Bullying may be a large part of why there are so few women in restaurant kitchens today, says Lisa Carlson, chef-owner of mobile kitchen Chef Shack Ranch in Minneapolis. Women often internalize workplace harassment by calling in sick or disengaging, according to researchers at the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University. “As a leader, I’m taking it on as my own challenge to create an environment where that type of behavior is not accepted,” Carlson says.
Check out how she and other operators are crushing workplace bullying and fostering female talent.
1. Don't let it fester
Addressing unacceptable behavior immediately is the first and best way to squash bullying, Carlson says. She recommends that managers and workers work together to establish what unacceptable behavior is in the workplace. “You have to set that boundary immediately,” she says.
2. Give all workers a voice
The most valuable thing a restaurant can do to protect its female team members from workplace bullying is to create a workplace environment in which everyone feels empowered to speak up in a mature and professional manner, says Jill Rouse, HR generalist for Verts Mediterranean Grill. The 28-unit fast casual has an open-door policy that encourages staff to reach out to human resources representatives or an email hotline where team members can report their harassment.
3. Don’t let bullies in the door
Carlson says the biggest way she ensures her operation is bully-free is by testing candidates’ demeanor before she hires them. As part of the interview process, recruits stage for a day. Carlson asks them to cut an onion and waits to see if they ask how she wants it done. If they dice the onion, Carlson will say she actually wanted it chopped, just to see how they will react.
“It’s really great to be able to watch and observe someone’s reaction to a correction,” she says. “I’ve had responses where they say, ‘Well you didn’t tell me.’ That kind of interaction is telling of how they will respond when things are really challenging.”
The exercise also informs potential hires that, unlike the kitchens Carlson came up in, questions are never punished.
4. Train workers to take action
As a manager, it’s important to empower the women that work for and with you, says Chef Pink, aka Crystal DeLongpre—the chef-owner of Bacon & Brine in Solvang, Calif. “Give them the confidence they need to not be crushed under bullying,” she says.
It’s also important to make sure that employees know that work is a safe haven, says Shelley Lindgren, partner and wine director of Neapolitan pizzeria A16 in San Francisco. Tell workers that they are protected by the law and the operation’s management and they don’t need to fix it all themselves, Lindgren says.