Working in a galley as a woman

Nov 14, 2019

It’s not a cloudless world for people going to work at sea. Ship life is definitely not as easy as it seems to be. I would like to talk about my experience as a woman after I signed a contract with a reputable British cruise line. I was employed as a “Demi Chef de Partie” in the pastry section, to be a part of the galley team. Until I came onboard a cruise ship, this world was totally unknown to me. Galley. As we call the kitchen in a ship. A human anthill always in action… But people don’t really mention how your life and work will be. It was kind of impossible to know about my future routine before I embarked. So let me tell you more about what I experienced… In the cruise line sector, women represent only 18% of the workforce. In my experience, there is no reluctance in the industry to encourage them to enroll. But once onboard the ship, have they to prove themselves differently when compared to the men? 

I’m going to give my opinion.

Despite my faltering English and my lack of experience at sea, I joined a floating monster of 3 800 passengers and 1 900 crew members. Through a labyrinth of gangways, I found my working place. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have any point of reference… But I was already away. I had to learn quickly how to move around the holds, the guts of the ship. At work, from the first day onboard, profitability, productivity and efficiency were the watchwords. I remember, in the evening during the service, the pastry section was becoming a real jungle. Over the continuous humming of motors, an army of waiters started screaming to get their orders. In production, we used to burn ourselves, we cut ourselves at the first careless fraction of a second. Movements were sometimes less accurate as we worked at a fast pace… Sounds were too loud and tasks were harder than anything I have ever known. However, as hard as work was becoming, day by day, something inexplicable happened. It became addictive… In my experience, the beginning was physically and mentally hard. Even with motivation and a positive attitude, it requires strength.

Every day comes with a bunch of challenges, which is really amazing. And when you aren’t used to this lifestyle, it’s more emotionally difficult than anything else you have experienced, and no, it’s not a “woman thing” to say or feel that. Working in a kitchen is conventionally a man’s world. I’m still thinking that many women fear to take it up as a profession, especially with the fast-paced and stressful environment at sea. 13 hours per day, 7 days a week, without any day off for the next 6 months (at least…).

I had to do the same job as my male colleagues. They considered me one of them almost straight away. No one really thought about my gender. They didn’t treat me in a different way because of it. I think there is a real equality between co-workers because respect for each other is pivotal. The policy against verbal harassment and physical assault is quite omnipresent and adhered to by everyone. Being accepted into a group made up of mostly men didn’t take much time, just a few days. I had to earn their respect but more through my competencies and abilities than my gender. I pushed myself harder to prove my worth. Acceptance is a real challenge… Being able to work in a multi-cultural environment is definitely one of the biggest aspects of the job. This lifestyle strengthens connections, combines cultures and mixes nationalities. But something bothered me… To tell you the truth, the only “problem” I had to face with wasn’t gender-based. It happened when I get a promotion during my first contract. “Because you’re white…” For most of the crew members, it was obviously because of my skin color and not because of my skills. These stereotypes are quite strong onboard. Promotion can be more related to ethnicity than gender… I was faced with a lot of negativity at this time of my contract but I was hoping the move would bring me a huge amount of valuable experience, and it did. Even more, than expected! I try not to be afraid of criticism as I strive for my dreams. Some people in the galley stopped interacting with me and I was feeling kind of isolated, trying to give my best for my new position, to prove to them that I deserved it and i got it for the right reasons. I think I was looking for them to accept and respect that my work merited my promotion. I couldn’t accept this idea of favoritism.

My last message is to never stop exploring our world, believe in yourself because nothing is really unachievable. With passion and determination, women are stronger than they can ever imagine.

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