Subminimum Wage, Maximum Harassment: Changing Restaurant Industry For Women

In the NBC-TV show, “Rise,” the character Vanessa Suarez is a single mother who works in a diner and is consistently sexually harassed, poked, touched and demeaned by the owner, her boss. She retaliates by physically lashing out at him and is fired.Unfortunately this is also real life for millions of women.Restaurant Opportunities Centers United partnered recently with University of California- Berkeley for a recent study on how young women’s experiences of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry impact their lifelong tolerance for harassment.The new study, “Take Us Off The Menu: The Impact of Sexual Harassment In The Restaurant Industry,” finds that harassment is so prevalent that women become immune to the harassment over the longterm.[bctt tweet=“A new study about #sexualharassment in the restaurant industry finds that harassment is so prevalent that women become immune to the harassment over the longterm. “ username=“takeleadwomen”]“The common refrain is that it always seemed part of the job,” says Saru Jayaraman, president and co-founder of ROC, that has nearly 30,000 worker-members and more than 500 restaurant employer members. “Women who experience a high rate of harassment early in life downplay the importance of harassment later whether they are in politics, healthcare or media,” she says.Sarah Jessica Parker, actress, producer and activist for the Time’s Up movement, is a spokesperson for the need for One Fair Wage. Though she never worked in a restaurant, Parker says she did work in entertainment very early and is familiar with the climate of harassment.“A lot of us started to recognize early in our careers that we were in conversations that were diminishing and scary and that there was this was an environment that we did not feel we were in a position to answer to them. I too normalized more situations in order to continue working, not be seen as difficult and to be a good colleague and company player,” Parker says.More than six million tipped workers in this country work for subminimum wages as low as $2.13 an hour, and two-thirds of those workers are women. Many are in the restaurant industry.[bctt tweet=“More than six million tipped workers in this country work for #SubminimumWages as low as $2.13 an hour, and two-thirds of those workers are women. Many are in the restaurant industry. “ username=“takeleadwomen”]At the recent James Beard Foundation Awards, the Oscars of the culinary world, for the first time, more women and minorities were honored than white men.“In all, 15 chefs got recognized by the Beard Foundation for their individual skills. Of these, more than two-thirds — 11 — were female or minority. Or both, in the case of Miles and Compère Lapin’s Nina Compton, this year’s Best South Chef. That marks a considerable pivot from past years, in which the awards went mostly to white men. (At 2017’s awards, for example, only three culinary categories didn’t honor a man.)” according to Grub Street.Read more in Take The Lead on women in culinary industry.One Fair Wage, is a policy solution addressing sexual harassment in the restaurant industry that ensures that women workers no longer have to solely rely on customer tips to make a living wage.[bctt tweet=”#OneFairWage, is a policy solution addressing sexual harassment in the restaurant industry that ensures that women workers no longer have to solely rely on customer tips to make a living wage.” username=“takeleadwomen”]In this new study of 233 female former restaurant workers, many were likely to accept inappropriate behaviors in the workplace as normal, later in life. The study focuses on how early experiences of harassment impacted the rest of their working lives.“All of the respondents had dependence on tips,” says Jayaraman, who was named one of the top 50 most influential people in the restaurant industry by Nation’s Restaurant News. “We’re seeing now just how long that subminimum wage impacts women. If we eliminate the low wage, these workers can reject the harassment when they receive it,” says Jayaraman, author of Forked: A New Standard for American Dining. Marisa Licandro, a restaurant worker in New York says that when she was in culinary school, a co-worker attempted to rape her. She told her manager and the perpetrator was still scheduled to work at the same times as she was.“I was desensitized,” Licandro says. “It’s not entirely  that women do not recognize this is wrong,” she says. “They nee support and the tools to call it out.”One in two Americans work in the restaurant industry in their lifetime. ROC’s nearly 90 percent of women working in restaurants report harassment from customers, managers, and coworkers. Jayaraman says in the states with fair wages, the incidents of harassment of tipped workers are cut in half.Read more in Take The Lead on women in foodservice.For many women who work in restaurants as their first job, these experiences of sexual harassment shape the rest of their working lives. They learn early that sexual harassment is an unfortunate condition of work that must be tolerated, and even encouraged, in order to earn enough wages through tips.[bctt tweet=“For many women who work in restaurants as their first job, these experiences of sexual harassment shape the rest of their working lives. #ChangeTheWorkplace” username=“takeleadwomen”]“Change is scary,” says Parker, who for the record is supporting her Sex And The City co-star Cynthia Nixon, in her New York Gubernatorial run.“The more we are able to connect with organizations that are meaningful and look for connections that are helpful, not harmful,” the swifter cultural change will happen.According to Parker, “We need to encourage women to lift women up, that is my fervent wish. We need a white-hot spotlight to shine on it because this is timely and urgent.”Oregon State Representative Jennifer Williamson says that she began working in restaurants at 14, and also through law school. “Thousands of men and women have experience a generally hostile environment,” Williamson says.The problem of harassment in the restaurant industry can be addressed with state laws mandating a far wage, policies, education, programs and innovative approaches, says Jayaraman.One restaurant has a system of color-coded cards to servers to hold up when customers become abusive or harassing. A red card means the customer needs to be asked to leave immediately.“Fundamentally we are trying to change the balance of power for women in restaurants,” says Jayaraman. “We are looking at policies to further ensure women have the power to affect harassment.”