Study finds that women, underrepresented minorities face discrimination in California restaurants

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A report published Tuesday drafted by a restaurant worker advocate group and UC researchers found that women and underrepresented minorities face discrimination in the restaurant industry in California.

The report, titled “Ending Jim Crow in America’s Restaurants: Racial and Gender Occupational Segregation in the Restaurant Industry,” sought to describe the presence of discrimination and explore underlying factors leading to racial occupational segregation and possible solutions. It features research from Chris Benner, professor of environmental studies and sociology at UC Santa Cruz, and UC Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center.

The study highlighted a difference in pay by compiling the average hourly restaurant wages in California and separating them according to race and gender. According to the report, white men earned the highest wages at $14.18, while male underrepresented minorities earned $11.63 on average. In comparison, white women earned $11.30, and female underrepresented minorities earned the least at $10.13.

In addition to disproportionate earnings, the study found a stratification of positions in a restaurant based on race. For instance, 81 percent of management and 78 percent of higher-level nonmanagement positions were taken by white workers, and a disproportionate number were male.

The report also explains how underrepresented minorities are more likely to be back-of-the-house workers, such as kitchen staff, including cooks and cleaners, rather than front-of-the-house workers, such as hosts and waitstaff. While Hispanic workers make up 52 percent of restaurant employees, they compose 65 percent of all back-of-the house workers. Front-of-the-house employees earn about 12 percent more on average than back-of-the-house workers.

The study points out that although 49 percent of restaurant employees are women — who compose 60 percent of front-of-the-house employees — they still earn only 78 percent of what their male front-of-the-house counterparts earn.

In addition to quantitative data analysis, the study conducted interviews of 12 restaurant owners and general managers and more than a dozen employment discrimination experts and attorneys to create a more comprehensive analysis of factors that lead to differential treatment and wages.

“What became clear in interviews is that it’s a complex issue,” Benner said. “Each of these actors have real barriers as well as perceived barriers to getting higher pay. … A lot more research has to happen.”

While Benner said there is progression and discussion on a societal level regarding inequality and discrimination, he believes that addressing those issues is a long-term process that necessitates more talk about the broader topic of racism in our society.

Saru Jayaraman, director of the Food Labor Research Center, said researchers are looking to implement policy in the next three to five years that would lead to systemic changes to discrimination in restaurants and change policies in the Bay Area.

Contact Alok Narahari at [email protected].