Celebrating another year of progress on International Women’s Day 

International Women’s Day means a lot to us. What it represents; what it has the power to do. There’s just one little problem with it, though. It’s in the name: International Women’s Day. Why day? Shouldn’t it be a year or decade or forever more? 

You get our point: at Hawksmoor, we’re always working to espouse and practice real-deal equity for everyone. On this official day, though, we’re reflecting on 2023 and what we’ve done to make Hawksmoor (and the hospitality industry) a better place for women to work in. 

Read on and be inspired. 

Sofia Gassne

Favourite dish Beef dripping chips and creamed spinach (“because the steak’s a given”) 

Forget being a woman; we’re not sure if Sofia’s actually human. She’s head of HR at Hawksmoor. She also has a separate business giving women’s safety workshops for other hospitality businesses. And she’s studying for her CIPD Level 7 in Strategic People Management. Oh, did we mention she’s a single mum?  

#inspireinclusivity means that women’s voices are heard, and they’re being treated fairly. “I like the example of the first woman in Google’s otherwise male-only C-suite,” says Sofia. She proposed pregnancy parking to avoid long, often painful, walks.  

The men admitted they’d never even thought of it. “And more often than not, it’s not intentional, we all have blind spots,” says Sofia, “It’s just not in their experience and therefore wasn’t talked about.” Sofia makes the point that the more varied voices you have in a room, the more equity you create.  

Sofia’s clear that having representation in a workplace creates a safer environment for people to express themselves. The more people who feel that they can be themselves when they come to work, the happier they are.   

“You then find talent, and the whole thing links directly to staff retention.” A bit of breathing room allows people’s superpowers to flourish. Sofia admits she can make everything work because of the flexibility she gets at Hawksmoor. It’s paying off!

“When I’ve spoken to women, sometimes they think that hospitality is male dominated, which doesn’t always feel as attractive for women to join.” So, we all need to work harder to make the roles and environments more inclusive and welcoming to everyone.  

“That means addressing the way we recruit,” says Sofia. “It’s important that we don’t get bogged down with the sort of things we’ve insisted on in the past.” This obviously applies just as readily to other underrepresented demographics.  

“Men often feel frightened to get into this – they don’t want to say the wrong thing,” says Sofia. Listening to women and understanding their experiences is where things should begin, but Sofia thinks the most significant impact is in challenging “difficult behaviour”.  

“Male friends, family members and colleagues – when you hear something that’s clearly discriminatory – speak up!” We love the campaign that the London Mayor launched called: “Say maaate to a mate”. Check it out.  

We’re working with an external consultant, Nathan, who runs Be The Riot. “It’s incredible,” says Sofia. Nathan delivers inclusive behaviour and recruitment training for all our managers, which focuses on privilege and bias.  

“Our latest plans, in partnership with Be The Riot, will allow us to have internal facilitators who empower members of our team to have conversations about inclusivity on an ongoing basis—all throughout the restaurant. It’s a pretty cool thing!”  

Sinead McCarthy

Favourite wine Dom Rafael, Mouchão, Portugal, 2020  

When Sinead took her first fine dining restaurant role, the head sommelier was a woman. “I never questioned that this was a job I could get because I had her as a role model,” she says. Sinead then went on to work for Barbara Boyle, a distributor and Master of Wine in Dublin who remains a mentor to this day.  

Nowadays, Sinead has her own impressive line-up of qualifications. But she doesn’t wear the golden grapes on her lapel to prove it. “In my last job, I was told to wear them because no one would expect a young woman to be qualified in wine – I was like, ‘no thanks!'” 

“Once you see someone else doing the job, it gives you the licence to try it yourself,” she says. Knowing how it once served her, Sinead now works hard to be that example for other women starting out in wine.  

Take Ella, who works with us part-time. “She was my Secret Santa this year, and besides a bottle of tequila, she gave me a lovely card expressing her gratitude and how excited she was to learn more about wine. I really appreciated that.”  

Last November, Sinead had two of her team pass their WSET level 2 (which isn’t easy).

How to continue working in hospitality at night if you want to have a family. Sinead says that while it may not be at the forefront of women’s minds all the time, it’s definitely a concern.  

