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Women’s Hospitality Initiative Takes Aim at Culinary Gender Gap

A newly launched campaign in Las Vegas is looking to change the status quo for women in the culinary field.

The status quo of surprisingly few females as head chefs or restauranteurs.

Elizabeth Blau’s career spans several decades. During that time, she’s launched numerous restaurants with Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts International.

Now she’s focused on growing the number of female restaurant owners and chefs. 

"I don't think it's been taboo. I just think it is something we've accepted," Blau told KNPR's State of Nevada, "There was a lot of inequity in terms of women rising to the top leadership positions whether in front or back of the house."

Blau said a lot of women in the industry just focus on the work and don't always think about gender inequality. 

"I guess you get to a certain age and you realize that women are not being able to accelerate at the equal level," she said.

When she came to the realization, Blau co-founded the Women’s Hospitality Initiative to promote, educate and mentor more women in culinary management. 

Another co-founder of the initiative is Jolene Mannina. She's the founder of Secret Burger. She's worked in the industry for years and left a job working in the food and beverage side of a resort to start her own business.

Support comes from

Mannina said it is a great time right now to start this effort.

"We have the support from women and males within the culinary industry in Las Vegas to actually make the needle move," she said, "I feel like it's the perfect time."

She said people are listening and ready to support the initiative.

Mannina said when she left to create her own business she met with dozens of women interested in doing the same thing but not really sure how to navigate the next step.

Blau said that is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for women. They don't get past the first step in the industry.

"If you're not given and taught the proper business, negotiation skills, then you're going to enter an industry but you're not going to excel and not move into leadership," she said.

She said that is why one of the key elements of the initiative is education. 

The Women's Hospitality Initiative is partnering with UNLV's Harrah College of Hospitality to make sure the education portion is addressed.

Stowe Shoemaker is the dean of the hospitality college. He said the college wants to show women interested in the restaurant and hospitality industry what is possible.

"Our goal at UNLV, and this is why we're so excited to partner with these amazing women, is really to show kids the possibilities," he said, "You come to college and you really don't know what you want to do. You have a passion for food. You have a passion for restaurants, but you're not sure how to get into it. You look out and you see all men and you tend to not want to be involved."

He said by working with the Women's Hospitality Initiative young women interested in the field will see that they do have a place in the industry.

Shoemaker also said changes in the curriculum will allow for more hands-on practice in real-life situations so students will be ready to take on leadership roles when they leave school.

While the initiative aims to bring more women into leadership roles, Blau pointed out it is not about setting and meeting quotas. 

"We think we should empower women to be able to have the tools and the strength to be able to do this on their own and we just think that they need an extra push," she said, "They need an extra educational push and we need to open the dialogue so that men know how they can help and how they can be a huge ally in this process."


Elizabeth Blau, co-founder, Women’s Hospitality Initiative and founder and CEO of Blau and Associates; Stowe Shoemaker, professor and dean, William F. Harrah College of Hospitality at UNLV; Jolene Mannina, founder of Secret Burger and co-founder of the Women’s Hospitality Initiative


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KNPR's State of Nevada
Mar 10, 2005