Restaurants and bars are a safe haven for their customers — well, most of them, anyway. Here, hungry and tired souls can fuel up on food and drink without fear of being mistreated or abused. But for many employees in the F&B industry, it might not be the same. Sexual harassment certainly in the workplace exists across all industries, but statistics show that it’s an issue most prevalent in the culinary world, with 90% of women in food service having experienced some form of sexual harassment from their colleagues or patrons.
Sure enough, scores of stories in the past year alone have exposed celebrity chefs like Mario Batali, John Besh, and Johnny Iuzzini perpetuating less-than-savoury acts at their respective establishments. And the problem hardly stops at America. In Singapore, a group of women has stepped up to form The Anna Alliance, a network of female hospitality professionals in the country and around the region.
Dedicated to celebrating and catalysing the careers of women in the industry, potential members include everyone from front-of-house staff and bartenders to chefs, directors, suppliers, marketing, and back office folk. There are plans to host events such as branding and social media management workshops, or intimate breakfast sessions to learn from successful women in hospitality from around the world. But it’s first order of business? A workshop on managing workplace harassment in collaboration with AWARE, Singapore’s leading gender equality advocacy group. This is what we learnt:
What constitutes as harassment
“Are you on the dessert menu? Because you look yummy”. Ugh. There are always legal grey areas when it comes to whether an act counts as harassment. Was it just a ‘friendly’ remark? Were there power dynamics between a superior and subordinate in play? How about an incident that took place in a club with your colleagues? Crude sexual remarks, unwanted advancements, sexist comments, and sharing of sexual stories are all clear examples of sexual harassment, but it could be anything, really. It’s important that establishments have clearly defined policies and procedures in place to eliminate any doubt.
It is not “part of the job.”
If you think that harassment is an inevitable part of the job, think again. It is up to you, customer or employee, to make sure that such behaviour is not normalised and “green lighted”. Unfortunately, many employees rarely report the harassment to managers despite feeling uncomfortable for fear of retaliation. Thanks to the #MeToo movement, that is surely changing.
Harassment is not limited to sexual misconduct
Harassments aren’t just restricted to a sexual nature. Other sources include verbal abuse from co-workers, racial discrimination, and bullying. This can be face-to-face, group harassment (mobbing), and even social media harassment.
Men get it too
Harassment is not limited to a single demographic either. Yes, men do get harassed as well, from ‘playful’ slaps on the bottom to being made fun of for being soft like a ‘little girl’ — incidentally, a gendered insult that we can go on about forever. This can be same-sex harassments or otherwise, and in a place like Singapore, where Section 377A still rests in our law books, it can be more difficult for victims to open up.
How to be an active bystander
Want to help create a comfortable work environment for employees in hospitality? Be ready to intervene should you observe any harassment in progress. Signs of discomfort include shrinking to the back during a conversation, touching the neck, and self-hugs. Co-workers can help remove the target from the situation and talk to the harasser about their behaviour. Unsure about the situation? Note the details down on your phone and send an email to yourself as evidence should the incident lead into something bigger.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual harassment or sexual violence, it is not your fault. Help and support is available through AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre at +65 6779 0282 or firstname.lastname@example.org.