Breaking the Glass Bar
For many, a night in the pub is carefree, frivolous, and sociable. The people who choose to work in the pub industry choose it for just this reason – the customers are cheerful, chatty, interesting and, for the most part, they make our job worthwhile. However, and unbeknownst to many, a more insidious side exists: sexism and misogyny pervade much of our day from the very people we welcome through our doors.
Archaic attitudes, entitlement and privilege mar our shifts. The move towards coming together, embracing the good old British pub, and encouraging the diversification of customers is growing in popularity. In a cyclical process, the diversification of pub-goers will encourage a safer environment for minority groups, and a more pleasant pub for staff. The time of the pub as a white man's institution is coming to an end. It is only through diversification that we can rid pubs of their toxic masculinity and encourage safer environments in which women and other minority groups may work, drink, and socialise.
As a 26-year-old woman in charge of a traditional real ale pub, I'm no stranger to explicit comments and the notion that women 'do not belong in the pub’. It is a male-dominated industry and most men are not pleased when held accountable for their behaviour towards women in this environment. Within the first month of taking the job, a man came in and asked to speak to the manager. His response, having been directed towards me, was, “No, I'd like to speak to the real manager.” This was not to be the last time I was forced to deal with this attitude. And if it’s not comments about women's abilities to be a manager, it is comments on our appearance, our bodies, or our sexuality. We are bombarded with sexual advances and requests for phone numbers when we are just trying to earn a living.
Almost anyone who has worked in the service industry can recall a time where they felt unsupported or distinctly undermined by their manager in a confrontational situation with a customer. Hiring women in an environment where people can be openly hostile towards us often worries me. I believe that in order to encourage a diverse customer base and foster a friendly and integrated environment in which people can relax with their drinks, the staff must feel safe and confident.
My main focus is to empower the women (and men) who work with me so that they do not shy away from harassment, but face up to it and regain control of adverse situations. They are told to respond in a way which makes them feel safe. Some choose to respond to inappropriate comments or actions with sarcasm, or by belittling the perpetrator. Others choose to leave the situation and seek support from other staff. They are all aware that both responses are perfectly acceptable, as long as they are safe. The risk of incurring violence is always present, so people are given tips on how to de-escalate situations and make certain the safety of other staff and customers.
This is the future of the service industry. There is no longer room for hands-off management or 'the customer is always right'. With pub closures endemic in the UK, it is vital that those that remain do what they can do encourage custom. As such, it is time to acknowledge that the old system of 'men go down the pub, women stay home and keep the house' needs to be put to bed. Pubs need to become more female-friendly (in the least patronising sense of the phrase). The rampant masculinity of pubs needs to be acknowledged for its toxicity, and we need to invite women in with open arms.