SB Voices: Make equality a long-term priority in spirits

9th March, 2018 by Amy Hopkins

Amy Hopkins reflects on a momentous International Women’s Day, and calls for important spirits industry initiatives around equality to continue.

A number of spirits brands launched new products and campaigns to celebration International Women’s Day

Yesterday (8 March) was International Women’s Day and people around the world united in celebration of the invaluable – and historically overlooked – contribution of women to society, the economy, culture and politics. It also provided an opportunity to highlight the fact that gender inequality continues to exist, and that there is a great amount of work that still needs to be done to overturn the structures, systems and beliefs that feed prejudice against women, and subsequently limit their opportunities.

Of course, there are many heartbreaking and dangerous ways that inequality between men and women manifests, and they need urgent attention. The ways that women in the spirits industry – and female spirits consumers – are subject to gender-based prejudice might not be the most pressing concern for equality advocates – but they certainly matter.

Sexism in spirits marketing persists, as does a lack of women in both executive and operational roles. In the on-trade, women do not receive equal recognition to men – last year, just two women were included in the International Bartender of the Year longlist for the Spirited Awards in New Orleans. An even more upsetting manifestation of inequality is the prevalence of sexual harassment against both staff and female drinkers in bars.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen a number of products and initiatives launch to highlight the talents and tastes of women. Compass Box unveiled Hedonism, The Muse, which is said to celebrate the growing number of women working at the Scotch blender and bottler.

Whisky experts Becky Paskin and Georgie Bell teamed up to launch #OurWhisky – a new movement that aims to “challenge perceptions of the stereotypical whisky drinker”.

Diageo extended its Equalizing Music campaign by partnering with Spotify to give listeners a percentage breakdown of how many male and female artists they listen to. One reader commented on our article announcing the launch, claiming: ‘If you want us to listen to more females, tell them to make better music!’

Jane Walker backfires

One of the biggest and most controversial women-inspired launches was that of Jane Walker – a limited-edition iteration of Johnnie Walker Black Label. However well intentioned (and useful – since a portion of the profits will go to charity), the launch backfired, with a number of consumers and commentators arguing that it is patronising and unnecessary, likening Jane Walker to ‘Lady Doritos’.

There is an obvious difficulty in celebrating International Women’s Day with special-edition launches and activations: they could be seen to trivialise the real struggle of women around the world. Of course, they can be fantastic promotions of equality, but they need to be thoughtful and foolproof. Also, for the cynics of the world, such actions could be viewed as big businesses jumping on a bandwagon to enhance their own reputations.

I have struggled with this argument myself, but ultimately, I came to the conclusion that if something draws attention to the need for greater equality between men and women, it’s usually worth supporting.

What I have noticed, however, is a quieter male voice in the rallying cries for an end to sexism in spirits. In the majority of press releases and marketing materials I have received outlining recent IWD initiatives, women’s faces and voices are front and centre.

Of course, I understand why this is – a loud female voice and representation adds to their empowerment. Women may also have been the brains behind such movements. But as equality movements grow and gain momentum in the spirits industry, it would be great to see more men speak more directly about the issue.

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