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Escaping the Restaurant Industry's Motherhood Trap

How paid parental leave could solve the culinary gender gap.


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. “I gave my life to that place. It ruined my first experience as a mother because my milk went off. I couldn’t feed my baby.” She started crying, as we spoke. “It’s been five years, and I think there were better ways of doing it.”

The chef-owner of the restaurant where Elena worked eventually apologized to her for how she was treated, but it was much too little, far too late. And it happens all the time.

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