I was reading a Salon interview with Tom Colicchio, the head judge of Bravo’s Top Chef, one of my favorite shows, and was disappointed but not surprised by this exchange regarding gender in professional kitchens. The interviewer’s words are in bold.

Would you agree that cooking is a macho profession?

It can be. A lot of professions happen to be male-dominated because women drop out at a certain point. It’s unfortunate. When I was a chef at Gramercy Tavern, I think we’d been open for five years, at least half the kitchen staff, probably more, were women, and in fact they were all in the big positions — saucier, sous-chef. Of the six or seven women in the kitchen — well, more like 10 or 12 — only two of them are still cooking.

And why do you think they drop out?

They have children. If you want to have a family, it’s a very tough business. You’re working nights. You’re working weekends. It’s not conducive to rearing children. I have a 15-year-old and when he was 8, 9, 10, it was hard for me.

A more self-aware and socially-conscious man might have noticed that becoming a father, while hard, didn’t lead him to drop out of the restaurant chef business. A better interviewer might have pressed him to consider why, as in seemingly every career, it’s mothers in the leaky pipeline. Instead, the interviewer changes the subject:

So let’s talk about this season. A lot of people were surprised that Dale was kicked off. He was one of the more seasoned chefs on the show, no?

And so it goes. Note that this is not about Colicchio or anyone in particular being actively sexist – indeed, he seems to have fair attitudes towards and respect for the women he’s cooked with and the women competing on the show. The issue of course is complex and systemic. Why do women still bear the bigger professional penalty for starting a family? Do fathers in general need to step up more? What kind of pro-family parental support could workplaces offer, in order to retain talented employees? Etc.

I just wonder when we will see this type of conversation ever advance past “huh, I guess that’s just how things are.” Some professions just “happen” to be male-dominated, Colicchio says. Gee, how’d that happen?

Advertisements