Congreso Internacional de mujeres gastronomía y medio rural


Female leadership: “women have more empathy, we're better listeners, and we feel more solidarity”

Mónica Ramírez


The president of Spain's Gastronomy Academy, Lourdes Planas; chefs Susi Díaz and Pepa Muñoz, and engineer, lecturer and researcher Sara Gómez were at the round table to discuss female leadership. The discussions were moderated by Laura Pinto, a journalist at ABC.

The issue of whether female leadership is any different from male leadership opened up the debate. “It's no easy task being a leader”, replied Susi Díaz, “the university is full of women, kitchens are full of women, schools are full of women, but if you take a look at the top, there aren't so many of them up there. Very few. You have to work hard to be a leader, and I don't think that male and female leadership are different, because in both cases you have to make a host of sacrifices”. And she adds: "to be a leader you need creativity, humility, business vision ... a load of things ... a philosophy you have to assimilate, and when you get out of bed every morning, you have to set yourself goals and start achieving them. I know that many women do this and never make it, but we can't stop, we have to go on”. She also produced a ray of hope: "I know we're on the right track because you go to events, and you see more and more women there".

Engineer Sara Gómez did not agree: "I do believe that there's a difference between female leadership and male leadership. And I say so categorically because in my profession I've certainly had to shove my way in to a professional future, kicking at doors. And that's something I wouldn't like future generations to come up against". In her reply, Gómez availed herself of a phrase from the previous round table, "what's needed is for women to be up there, so that it's not men taking decisions. We have to take decisions in conditions of absolute parity. That's why I like talking about leadership and power. And power means the power to take decisions". This leadership distinction by the scientist had been aired at the congress. “We've seen female chefs talking about love, care, helping others, and I haven't heard that from male chefs”. And, she concluded, "women have more empathy, we're better listeners and we feel more solidarity. And education and culture are very important factors in this regard. That ‘humanity’ in women is necessary right now, in the world”. Sara finished with a reference to another scientist, Margarita Salas, who died recently, to introduce another concept which affects women more: age discrimination. 

Pepa Muñoz felt that leadership goes hand in hand with the concept of positive ‘influencing’. “We influence either consciously or unconsciously, and this makes your crew follow you. And that's the general mark of the leader. The leader isn't the boss - it's not the same thing at all. The boss gives orders, tells you what to do ... a leader is more ‘amiable’. It's true that more and more women are coming into the profession, and that there have been many changes in recent years. We take giant strides - whereas men go up stair by stair, we go up five stairs at a time because we're able to do that”.

Work/family balance, an issue still pending

One frequent topic emerging during talks at the congress was a working balance, and so it had to be discussed. Lourdes Planas referred to the example offered by Lucía Freitas during the morning session, and added: "After the lockdown caused by the pandemic, it seems that more ‘civilised’ opening times, for lack of a better word, have been imposed, and we've seen that yes, work is very important, but life is short, we have to get the most out of it, and we can't waste one second of what we have around us, we have to live life to the full. And you need a certain amount of time for your work, but for your family, and us too. This is important because women give it all, but we need time to do things we like doing. I think this aspect will eventually be changed by women”. And she went on with a key argument: “Why have men been more prominent? Because they're out for success; women tend to work more in what they like doing, what they know how to do, and in defending their territory and their roots. And that's fine. 
In fact, male chefs have moved forward in terms of innovation, research and special effects, while the woman has been preserving traditions. And now look, now that cooking has changed a little, and all the male chefs are going back to what so many women have been focusing on: traditional cuisine, the product, proximity cooking".
Susi Díaz admits that restaurant hours are “brutal”, and that the pandemic has led to this reflection. She went through the daily round of a chef, showing that it is difficult to find time for anything other than cooking. She also admits, however, that she feels there is no easy fix. “When opening hours were restricted because of the pandemic, diners understood that you had to close, but when you don't have those opening hours, how do you tell a customer to leave? It doesn't matter how much you try to disguise it, it doesn't matter what nice words you use, and it doesn't matter how well they've been treated, because they might not understand it, and the next day they're blasting you on social media".

Pepa Muñoz distances herself from this consensus, arguing that the profession is also a way of life, that it's not "such a sacrifice" and adds "it's true that I have my crew very well organised, with shifts and days off, and that gives me a better balance. And in Madrid we may have more chance of this than in a rural environment”. She adds that in her free time she usually "drags" family and friends along to check out other producer restaurants ... and she does not consider that "a sacrifice". What she does admit is that the pandemic has brought some reflection on opening hours. She explains that during the lockdown she did some social work which "got her hooked", and so, "if one day they need me somewhere, I go". A situation that involves personal time, but she acknowledges that "you can decide not to do it". “I think we make a huge contribution, we can help, and I got into all this work by myself. It's up to me to stop, although I'm reluctant to", and she adds "it might be rather selfish, but I think we can help out a lot, and I want to spread it around and offer my help".

Finally, Laura Pintos threw out the last issue for debate: "what qualities should a good leader have?". Lourdes Planta says: “it's true we have different attitudes and that women are more sensitive, they have that sixth sense people always talk about, and the ability to do several things at once. But I feel that, for a team to function, it's best for men to form part of it too. The most profitable businesses are composed of an equal balance of men and women”.

Susi Díaz replies: “without a team, you’re going nowhere, and "you have to listen to them, find out what's the matter with each of them, and help them”. 

Sara Gómez, meanwhile, homes in on diversity, but not just gender diversity - age diversity, cultural diversity etc. What there should not be, she says, is "an attitude of imposition". And, she adds, "if you want a project to work, you have to involve the team and make it part of the project. You learn more by listening than by talking. The problem is that it's very difficult to manage that diversity".

Pepa Muñoz touched on trust. “If you trust your crew, they'll return that trust big time".