I grew up in a culture where food and environment were considered one and the same. Like a great cocktail or menu, creating safer spaces requires innovation, dedication, time and opportunities for change, feedback and enhancement. We have read many articles and seen first-hand the damage that sexual harassment and violence has on individuals and on our collective spaces. There have been countless disclosures and stories from chefs, owners, staff, patrons, industry leaders and survivors all echoing the same conclusion: something should have been done sooner.
Shea Coulson, a Vancouver-based lawyer and founder of Coulson Litigation, which specializes in liquor and hospitality law, has said “the #MeToo movement has created a new normative expectation, people who feel they have been harassed are going to be more motivated to actually deal with the issue. There are going to be more allegations, more lawsuits, more criminal charges and a lot of negative press. Is that the reckoning the industry wants? Or is it time to be proactive and start solving a problem that has become an epidemic?” I think Coulson is right, sexual harassment and abuse have been normalized in this industry for too long, creating ingrained practices that are directly in violation of workers’ and human rights. I also believe this industry is capable of change and transformation.
When I finally disclosed the harm done to me by a former manager, people asked, “Why didn’t you report it when it happened? You could have dealt with it in the moment, why are you dragging everyone through this now?” The answer was simple: I was too poor, too scared, too dependent on this job and too sure that no one would believe me. My response is not a unique one, in fact many survivors would say the same. As explained by Sahar Aziz, a law professor at Rutgers University who was part of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace: “The Harvey Weinstein scandal shows that a skewed power dynamic can allow a few powerful gatekeepers in high-stakes industries to behave violently toward others without being called out.”
There are federal, provincial and municipal laws that outline human rights violations, and some provinces like British Columbia and Ontario have specific bills that require all employers to have a stand-alone policy for addressing harassment and sexual violence. Although change is happening and more people are willing to work to make their spaces safer, the main issues seem to be that many don’t know what is required, may have limited resources, or may be repairing an inherited toxic workplace culture.
Everyone has the capacity to harm and be harmed, but some people are disproportionately affected by this type of violence, and therefore may face even more barriers to reporting or responding. Women and feminine-presenting people, LGBTQ2s+ people, and racialized people (Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour) experience harassment and sexual violence at larger rates, which is a product of misogyny, racism and power imbalances in this industry. These are deeply ingrained systems in our industry that place people in positions of power who often cannot understand or comprehend this truth because of their privilege. Recognizing and confronting privilege in this industry is a necessary first step to creating safer spaces.
The Dandelion Initiative, and many other organizations like ours across Canada, believes in the power of education as a form of resistance to violence and toxic workplace cultures. We have seen first-hand with our small but mighty training program in Ontario, The Safer Bars + Spaces Training, that there is a clear need for this education. But while spaces value this education, many are still hesitant to commit to it. The disconnect stems from privilege, which prevents those in power from understanding the impact of sexual harassment and violence. This is something we cannot change overnight but we are committed to tackling it in a survivor-centric way that is tailored to our industry.
That is why we have contributed to the following guide that Restaurants Canada developed in partnership with Centennial College: How to Create a Positive and Inclusive Workplace. Our contribution includes guidance for taking a thorough, equitable, and practical approach to developing anti-harassment and sexual violence policies and practices that work for your unique workplace. Building a long-lasting legacy for your business means prioritizing the safety of staff and patrons in your spaces. For this to happen, online quizzes and the status quo trainings no longer have a place in this industry — an industry that deserves and demands more.
We hope you will benefit from the context and resources in this guide. We also recommend in-person training and policy development supports — we encourage you to reach out to us for recommended organizations in your area and hire them to partner with you in building safer spaces that prevent and respond to sexual harassment and violence as a priority.
About the author:
Viktoria Belle is an educator, policy developer and consultant as well as the founder and executive director of the Dandelion Initiative.
For more information and resources for creating safer, inclusive spaces for your staff and patrons, check out How to Create a Positive and Inclusive Workplace — a guide that includes a section from the Dandelion Initiative to help your business develop practical policies and practices to prevent and address sexual harassment and violence.