The number of female chefs is on the rise worldwide, with several countries reporting a steady increase over the past few years. In the United Kingdom, the number of female chefs has increased by a third since 2016 and they now make up about a quarter of the workforce.
The United States has also seen a steady rise in the share of female chefs over the past seven years. In 2014, 22% of the chefs were female, while in 2019 the number increased to 23.9%.
But while the number of female chefs is on the rise, what’s the picture at the very top of the table? How many female chefs run the world’s best restaurants and how does the number at the top compare to other industries?
To answer these questions, our team has researched the number of female chefs who run some of the best restaurants in the world. Specifically, we analyzed 2,286 Michelin-starred restaurants in 16 countries, as well as the top 100 restaurants in the world ranked by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants association (three quarters of the world’s 100 best restaurants are also Michelin-starred).
We also looked at fine dining restaurants in two additional cities, Miami and Atlanta, in the United States that are not covered by the Michelin Guide or the World’s 50 Best to observe any potential bias but did not find any noticeable differences. The share of female head chefs in fine dining establishments in Miami and Atlanta is similar to the average for the United States.
6.04% of 2000+ Michelin-starred restaurants analyzed by Chef’s Pencil are led by women.
Overall, 6.04% of the 2,286 Michelin-starred restaurants are led by women and 6.73% of the world’s best 100 restaurants have a female head chef. But the averages hide striking differences among various countries. Among the restaurants analyzed, there were no female chefs running Michelin restaurants in Singapore, Ireland, Sweden or Denmark.
In the egalitarian Nordic region, encompassing Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, there are currently only two female chefs (one in Norway and one in Sweden) running a Michelin-starred restaurant. Compare that to 62 male-run Michelin restaurants in the region.
In the Netherlands, there is only one female chef among the 112 chefs running the country’s top restaurants, while in Germany, there are only 13 female chefs among the country’s 337 Michelin-starred head chefs. France scores only marginally better than Germany with 5% of Michelin-starred restaurants led by women.
The share of women-led top restaurants is higher in the United States (7%) and the United Kingdom (8%). But two countries in Europe’s south and two of the continent’s culinary powerhouses – Italy (10%) and Spain (11%) – lead the table with the highest share of women in leading culinary roles.
Why are women underrepresented?
We asked several top chefs and organizations about the causes for the underrepresentation of women in leading culinary roles.
“Since we introduced ‘The World’s Best Female Chef Award’ 10 years ago, we have been working to draw attention to this inequality and to shine a light on supremely talented female chefs – both with the aim of celebrating them as individuals, but also to inspire future generations of young women.
“Until women are more equally represented in the hospitality sector or occupy higher positions within the industry on a more equal scale, we will continue to celebrate and elevate the achievements of women in this space” says William Drew, Director of Content for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
The introduction of the award created some controversy in the industry, as some people complained it was discriminatory. But many appreciated it for what it is – a celebration of the most accomplished female chefs in the industry.
“We hope that one day The World’s Best Female Chef Award isn’t needed, but until there is more diversity in the industry, we’ll continue recognizing the best female chefs and inspiring ongoing debate around gender issues in the food world”, says William Drew.
“I’m actually surprised it’s so high, I would have said it’s lower”, Chef Ana Roš
Ana Roš, the world-famous Slovenian chef, is one the winners of Best Female Chef Awards. Her restaurant Hiša Franko has two Michelin stars and was ranked the 21st best restaurant in the world in 2021. Ana, a self-thought chef, has already accomplished more than most chefs could dream off and has single-handedly put her home country Slovenia on the world’s gastronomic map.
When asked to comment about the results of our survey, Ana responded with surprise: “I’m actually surprised it’s so high, I would have said it’s lower” referring to the percentage of women leading the world’s top restaurants. “It is a consequence of a very traditionally organized society” Ana continues, “where women multi-task and are responsible for so many things in their personal lives from taking care of their children, family, and household”. Together with the punishing hours that are the norm in the fine dining industry, this excludes women from pursuing highly demanding careers.
Even if things have improved lately in many parts of the world and men have stepped up and are helping more with childcare and house chores, women continue to face the brunt of child and home care. For example, during the pandemic, women took three times more unpaid childcare leave compared to men.
It can be extremely challenging working in the industry while raising children, which is the reason why so many female chefs drop out of fine dining and move to other less demanding positions within the industry.
“More and more women [chefs] are asking for a better work-life balance”, Chef Heidi Bjerkan
“Fine dining requires a lot of time and dedication, and it is hard to combine with [family life]” says Chef Heidi Bjerkan, one of the only two female chefs running a Michelin-starred restaurant in Scandinavia.
If we want to see more women at the top, the industry needs to better support and facilitate running a top restaurant with family life. “More and more women are asking for a better work-life balance” says Heidi, while at the same time, more women are also opting not to have children and focusing on their careers.
But it is not only women that are calling for change in the fine dining industry, according to Ana Ros. The work in a professional kitchen is very intense, requires lots of hours, energy, and dedication and lots of young professionals, male and female, are struggling.
Many young male and female chefs are struggling. The whole system needs to change. Chef Ana Roš
More so now than ever, as people are putting more importance on a healthy work-life balance, which the world of gastronomy is not well suited to. The whole system needs to change, says Ana, in order not only for women but for chefs in general to be able to thrive and succeed.
Comparison to Other Industries
At the top, women working in the restaurant industry are underrepresented compared to other industries. Close to a quarter of top management positions (i.e. C-suite) in North America are occupied by women and 8.8% of the CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies are women, according to Fortune Magazine. Women are also much better represented in legal firms, where 22% of equity partners are women, and academia, where the number of female professors is 34%.
In traditionally male dominated industries such as construction, women do not do nearly as well. Only 8% of all construction managers in the United States are women, and we assume the percentage drops substantially for the C-suite.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, the data can be a bit deceiving. While reportedly 42% of business owners in the United States are women, only 2.3% of venture capital goes to women-led start-ups.
While the number of women-led fine dining restaurants has a lot of room to grow, changes at the top of the world’s largest companies provide hope and a possible path for the restaurant industry. As of March 2022, 44 women were running America’s 500 largest companies. Compare this to 41 a year ago and only 7 female CEOs in 2002.
To determine the percentage of female chefs running the world’s best restaurants, Chef’s Pencil has analyzed 2,286 Michelin-starred restaurants in 16 countries, as well as the top 100 restaurants in the world ranked by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants association (three quarters of the world’s 100 best restaurants are also Michelin-starred).
For restaurants run by a team of two or three chefs, we have included all chefs from the executive team in our analysis. The research was conducted in May 2022.
Our team has also analyzed fine dine restaurants from two cities that are not covered by the Michelin Guide not the Worlds50Best organization and found no meaningful differences.
Correction: We incorrectly attributed Chef Niklas Ekstedt the Head Chef title of Michelin-starred Ekstedt restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden. Chef Niklas Ekstedt continues to manage Ekstedt, while Chef Florencia Abella was promoted to Head Chef. Thus, we’ve updated the percentage of female-led Michelin restaurants in Sweden to account for this omission (i.e., 4%).