How To Survive Any Male-Dominated Industry

Take it from two of the toughest, most capable women out there

F&B is one of the most male-dominated industries around, with only 6.3% of head chefs being women. Add long, irregular hours and demanding physical work into the mix, it takes a lot for women to find success in the domain of professional kitchen.

That’s why we say the women who survive the industry are toughest, so who better to ask for lessons on how to deal with men at work than them? We spoke to Sabrina Stillhart, executive chef of Bread Street Kitchen (who works with the famously fierce Gordon Ramsay), and Karla Mendoza, executive chef of Pizzeria Mozza (who has almost 20 years of experience under her belt), on how they’ve conquered and excelled in a place where men usually rule.

Sabrina Stillhart, Executive Chef, Bread Street Kitchen, Marina Bay Sands.

What’s the first gender-related lesson you learnt in the kitchen?

When I first started working in professional kitchens I was worried that I would be treated differently for being a woman. I quickly learnt that if I worked hard and produced good results, my gender would not be an issue.

What’s your favourite tactic to get around the male ego?

My cooking skills. In a professional kitchen, you have to prove your worth through your food and you will gain people’s respect, regardless of whether you’re a male or female chef. 

Humor also plays a big part in the kitchen. Having a laugh with your colleagues can always help ease any challenging situations.

What have you discovered is the biggest advantage of being a woman in your line of work?

I believe the number of women in the industry today has encouraged more women to pursue careers as professional chefs and not feel as though their gender will set them back. Feeling like I inspire women to fulfil their career potential is a big honour.

What’s your fave way to sneak in a de-stress moment during a long, busy day?

Having a good joke with the other chefs will always help to de-stress and we know that you can’t always take things too seriously. In the kitchen we know that it’s about being part of a team and after a long day we have to help each other out. I love to enjoy a meal with friends over cocktails and great music after work to unwind.

Karla Mendoza, Executive Chef, Pizzeria Mozza, Marina Bay Sands.

Three words to describe men at work?

Hard-working, passionate, dedicated. Just like me.

What’s your favourite tactic to get around the male ego?

If you can’t beat them, join them.

With all that testosterone around and having to wear a uniform to work every day, how do you stay in touch with your feminine side?

I always make sure I stay clean and organized so that it is reflected in my work. I wear make-up every day, I always find ways to make my ponytail different and creative or wear socks that have a nice design. I also indulge in weekly pedicures and take good care of my feet since I stand all day at work. I really love going to the hair salon too.

How do you stay fit and in shape while working within the temptations of the kitchen?

Working in the kitchen and standing all day, I know that I am able to get my daily 10,000 steps in. When I lived in New York City, I would always walk to the subway station and when I lived in Los Angeles I did the LA thing – I would go on a hike every day off.

Photos: Marina Bay Sands

For more on living, click here. Or check out We Love These Famous Feminists or Your Next Shopping Trip Could Change A Fellow Female’s Life.

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