“We’re fortunate that Hawksmoor offers enhanced pay for maternity leave, but this is not always the norm in Irish restaurants’ “ says Sinead. “For us to achieve real equity in the industry, we need to work out how to support women’s careers through motherhood.”  

Like Sofia, Sinead stresses that flexibility is a massive part of ‘making it work’. “Hawksmoor gives you the autonomy to create your own schedule – having that flex to work the nights that suit you is already invaluable to me, but if I ever have a family…”  

Sinead recently finished some big wine exams and remarked on how they lacked inclusivity. “You can only do them in English,” she says. “It’s all essay writing and handwritten, so dyspraxia and dyslexia would be an issue, too.”  

The point Sinead’s making is that to be successful in the wine community, you don’t necessarily need any of those skills. So, the #inspireinclusivity theme of this year’s International Women’s Day really rings true.  

Mai Yee NG

Favourite dish Crab on toast (or langoustines if she’s in Scotland)  

Mai Yee has been with us for 10 years now and was recently promoted to Design Director. That means she’s the last (and often first) word in both the interior design of our restaurants and our graphics. Yep, all our unique fonts and menu designs are hers.  

This year’s International Women’s Day theme, #inspireinclusion, has a special significance for Mai Yee, who is British Chinese. Of course, it means celebrating women’s achievements, but also, she says, “It’s about inspiring women of all ethnicities that they can do well in the industry.”  

When Mai Yee started at Hawksmoor, many senior members of the support team (everyone who’s not working in the restaurants themselves) were men. “I feel that Hawksmoor has made a great effort to get the balance right, particularly at a senior level within the support team.”  

She agrees that this has helped build her own confidence over time. “… and just feeling supported by the team around me,” she says. Working with more women and being inspired by other women in our workplace has helped my own growth both within Hawksmoor and with people outside of the company.”   

Within the world of interior design, Mai Yee’s experience is that the design industry is pretty balanced. “The space that isn’t is on building sites. Often, you’re the only woman, which early on in my career felt quite intimidating. But if you’re confident in yourself and know your stuff, people will listen!”  

Mai Yee admits that public speaking is not her favourite thing to do, and recently had a moment of doubt while addressing a room full of people in Dublin. “My colleagues were encouraging and gave me positive and constructive feedback – honest, candid conversations and support within our teams help develop the right mindset towards what you can achieve.”  

“Everyone assumes it would be walking into a restaurant when it’s finished,” she says. But her most notable moment was in Ireland, following a particularly challenging opening. Challenging because of the building’s listed heritage status – which was once the national bank.  

“We did a lot of research and worked hard to honour the history of the building,” she says. “Then, months after opening, we received an email from a gentleman – who’d worked on the heritage board for 40 years – complimenting us on what an excellent job we’d done, which felt like the greatest compliment!”  

Antigoni Pagoura

Favourite dish Scallops with white port and garlic  

Air Street, just off Piccadilly Circus, is one of our busiest, most fast-paced restaurants. So running the kitchen there is a big job. Of course, she has to ensure her team turns out quality dishes under pressure, but we love that “creating a happy place for the team” is one of Antigoni’s top priorities.  

Antigoni has climbed the ranks over her seven years but says she feels she’s had the same opportunities as her male colleagues. “They never make me feel that my gender will slow or stop my career,” she says. “On the contrary, Hawksmoor has clearly invested in my development.”

For Antigoni, things have certainly changed in the past few years, though: “I can definitely see how, as a company, we’ve worked hard to level up on representation,” she says, “and I think that’s really important—not only for the well-being of the business but also for the quality of hospitality we offer.”  

Professionally, Antigoni’s always been inspired by dynamic female chefs like Claire Smyth (who runs three-Michelin-star restaurant Core in Notting Hill) and Hélène Darroze (who has a whopping six Michelin stars across three restaurants). “They’ve become some of the best chefs in the business,” she says. “Their passion, focus and skills are impeccable.”  

Antigoni very much embodies the same traits and it’s rubbing off on her team. We’re already seeing some great female talent rising through the ranks at Air Street. “It won’t be long before one of my sous chefs is running their own restaurant,” she says. “And that makes me feel so proud!”  

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