about and treat women in the way Trump has. In fact, Trump’s response to the recording was an insult to decent men who respect women.

It is time for all of us to speak up when we hear this kind of damaging talk and to call out those who treat women in this manner. Words matter—especially when they come from someone who is running for president.

Leading by Example

Back in August President Barack Obama wrote a piece for Glamour where he explained why he is a feminist, and a lot of that had to do with the kind of example he wants to set for his daughters. He explains, “Yes, it’s important that their dad is a feminist, because now that’s what they expect of all men.” Just take a moment and let that sink in. Then compare it to some of the things Trump has said about women. A Trump presidency would reinforce the idea that it is OK to speak disparagingly about women and to judge them solely based on appearance and body size. Even more disturbing is that Trump’s words about women often perpetuate a culture where claims of rape and sexual assault are not taken seriously.

Those in charge must lead by example. This includes those who lead from boardrooms, the White House, classrooms and really any leadership position. Words matter, and the way we talk about others can have a profound effect on our society. Remember that when you head to the polls on November 8.

Is Harassment Prevention Training Effective in the Workplace?

Harassment prevention training has become commonplace at most businesses. In fact, there is a big industry devoted to online training, in-person training, educational videos and other resources to help employers train employees and managers on preventing, recognizing and addressing harassment. Some states, like California, have mandatory training requirements for supervisory employees. So, with all this training, harassment complaints have virtually disappeared from the American workplace, right?

The truth is that harassment claims are still common. Look no further than headlines about Roger Ailes and Fox News for a high profile example. In addition, according to a report issued recently by an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) task force, training is ineffective when it alone is a company’s approach to preventing harassment. But we cannot just toss our training materials out the nearest window and give up on finding a way to rid our workplaces of harassment. It is time to open up a wider conversation about why harassment is still a big problem and what we can do to change our culture to one of respect.

Why Traditional Training is Often Ineffective

During my HR career, I have spent quite a few hours leading harassment training. At the first company I did training, we used curriculum we ordered from a training company. The majority of the training involved participants watching harassment scenarios mixed with commentary by two attorneys. It was a very passive approach to training because there was little real-life discussion other than what was generated in the questions I was asked as a trainer.  Eventually I added to the training, cut down on the video portion and added in discussion, which created a far more engaging session. Some companies use online training, which can also be passive and result in participants who spend the time when the video is playing checking their phones or zoning out. Such an approach to harassment training sends the message that a company is doing the training because they are legally required to and not because they have a vested interest in improving the workplace culture.

The EEOC task force found that, “…training is an essential component of an anti-harassment effort. However, to be effective in stopping harassment, such training cannot stand alone but rather must be part of a holistic effort undertaken by the employer to prevent harassment that includes…elements of leadership and accountability… the training must have specific goals and must contain certain components to achieve those goals.”

So, we do not necessarily need to ditch our training programs, but it is time to take a look at how training can be improved to fulfill its intended goals and how companies can improve at the leadership level in a way that creates a culture of respect. Training alone is simply not enough—especially when that training is no more than an employee clicking through videos and quiz questions every two years.

The EEOC report points to multiple studies that show the limited effects of training and even looked at one study that found that those with more of a tendency to harass were more likely to have a negative reaction to harassment training. In my own experience as a trainer, I found this to be true. Such participants were often the ones who would make jokes about harassment being acceptable if the harasser was a young, attractive woman, or they might bring up how they believed women often lied about harassment complaints to get attention or to get back at a man. Training did nothing to change their beliefs.

Leading by Example and a Culture of Respect

As the EEOC points out, training can be beneficial if done correctly. Training should be for all employees with extra training for those in supervisory roles. They recommend avoiding “canned” training and instead developing a program that draws from examples relevant to the specific workplace. They also emphasize the importance of live, interactive training. This allows participants to actively engage with the material and to ask questions.

In addition to training, upper management needs to support anti-harassment policies and initiatives. If top-level executives do not take harassment complaints seriously or are harassers themselves, training is going to do little to change the culture.

