Serving up about sexism

Photo Imogen Hartmann.
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Hospitality workers in Melbourne are speaking out about the "lad" culture ingrained in the industry and why it’s not being talked about. Imogen Hartmann reports.

Emily Leenards, an ex-functions supervisor with over five years of hospitality experience, says that on one of her first shifts the manager opted not to show her how to use the heavy equipment.

She says she was told, “You don’t need to know that – that’s a boy job”.

This language is prevalent in the industry, according to Emily, and she says that ‘gendered roles’ create gaps in staff’s knowledge – which is of no benefit to anyone.

She also says that when she was promoted to supervisor she was often mistaken as more junior than her male staff members, despite wearing a different uniform and a name badge stating her title.

A 2018 Women In The Workplace report shows that 64 per cent of women have experienced this kind of offhand sexism – known as microaggression. The report states that whether intentional or not, these acts of microaggression are a sign of inequality, resulting in women having to provide more evidence of their competence.

Emily says she often had to get a male staff member to back her up if she was dealing with an aggressive male customer – something she doesn’t feel is fair on either person.

She also doesn’t think it’s fair that men are expected to carry out all the heavy lifting in hospitality, and that the establishment should provide the tools for anyone to carry out tasks safely.

“Big, strong men can still hurt themselves.”

This is something Melbourne bartender Paul Duggan is very familiar with.

Paul, who has worked in well-known restaurants such as Chin Chin and Garden State Hotel, says he often feels relied on for his physical strength.

He says he doesn’t feel like his physical wellbeing is given much consideration by management when he’s being given tasks.

“Maybe I’m sore, maybe my back is out… but I guess I still gotta do it.”

He’s also been asked to close-up on a night shift purely to act as protection for his female colleagues, and it’s made him feel very uncomfortable.

“If you want security, hire a security guard – but that’s not me.”

Despite these experiences though, Paul admits that he is afforded a lot of privilege in the industry because he’s a male.

He says that there’s an assumption that men should be bartenders and women should be waitresses, and that bars are literally designed to be worked in by people over 6ft tall.

He describes how on one of his very first shifts he replaced a very experienced female colleague on the bar and had to continually seek her help throughout the night.

“She knew all this [bartending] stuff – but because I was a guy I automatically got put on the bar.”

When asked what the different dynamics were between the bar and the floor, Paul says the bar is often perceived to be more elite with a strong “lad” culture.

Neon bar sign. Photo Imogen Hartmann.

He says the discrimination bothers him but when he has offered to swap roles in the past he’s been overruled by management.

He’s also heard managers admit that they want the “cute girls” out the front in the hopes of getting higher tips.

The sexualisation of staff members is also a big issue for hospitality workers, with a United Voice survey showing that 89 percent of workers had been sexually harassed at work, with women making up 90 percent of those surveyed.

Entering the hospitality industry at 18, Laura Roscioli said she was always very aware that her looks contributed to the jobs that she got, especially when she was working as a hostess.

She says that as a hostess and as floor staff, your job is to give the customers the best possible service in order for them to tip, but the methods aren’t always black and white.

“Sometimes the lines are blurred as to how you get that tip.”

On numerous occasions she says she was “requested” by a table of businessmen, who were often overly flirty with her.

While she says that she always reported it to management if the customer’s advances made her feel uncomfortable, she believes that the overall mentality will be a hard thing to weed out altogether.

“I still feel like I’ll always be labelled as ‘the pretty girl’.”