One news story more than any other caused a major ruckus on the Catering Insight website last month, that of Foster responding to dealer demand for women-only training sessions.
Both men and women in the industry seemed to be offended by the move, with comments on the story itself and on Twitter ranging from complaints that Foster is living in the past, to sarcasm that the training would feature “simpler, less complicated words”, right up to full-blown accusations of discrimination.
As a proud feminist myself, I’d like to think I’m very hot on any news that could be considered to be discriminatory, and I’m not sure that is the case for Foster here.
While I absolutely understand the industry’s concerns that separating the genders for training sessions could be seen as patronising towards women, clearly there was a demand for this and, judging by the photo provided with the original press release, quite a few female dealer staff turned up too.
So if there is ‘fault’ here, who is to blame – Foster, the dealers who asked for women-only training, or the industry at large for creating this need in the first place?
Frankly I’m inclined towards the latter. Can you really blame Foster for responding to requests from its dealer customers? I would argue that it is good practice to listen to and respond to feedback.
And for the dealer staff making these requests, again, can you really fault them for trying to feel more comfortable when wanting to learn vital information about the products they will be selling?
It says a lot about this industry that some women are not content in mixed training groups. Obviously we are in the vast minority in the sector, and while women are stereotypically said to be the most chatty gender, more often than not it is the men dominating discussions. It’s all very well telling women to ‘man up’ and take whatever is thrown at them, but it is tremendously difficult to break the prevailing attitude. And why should they have to work twice as hard as men to make the same point?
Even I, as a relatively mouthy individual, sometimes feel a little overwhelmed if I’m the only woman in a discussion. Many times men have talked over me or even directed answers to my questions towards my male colleagues, even when I am sitting right in front of them.
Maybe some companies may even want to think about introducing gender quotas to even up the representation in the industry. For those who think these would not work, a recent London School of Economics study found that quotas actually strengthen companies by leading to the displacement of mediocre men (sorry guys!).
But in the meantime it is incumbent upon us all in the catering equipment industry, no matter the gender, to be more considerate and inclusive. Then maybe there would be no more demand for female-only dealer training to complain about.