The task force also recommends workplace civility training to go over positive behaviors rather than just focusing on what employees should not do. This once again points to the larger issue: building a culture of respect. A culture of harassment has a huge effect on morale and productivity. It can cause all manner of suffering and mental anguish for victims and even for those who witness such behavior.

Harassment itself points to a larger issue of a culture that seems to think it is acceptable to demean people based on sex or other protected classes. As we have watched the presidential race unfold, we have the candidate of one major party who regularly degrades women he does not like by commenting on their bodies or looks. It’s no wonder that harassment is still a problem in the modern workplace when political leaders engage in such behavior.

Training Needs to Start in School

Harassment prevention training needs to start sooner. We need to start talking about things like consent and respecting others with kids. It is too late to start training when people are adults and in the workplace. Workplace training should not be someone's first exposure to understanding the importance of respect and not harassing others. While training for children need not include examples of sexual harassment, it should include thorough discussions of what it means when someone says no and respecting personal boundaries. Such education helps develop adults who enter the workforce already understanding that harassment is wrong.

It is important that we work to develop effective harassment prevention training and that we regularly evaluate that training to ensure that it continues to be a positive influence on behavior in the workplace. It is equally important for business leaders to lead by example and to call out other leaders who engage in harassing behavior. We need to avoid the practice of ignoring someone’s bad behavior because they produce good work. But simply making changes in the workplace alone is not enough.

Harassment is not just a workplace problem. It extends to how we treat each other in all areas of life. But until we recognize that and act accordingly, harassment training alone will have little effect on our workplace and everyday lives.

The HR Hammer’s Christmas List

By Stephanie Hammerwold

I like to think I’ve been pretty good this year and that I ended up on Santa’s nice list. So, in the midst of wrapping presents and snacking on one too many holiday cookies, I wanted to take some time to share my Christmas list for the workplace:

  1. Paid leave for parents—The U.S. lags behind many other countries when it comes to paid leave for those who recently had a baby, adopted a child or took in a foster child. Some companies have jumped on board and implemented their own paid leave options, and some states have paid leave programs, but we need to have a nationwide law that reflects the realities of working parents.
  2. Easier access to employment for the formerly incarcerated—One of the keys to lowering recidivism is helping the formerly incarcerated find jobs with a decent income. Unfortunately, having a criminal record can be a huge strike against someone in their quest to find employment. Once released, people have paid their debt to society and should be given the opportunity to rebuild their lives. Opening up access to employment is a huge step toward that.
  3. No more performance reviews—If you are a regular reader, you know my feelings on this topic. It’s time to ditch the traditional review and to go with a system of ongoing feedback.
  4. And speaking of things to get rid of…let’s think about doing away with salary negotiation. I am not a big fan of the game playing that goes on in the negotiation process. I think it immediately sets up a relationship of employer vs. employee. I prefer a straightforward offer and a process that does not solely favor those who happen to be good at negotiation.
  5. Benefits that extend to all employees—Too often when we hear about a company offering excellent benefits, they only extend to office staff. Those who work in low-wage jobs, such as in distribution centers, are often excluded from generous paid family leave and other perks. Some of the hardest working people I know work in low-wage jobs, and we should not forget the value they add to a company when designing benefits programs.
  6. Productive conversations about finding ways to raise the minimum wage—The minimum wage is not livable for employees, and employers worry that raising wages will be unaffordable. We need to have conversations around this issue and find solutions to the huge wage gap we are currently experiencing in the U.S.
  7. A move toward kindness—I recently wrote about this, and I think it is an important reminder as we get further into the presidential election cycle where mud slinging and hate speech are commonplace. There is power in being nice.
  8. Workplaces free from discrimination and harassment—No one should go to work and worry about being harassed or discriminated against because of who they are. We live in a time where same-sex marriage is legal, yet sexual orientation is not a protected class in every state. We have also seen local laws in some place that are aimed at restricting bathroom access for transgender people, and we have heard horrible anti-Muslim rhetoric from some high profile figures. These forms of discrimination are not acceptable, and we owe it to our employees to create workplaces that are accepting and welcoming to everyone.
  9. A focus on finding ways to improve the workplace for employees—Employees are a big part of what can make a company successful, so it is important that we find ways to support them through good wages, excellent benefits, employee appreciation and more.
  10. More books—OK, this one is for me more than the workplace, but I want to encourage everyone to take some time to read in the coming year. It is an excellent escape from all the stresses of work.

