Fast-food company Burger King planned a social media campaign to coincide with International Women’s Day but executives ended up playing defense after the Twitter post, “Women belong in the kitchen,” fell flat with much of the audience due to lack of context.
Burger King UK tweeted the message around 9 a.m. local time on March 8. The company followed up with two additional tweets that unveiled a new scholarship program aimed at helping women pursue professional culinary careers.
But critics argued the first tweet came across as sexist and encouraged those with chauvenistic ideas about women. Some slammed Burger King for resorting to “clickbait” to grab attention. Commenters also claimed Burger King could have avoided the confusion by mentioning the scholarship in the first tweet.
Burger King Tweeted About the Scholarship Program Nearly 2 Hours After the Initial Post
Context is key and the original Burger King UK tweet triggered a swift backlash online. It started with the tweet, “Women belong in the kitchen.” Burger King immediately followed that with a second tweet that read, “If they want to, of course. Yet only 20% of chefs are women. We’re on a mission to change the gender ratio in the restaurant industry by empowering female employees with the opportunity to pursue a culinary career.” The account included the hashtag “IWD” for International Women’s Day.
It took nearly another two hours before Burger King UK specifically mentioned the scholarship in a third tweet: “We are proud to be launching a new scholarship programme which will help female Burger King employees pursue their culinary dreams!”
As of this writing, the original tweet had been retweeted more than 300,000 times and generated more than 52,000 replies and nearly 600,000 “likes.” The secondary tweets received far less attention.
A Burger King spokeswoman, Adrianna Lauricella, explained to the Washington Post in an emailed statement that the company realized in hindsight that the company may have distracted from its intended message by choosing to release the information in separate tweets:
We are committed to helping women break through a male-dominated culinary culture in the world’s fine dining restaurants — and sometimes that requires drawing attention to the problem we’re trying to help fix. Our tweet in the UK today was designed to draw attention to the fact that only a small percentage of chefs and head chefs are women. It was our mistake to not include the full explanation in our initial tweet and have adjusted our activity moving forward because we’re sure that when people read the entirety of our commitment, they will share our belief in this important opportunity.
Burger King’s Scholarship Will Help at Least 2 Women Pay for Accredited Culinary Programs
The scholarship program the Burger King UK Twitter account was promoting is actually taking place in the United States. It’s called the Helping Equalize Restaurants scholarship or H.E.R. program.
According to the Burger King Foundation website, at least two women will receive scholarships of $25,000 each that can be used for accredited culinary programs. Burger King employees who have worked at the restaurant for at least six months are eligible to apply and need to have plans to enroll in a culinary institute or program for the 2022-2023 school year. Applicants also need to have earned a high school diploma or GED to be eligible.
Burger King also bought advertising space in the print edition of the New York Times to promote the scholarship. According to AdWeek, the Times advertisement included the “women belong in the kitchen” headline but added the following language: “Fine dining kitchens, food truck kitchens, award-winning kitchens, casual dining kitchens, ghost kitchens, Burger King kitchens. If there’s a professional kitchen, women belong there.”
Burger King Was Correct That There Are Significantly Fewer Top Chefs Who Are Women, in Both the United States & the United Kingdom
In the Twitter thread, Burger King wrote that only 20% of chefs are women. According to Data USA, which compiles statistics based on government data such as census information, about 77% of chefs and head cooks in the United States were men as of 2019. It also found that women earned, on average, about $10,000 less than their male counterparts.
NPR reported in 2018 that among restaurants in the United States, only about 7% of those businesses had lead chefs who were female. It’s a similar situation across the pond. The Guardian reported in 2016 that women accounted for about 18.5% of professional chefs in the United Kingdom.
These statistics may account for why Burger King decided to keep the “women belong in the kitchen” tweet on its thread despite the criticism. KFC Gaming commented on the original tweet with a meme that read, “The best time to delete this post was immediately after posting it. The second best time is now.”
Burger King responded, “Why would we delete a tweet that’s drawing attention to a huge lack of female representation in our industry, we thought you’d be on board with this as well? We’ve launched a scholarship to help give more of our female employees the chance to pursue a culinary career.”