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01 Mar 2024

UK History being made during Women’s History Month – cause for celebration?

UK History being made during Women’s History Month – cause for celebration?

Mex Ibrahim, Founder of Speciality & Fine Food Fair’s partner Women in the Food Industry, discusses how Adejoké Bakare made history in February by becoming the first black woman to win a Michelin Star in the UK, and highlights the ongoing challenges women face in across industries, emphasising the need for collaboration to bring about cultural change for greater gender equality.

UK History being made during Women’s History Month – cause for celebration?

Adejoké Bakare made history last month. On 5th February 2024 she became the first black woman to win a Michelin Star in the UK and only the second black woman in the world to win one.

Self-taught Adejoké ‘Joké’ Bakare opened Chishuru in Brixton Village in 2020. She has now won a Michelin star less than six months after moving to the West End.

On receiving the award and the coveted white jacket from Michel Roux Jr she was over the moon with her win. “I’m speechless,” she said, “Which isn’t usually the case.”

Joké has had a brilliant 2023 heading the lists of London’s Best Restaurants to Eat at (including The FT, Vogue, The Standard) and she was shortlisted as Chef to Watch in Restaurant Magazine's National Restaurant of the Year Awards.

As much as I am thrilled that Joke has won this award, it does lead to some reflection on major food awards like Michelin. Obviously, the star will change Adejoké's life (it changes the life of anyone who receives one, male or female, black or white) which is amazing and why the award is still so coveted.

However, she was also the only woman in the UK to be given a new star this year. She is one of only 15 UK women with a star - there are over 200 Michelins in the UK altogether. With only 15 of these being given to women, these are not figures to be proud about.

When it comes to investment in companies run by women, the figures are equally unimpressive. When we look at the funds going to high-growth companies with at least one female founder, less than 2p in every £1 invested during 2022 went to all-female founded teams, compared to 85p for all-male founded teams.

Commenting on this figure, Julia Elliott Brown CEO of Enter The Arena, advisor to high growth entrepreneurs said: 

"The gender funding gap is shocking beyond belief and deserves far greater exposure in mainstream media and significantly more attention from the government.

"If we don't immediately provide more funding to support start-up growth to those women building the businesses of the future, we will sadly find that we’ll continue to live a world that is run for and by men for a very long time to come.

"More visibility should be given to those investors who are taking a progressive stance on reaching out to female founders, and removing bias from their decision making process wherever possible - they are few and far between, but shining a light on their endeavours and the positive results they see in investor returns will help drag the rest of the market up.”

Women have been chaining themselves to railings, burning bras, and making mammoth efforts to get equality and inclusion for decades. Of course, we have the vote and can now be educated in the same colleges as men, and yet…. here we are in 2024. Women are still underrepresented at board level, still un-recognised for their talents in many industries (not just food) and still not financially invested in at the same levels as men.

One of the reasons we set up Women In The Food Industry was to try to address the balance a bit. It was to shine a spotlight on the amazing things that women are doing across the industry to help the economy, the reputation and quality of UK food and also most importantly to nurture and grow other people and therefore business. It was to get these women SEEN as an inspiration to others.

Female qualities are not weak or lesser qualities.  A natural instinct to nurture, a natural instinct to listen and be considered before reacting, and a natural instinct to be emphatic and see others point of view are qualities that should be valued and seen as necessary in any business.

We want a world where women of all ages, races and backgrounds want to enter the food industry and once they are in the industry, we want to help them to rise to the senior positions they deserve.

Let’s not just celebrate the fact that the needle is slowly moving in a better direction and settle for that. Let’s collaborate with men and work with government bodies and those in power for a cultural change.

As the great writer Toni Morrison said: The enemy is not men. The enemy is the concept of patriarchy as the way to run the world or do things.


This article was written for us exclusively by our partner, Women In The Food Industry, in celebration of International Women's day, taking place on March 8 2024.

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