FAB conference

Kat Kinsman, who's written about the toll that harassment takes on restaurant workers' mental health, last year sat on a FAB panel. Provided/ Reese Moore Photography 

In response to the sexual harassment revelations that have lately roiled the nation’s restaurant industry, labor advocates have urged employers to create and enforce policies so women feel more comfortable speaking out in unsafe situations. But top human resources professionals say female food-and-beverage employees also need to stick up for themselves when everything’s going well at work.

Namely, women aren’t necessarily asking for the training opportunities they need to advance their careers, according to Momofuku’s vice president for human resources.

“I tell this to everybody that will listen to me: Development is your responsibility,” Leslie Ferrier says. “If you’re lucky enough to have a company that’s supportive: Great. If you’re working for one that isn’t, it probably isn’t the right company to be working for.”

Ferrier is scheduled to speak at FAB, a two-day conference for women in the hospitality industry which returns to Charleston on June 10. While founder Randi Weinstein says response to the event has been tremendously enthusiastic, she suspects the pace of registration was slowed because members of her target audience were reluctant to lobby their supervisors for financial support.

“It’s sometimes intimidating,” allows Susan Spikes, who’s also presenting at FAB. Spikes was the executive vice president of operations for Hill Country Barbecue Market before recently launching an independent consulting firm.

She continues, “But part of the ask is the question: ‘Don’t you want our organization represented? This company is forward-facing and investing in the future of women: If you believe in that, then why do we want to be one of the few not at the table?’”

Spikes believes continuing education should be demanded along with more traditional benefits, such as health insurance and paid vacation. While the restaurant industry is notorious for offering employees little more than minimum wage, the labor pool is now so shallow that restaurateurs are trying to woo workers with offers to pay off their student debt, as The New York Times last week reported.

“When anyone in a company starts talking about these things openly, the people who decide on budgets start understanding what’s important to the people who are working there,” Spikes says.

Still, there are rational reasons why women wouldn’t rush to demand any of the above. A 2017 survey of 70,000 men and women by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. revealed that women ask for promotions and raises just as frequently as their male counterparts, upending conventional wisdom that women suffer in the workplace because they’re afraid to champion their success.

The study also showed that women who try to negotiate the terms of their job are more likely than men to receive feedback that they’re “bossy” or “aggressive.”

Despite those discouraging findings, Spikes and Ferrier say women should press ahead in their pursuit of continuing education. But they agree it’s critical that they frame the requests carefully.

“You need to get your arguments in order,” Ferrier says. “You need to say, ‘This is how it’s going to benefit me. This is how the company is going to get a return on its investment.’”

Employers may say no, Spikes warns. “Sometimes it takes two years to get a yes,” she says. In that case, she suggests women cut costs so they can personally underwrite the learning opportunity. “We hop on buses to go to marches, or at least I hope we do. If your employer isn’t going to make it happen, figure out how much you have to put away on a weekly basis.”

“It’s absolutely an investment,” she says. But reflecting on her experience at FAB last year, she adds, “I think it is hard to measure the kind of innovative energy and collaborative reboot you can get.”

FAB tickets are priced at $500 and $700, depending on which track the registrant chooses. For more information, visit thisisfab.com.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

Food editor and chief critic

Eating all of the chicken livers just as fast as I can.