In October 2017, celebrity chef Matthew Carmichael sent ripples through the Ottawa restaurant scene when he openly admitted to sexually harassing three female employees at Riviera restaurant, where he is part-owner. “I’m using the opportunity to take ownership of my actions and shed light on my behaviour,” the 46-year-old chef told a television interviewer.
While harassment in the restaurant industry is nothing new, talking about it — openly and fearlessly — certainly is. Fatima Finnegan, director of Corporate Marketing & Business Development at Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association (ORHMA), says many operators have historically steered away from the issue. “It’s a hard topic,” she says. “It’s not one that you can make [talking about] fun or have some games around. It’s a serious topic.”
Traditionally, the hospitality industry has lacked resources, such as human resources departments, to help staff suffering workplace harassment — leaving them with nowhere to turn. “Everyone is entitled to feel safe in their communities,” says Indira Naidoo-Harris Minister of the Status of Women. “We know people want to do the right thing when they see sexual violence and harassment, but we need to give them the tools to do so safely and effectively.”
In response, ORHMA, in partnership with Tourism HR Canada, launched It’s Your Shift — a five-module sexual violence and harassment intervention training program for the tourism and hospitality industry in Ontario — on Nov. 30, 2017.
“We had to take a refreshing approach to the training and had great people helping us along the way,” says Finnegan, whose organization spent a year working with industry committees and task forces. “We also had employment lawyers, OPP and sexual-assault survivors. It was a topic that was relatable to all. Everybody always has a story to tell and, in our process, everyone’s story was heard.”
She says she was surprised how collaborative the process became and the dialogue that came out of it. “There was a constant movement of respect, openness and understanding of other views.”
The timing of the launch was impeccable, receiving an inadvertent boost from Hollywood. “When we initially [announced funding for the program], the media was all over it but industry didn’t say anything,” says Finnegan. “Then we launched it and it really exploded on the tourism and hospitality side — the industry has embraced it.”
For example, SIR Corp. is incorporating It’s Your Shift into all onboarding processes for its restaurants and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment has committed to training 3,000 of its staff with the program.
Educational institutions across the province are also incorporating It’s Your Shift into the curriculum. “A lot of focus in the media on [sexual harassment] brought it to the attention of the classroom and there was a lot of conversation happening,” says Amanda Tarrant, manager, Strategic Operations, School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts at Centennial College in Toronto. “But, we didn’t have a formal way to ensure every student was equipped with the same information and the same strategies. Now, we have a way to incorporate [sexual harassment training] into every full-time program so students will be equipped with not only tools and strategies, but also awareness and confidence.” “Our hope, our dream is [to reach] a time when there is zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the industry — for it to become unacceptable and extinguished in the workplace,” says Tarrant.