Have a wonderful holiday season!


Women Chefs & Gender Inequality in the Kitchen

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An Interview with Deborah A. Harris & Patti Giuffre

By Stephanie Hammerwold

In today’s media we are inundated with the world of restaurants and chefs. There are several networks devoted entirely to cooking, restaurants and food as a metaphor for culture. This is especially evident in Las Vegas where towering banners display the faces of celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Emeril Lagasse, Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay, chefs whose eateries serve as the flagship dining experience in the biggest casinos and generate millions of dollars in sales every year. 

In my time there recently, one thing was glaringly obvious: with the exception of a large banner for Giada De Laurentiis and a small sign for a restaurant by Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken (known as the Too Hot Tamales) the most advertised and most recognized restaurants were all owned by men. In all the focus on high profile restaurants, professional kitchens and the back of the house, one thing is clear: the profession is still largely male-dominated.

In Taking the Heat: Women Chefs and Gender Inequality in the Professional Kitchen, Deborah Harris and Patti Giuffre analyze the history of the culinary industry and how it has evolved to be almost exclusively the domain of male chefs. Their book includes interviews with 33 women chefs as well as an analysis of media data to determine how women chefs are portrayed and perceived. I recently interviewed Harris and Giuffre about their research and new book.

What is your background in sociology and women’s studies?

Deborah Harris (DH): I received my PhD from Mississippi State University in 2007 with a focus in social stratification and inequality. Gender inequality has always been an academic interest of mine.

My early research examined how social inequality was manifested in social welfare policies, particularly how low-income rural women navigated changes in cash welfare programs that encouraged work and marriage as routes off public assistance. Since then I have studied how women are depicted in wilderness recreation advertising and how this might impact how women feel about engaging in these activities. While working on the project that would become Taking the Heat, I developed an interest in the sociology of food and I am currently examining how college students perform gender in their food diaries that describe their daily eating habits. 

Patti Giuffre (PG): I received by PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in 1996. I first became interested in gender inequality in the workplace during my many years working in restaurants as a hostess, cocktail waitress, bartender and waitress. My observations during my restaurant work became the basis of my first study, which concerned sexual harassment in restaurants. I have also conducted research on homophobia and sexual orientation discrimination in workplaces.

How did you become interested in analyzing gender in the workplace through professional kitchens?

DH: This research was inspired by my love of the reality television competition, Top Chef. When I began teaching at Texas State, I had a ritual of coming home Wednesday nights and curling up to watch Top Chef each week. During one episode, the chefs were told they were being rewarded for their hard work and treated to a night out at a Miami nightclub. All the chefs dressed to the nines only to find out, once they reached the nightclub, that it was all part of a cooking challenge that required them to design a menu and cook at a food truck in front of the club. The chefs had to perform all the shopping, running around and cooking in their dressy clothes, and some of the women were very upset that they were having to perform these tasks in high heels, dresses and makeup. One chef even adamantly declared that she never let her male colleagues see her like that (i.e. in very feminine dress). I wondered why she was so upset, but then I started thinking about how, as a male-dominated career, women chefs may want to downplay their femininity to fit in better at work.

While I wouldn’t call myself a foodie at the time, I realized that, while I could name several men chefs, I couldn’t name any women chefs. All the women who I thought of were not actual “chefs” but were Food Network hosts. I was struck by the irony that, when cooking happened in the home it’s seen as a more feminine activity, but in the professional world men did more cooking. I discussed this with my colleague, Patti Giuffre, and we decided to use professional chefs as a case study for examining the mechanisms through which gender inequality is maintained at work. If any job would be more open to women’s entry, it would seem that being a chef would fit, but that didn’t seem to be the case and we wanted to know why. Seven short years later and we had a book!

