As far as I’m concerned, American exceptionalism lives on primarily in the fact that we’re the only developed country in the world that doesn’t offer its women paid maternal leave. We are 15 to 30 weeks worse off in this regard than women in—to name a few—Slovakia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Romania, Estonia, and Malta; the lack of guaranteed paid leave takes its always-potentially-ruinous toll on approximately four million women in this country per year.
Every single industry needs paid leave to retain and respect its female workers, and the restaurant industry, a low-margin and male-dominated scene not exactly exploding with stable benefits to begin with, is no exception. Eater has a feature up by Amanda Kludt that leads with a familiar, horrible story:
A friend of mine, I’ll call her Elena, worked for many years for one of New York’s top restaurants, rising over time to the position of maitre d’ — a very huge deal (monumentally huge, actually) for a woman in the hospitality industry. After six years, she learned she was pregnant, and worked all the way through to her delivery date, in her final month scaling back what had previously been a 60-hour-a-week job to 50 hours, before taking an agreed-upon ten weeks of unpaid leave. Just before the end of those ten weeks, she found out — via a customer — that in her absence, the restaurant had given her position, permanently, to someone else.
Devastated, Elena confronted her boss, and was offered a position instead running the restaurant group’s casual offshoot, a major demotion for an employee of her stature. “I found out through a customer after being there six-and-a-half-years,” she told me.
“This is an issue that affects women working in virtually every position within the restaurant world, from fast-food cashiers to cooks at four-star restaurants,” writes Kludt. “But it’s in fine dining that the issue starts to intersect with the industry’s high-profile lack of high-profile women. It’s the industry’s fault, it’s the government’s fault, it’s our dining culture’s fault. And it’s something we can fix.”
Ideally, paid leave is mandated federally; as nearly all prominent male politicians on the national level continue to actively de-prioritize the issue, a few states and cities are passing legislation, and a few chains and hospitality groups are modeling a better example. Read the rest of the feature here.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image of someone being “Burnt” by nonexistent leave policies via Weinstein Productions