“The Price You Pay”: How Female Professional Chefs Negotiate Work and Family


Work–family conflict can act as an important, and gendered, mechanism underlying women’s under-representation in male-dominated occupations. This study uses in-depth interviews to explore the experiences of female professional chefs in order to understand how women in a prestigious, yet male-dominated service occupation manage barriers relating to their balance of work and family responsibilities. Conflict between work and family responsibilities often stemmed from the long work hours expected of chefs and played a role in some of our participant’s decisions to leave kitchen work. Respondents in this study negotiate work–family conflict using three strategies: (1) delaying/forgoing childbearing to succeed as a chef; (2) leaving kitchen work for another job in the culinary field; and (3) adapting either work or family to make the two roles more compatible. Our conclusion discusses the implications of these strategies for gender inequality in the workplace, particularly for women in male-dominated occupations.

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We would like to thank Kyong Hee Chee and Gretchen Webber for their useful comments on previous versions of this paper. We would also like to thank Rita Simon, Joyce Coninx-Wright, and the anonymous reviewers for their suggestions.

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Correspondence to Deborah A. Harris.

Appendix: Interview Guide

Appendix: Interview Guide


Is your work as a chef your first professional career? If not, what was your first career? How did you decide to change your career focus?

When did you first decide to pursue a career as a chef? What was going on in your life at the time? Was your decision influenced by any role models? How did people respond to this decision? Were you concerned being female could impact your career as a chef?


Please describe your training experience. What led you to choose this method of training/particular school or program?

Do you feel your training provided a good preparation for life in the kitchen? Why or why not? If you could, is there any type of your training experience that you would change?

Do you have a specialization? What led you to pick this particular specialization? Were you encouraged to go this route by any mentors/instructors/supervisors? If so, how do you think your gender impacted their recommendations?

During your training, how many other females were in your class/first job? Did you observe any differences between male and female students in terms of treatment? What about in expectations regarding their future careers?

Work Experience

How did you get to your current position? What is your typical day like (personal and professional)? What are your major roles/duties at work? Have you felt that some jobs/duties are more difficult because you are female (strength, stature)? Could you describe a time when this happened? How did others in the kitchen react?

Describe the hierarchy at work. How many other females work at your restaurant? In general, how have male employees responded to you or other female chefs? Are your supervisors male or female? Would you say that men and women work together well in the kitchen? If you have supervisory duties, how do male employees react to female supervisors? If there are ever conflicts, what seems to be the cause of the problem?

At this job or others, have you noticed any patterns in the jobs that men tend to hold and those that women tend to hold in the kitchen? What do you think causes these differences to exist?

Describe a time when your gender “mattered” at work (what happened, how you felt, what resulted from this).

Have you ever experienced anything that could be defined as sexual harassment? What happened? How did you respond?

Have you noticed any differences working with male or female managers? How do men “manage” the kitchen? How about women?

What are your future goals for your career? How does your gender affect your plans? What do you need to achieve these goals? What are the major barriers to achieving these goals?

Characteristics of a Chef

Describe the ideal chef. What are their major characteristics?

In your opinion, are there any gender differences that tend to make males or females more likely to have those characteristics?

How would a chef describe “success”? Would male and female chefs have different definitions?

In your own career, how would you describe your relationship to your job? What are your major commitments as a chef? As a woman?

How would you describe your approach to food? Do you think male and female chefs have different approaches to food? If so, how are they different?

Work/Life Balance

Who are your major sources of social/emotional support?

How has your career affected your personal life? Do you feel that you have had to make any sacrifices in your work or personal life?

Have you ever thought of changing jobs? Of leaving the food industry? If so, why?

Within your field, who have been the most supportive? What type of support do they provide?

Women as Chefs

Overall, how would you describe how women are treated in the culinary world?

What are the major barriers to female chefs achieving success in their profession?

Is there a particular type of woman who is more likely to succeed in this field? Are there particular jobs that men and women tend to be more successful at? Have you known any women who have left the field due to issues of treatment or discrimination?

What changes would you make to the industry to make easier to attract and retain talented female chefs?

There has been a major increase in entering the culinary field. What advice would you give future chefs about succeeding in this career?

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Harris, D.A., Giuffre, P. “The Price You Pay”: How Female Professional Chefs Negotiate Work and Family. Gend. Issues 27, 27–52 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12147-010-9086-8

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  • Gender
  • Work–family conflict
  • Male-dominated occupations
  • Chefs