We found the work of chefs and the culinary industry to be fascinating because no other male-dominated occupations are based upon an activity that is culturally defined as “feminine” or “women’s work” in the home.
—Patti Giuffre

PG: We were fascinated by the current superstar chef trend. We were also interested in how the work of chefs is unique compared to other male-dominated occupations. There are many studies of women’s experiences in male-dominated industries, workplaces, and jobs (e.g. construction, police, firefighting, coal mining, gas and oil industry). We found the work of chefs and the culinary industry to be fascinating because no other male-dominated occupations are based upon an activity that is culturally defined as “feminine” or “women’s work” in the home. We suspected that men chefs might have more at stake in defining their work in the professional kitchen as something that is completely different from the type of cooking that typically occurs in the home. The nose-to-tail and molecular gastronomy culinary trends seem to further delineate the type of cooking that occurs in professional kitchens from cooking that occurs in the home.

How might the restaurant industry (and other employers for that matter) change their approach to harassment training in order to encourage an environment where sexual joking and teasing are not the norm?

DH: The really simple answer to this question is for kitchen leadership to make it very clear about what kinds of behavior is considered harassment and won’t be tolerated. A more thorough answer would have to take into account the different models of restaurants. Our participants discussed how there were a greater number of corporately-owned restaurants these days. On one hand, these restaurants tended to have more standardized menus, so they weren’t the most exiting places to work as a chef. However, because of the corporate influence, these restaurants were more likely to have more formal channels in place for dealing with sexual harassment.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are a lot of smaller, chef-owned restaurants where things like HR departments simply don’t exist. In these scenarios, the person complaints would go to would be the chef or owner, which may very well be the person who’s committing the harassing behavior. 

In both cases, what is important is that there is a culture where workers feel like they can report harassing behavior without reprisal or being labeled “too sensitive.” Historically, professional kitchens have earned a reputation as “rowdy” places to work, so workers may feel that this is the kind of behavior that is expected—and even desired—in the kitchen. But if those in charge in the kitchen make it known what the boundaries are and emphasize a more professional atmosphere, this can impact the workplace. Coworkers learn what is and is not acceptable behavior and those who have harassment complaints know they can report the behavior and something will be done to address the situation.

PG: Studies suggest that sexual harassment training is rarely taken seriously by workers. And, workers often do not know whether behaviors are sexual harassment or not. Workers in restaurant kitchens tend to engage in a lot of sexual joking and banter. In these types of sexualized workplaces, workers have an even more difficult time identifying what is “fun” and “funny” versus what is sexual harassment (unwelcome sexual behaviors). Management must take it seriously, and inform workers that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. They must also enforce company policies (that is, IF there is a policy). 

Corporate restaurants are more likely than small, independently-owned restaurants to offer policies, training, and enforcement. Interestingly, the women chefs we interviewed believe that the presence of women leaders in the kitchen will deter sexual harassment. They say that women ARE changing the kitchen culture to discourage offensive behaviors. Perhaps more women in leadership roles in kitchens will eventually alter the sexualized culture.

In your book, you mention the popularity of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. As you point out, the lean in approach may work for some women, but it tends to uphold the traditional masculine workplace as the norm. How do we move beyond the self-empowerment approach to really transform the workplace? Are visibility of marginalized people and improved leave laws, benefits, flexibility, etc. enough?

DH: In part of your question, you ask if increased visibility and workplace policies enough. For chefs, much of what it takes to be labeled a “success” involves moving up kitchen hierarchies and opening one’s own restaurant (or even multiple restaurants). As a creative career, media and other forms of visibility is crucial for financial success and getting access to investors and other sources of capital. So, in this case, being a chef is more like other creative careers (fashion design, etc.) and having more visibility is a great start. It shouldn’t stop there, however, and more attention (and pressure) should be put on industries and organizations to provide more benefits and support for workers. 

PG: We have been intrigued by and a little skeptical about the “lean in” phenomenon. Lean in compels women to stand up for themselves, “bang the table,” self-promote, and get their voice heard. Leaning in speaks to many women workers around the U.S. who like the individual empowerment messages contained in leaning in. Lean in strategies seem to help some women in the short term but do not contribute to larger changes in an industry. Some of the women chefs in our study described a survivor mentality that was very similar to lean in. Policy changes like family leave or flexibility certainly can help support women but even with supportive policies there are particular groups of women would be penalized if they leaned in (e.g. women of color, queer women, and/or women who work outside of white collar corporations).

Sandberg’s lean in strategies might work best for some groups of women (e.g. heterosexual women, white women, women in the “1%”). The survivor ethic contained in leaning in can contribute to criticisms of less successful women by highly successful women for not being more ambitious. It can also cause women to downplay the bias and discrimination they have encountered.

Sandberg’s book has good intentions but is detrimental to our thinking about gender inequality at work because it focuses our attention on individual-level “choices” or what (certain) women can do to fix themselves. One of our sociology colleagues, Dr. Kirsten Dellinger, Professor at the University of Mississippi, raised a great question at a recent conference: What would it mean for organizations to lean in for gender equality? Organizations leaning in are probably more likely to transform the workplace than individuals leaning in.

I like the example of Thomas Keller’s kitchen and how he maintains a calm environment that seems to go against the wild and chaotic view we often have of a professional kitchen. How do we further this idea that a successful workplace does not necessarily have to be loud and macho? How does an environment like Keller's further add to the professionalism of chefs and allow for the growth of a wide array of people in the field?

DH: I think this case really illustrates the power of media depictions of chefs. Our participants really felt that chef-related media from Hell’s Kitchen to shows on The Food Network gave an inaccurate picture of what is was really like to work in a kitchen. While several women had worked for the yelling, angry chef who threw food or pots and pans around the kitchen, most admitted that behavior was on its way out. If various media outlets started showing a more realistic—or at least a more varied—depictions of what working in a kitchen is like, this could affect how people viewed the occupation. Similarly, culinary schools could help encourage more professional behavior by discussing the realities of life in the kitchen to their students. 

I agree with your conclusion that struggles with work-family balance, long hours, etc. are not unique to the chef profession, and there is a lot to think about in terms of how we balance work and family regardless of gender. How do you think we can take your conclusions from this book and apply them to other workplaces?

DH: Again, I think the relevance of culture is important in this case. One way to increase work-family balance across many fields is to normalize paid leave for both parents and to encourage parents to take time off knowing that their jobs will be safe. This can be helped by larger cultural shifts that emphasize a sharing of parental roles. When it becomes more popular for both parents to share family responsibilities, this will help pressure industries to be more family friendly instead of having more gender-specific policies.

One way to increase work-family balance across many fields is to normalize paid leave for both parents and to encourage parents to take time off knowing that their jobs will be safe.
—Deborah A. Harris

PG: Our findings apply to many workplaces that are highly demanding and want “work devoted” employees who prioritize work over family. Most American workplaces are not truly family- or caregiver-friendly. Many Americans are trying to work AND care for family members and other loved ones. There are some workplaces offering various forms of support for workers, but for now, it really is up to management and ownership to create and enforce policies that are supportive to workers. 

The U.S. is one of the only industrialized countries that doesn’t offer federal paid family leave. We need some federal or state policies that would encourage more workplaces to offer paid family leave. There are four states in the U.S. that offer paid family leave (California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington). Studies find that workers are happier, less stressed out, and actually return to work more quickly in states or workplaces that offer paid family leave. Furthermore, men are more likely to use family leave in states and workplaces that offer it.

Workplaces can offer other forms of support, for example, paid sick leave. We know of some local grocery stores that offer a sick leave pool. Some workers will never use the sick leave, while others will need more. The pool allows all workers who need paid sick leave to use it without fear of being penalized.

Finally, our research can be applied to other workplaces by asking us to consider culture change so that workers who need to care for ill loved ones can do so without facing penalties, biases, or negative responses that they “aren’t dedicated enough.”

Taking the Heat is available from Rutgers University Press in both print and ebook format.