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Moving forward from International Women’s Day: #ChooseToChallenge

As March almost comes to an end and we consider International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month this month, Diageo global cocktailian Lauren Mote and The Spirits Business editor Melita Kiely join forces to discuss female empowerment and why the global bar scene should #ChoosetoChallenge inequality – in all its guises – all year round.

Left to right: Lauren Mote, Diageo global cocktailian, and Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business

The F word – feminism – is no longer the scarlet letter it once was. However, the road to gender equality – including all the nuances that come with it, spanning ethnicity, class, sexuality, age and more – is ever-winding, ever-evolving.

The Spirits Business is proud to partner with Diageo Bar Academy, a platform that is very successfully inspiring, empowering and connecting with bar professionals around the world, as we focus on this area.  And as editor of The Spirits Business, I am honoured to collaborate with Lauren Mote, bartender, business owner and Diageo global cocktailian, to champion gender equality and reiterate the importance of elevating women worldwide all year round.

Bringing important discussions to the airwaves

On International Women’s Day this month (8 March), Diageo Bar Academy released an exclusive episode of its Bar Chat podcast series, recorded specifically for International Women’s Day. Hosted by Lauren, the podcast featured leading luminaries from around the world, who discussed barriers facing women across the drinks industry and positive steps that can be taken to create a more inclusive, equal sector.

“We spoke to Redempta Muluka from Kenya, Sebastian Maggi from Mexico, Nicola Dean from Australia, Minakshi Singh from India, and Tristan Stephenson from the UK,” Lauren explains. “It was great to have all these voices together to talk about what diversity means, what support networks look like and what it means to be a true ally, and what steps we can take to not leave people behind.

“It was a really amazing in-depth conversation, and male, female, or however you identify, I think because of the vast array of personalities we spoke to, you’ll find something inspiring on the podcast.”

Diageo recently recommitted to being a leader in the journey for inclusion and diversity. As part of the company’s 10-year action plan, ‘Society 2030: Spirit of Progress’, to help create a more inclusive and sustainable world, the Johnnie Walker owner pledged to champion inclusion and diversity across the business, with 45% of its leaders coming from ethnically diverse backgrounds by 2030, as well as having women occupy at least 50% of all leadership roles. In addition, Diageo Bar Academy has promised to offer skills and training to more than 1.5 million people to provide opportunities to thrive in and mould an inclusive hospitality industry.

“As an extension of this plan, Diageo Bar Academy is dedicated to the long-term health and vitality of our industry,” says Mote. “It’s about offering education to create an inclusive hospitality sector through the incredible resources available.

“How we do this is by being highly accessible, the Diageo Bar Academy online resources are available for free, and by using diverse voices that give a balanced representation of the people who make up the industry. We’re committed to harnessing this global community of bar professionals, raising standards worldwide and creating pathways to help people grow and build a career in the industry.”

Feeling inspired

Inspiration was a key topic of discussion for Lauren and me as we were formulating this editorial piece together. We named and celebrated myriads of women across the drinks world who leave us in awe on a daily basis and were left empowered by the euphoria that comes when we lift each other up, instead of tearing one another down.

I have the joy of working with a steadfast team of talented women on a day-to-day basis at The Spirits Business, from the ever reliable, focused, and knowledgeable Nicola Carruthers, news, web and social editor, and my right-hand-woman in this most-challenging past year, to the trio of women who formulate our burgeoning events department: Sophie Allan, Rhiannon Morris and Sophie Manson.

Behind the scenes, you might not know them by name, but the talents of Anjali Shrestha and Latoy’ah Shaw, two-thirds of our digital team, are woven into the intricate coding that fabricates and the mailers that ping into your inboxes.

I’ve been fortunate to work under the guidance of three female editors in the past, all of whom advocate for gender equality in different ways – Becky Paskin, spirits writer and co-founder of Our Whisky, Kristiane Sherry, content editor at Master of Malt, and Amy Hopkins, freelance spirits writer and editor. All three women have been my mentors at various points in my career, and, most gratefully, have become life-long friends.

I’ve watched Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality, campaign tirelessly to protect the vibrant British bar scene in its hour of need this past year. I’ve interviewed author and entrepreneur Fawn Weaver about her journey to bring the story of Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green, the enslaved Black man who taught Jack Daniel distilling, into the public domain.

And I’ve admired from afar the work of Canadian bartender Kelsey Ramage, one-half of Trash Tiki, on her global quest to cut waste in bars and teach those behind the stick how to turn what is often seen as ‘rubbish’ into some spectacular-looking cocktails.

Lauren Mote Diageo
Championing female empowerment: Lauren Mote, Diageo global cocktailian

For Lauren: “You can have mentors in a variety of different age groups. Firstly, Lynette Marrero, she’s the co-founder of Speed Rack. She’s amazing, we’re still connected and talk several times a month.

“Claire Warner, co-founder of Aecorn, is a total legend. She’s an all-round wise woman and now we get to work together.

“Emily Wheldon, former head of World Class globally, and now head of World Class in Australia, always manages to surround herself with great, amazing people. She just has power to connect with someone’s inner passion.

“Anya Haarhoff, who is the director of Prestige for Diageo Global. From the moment Anya started, she was a connector, she came from the beauty industry and there were so many interesting similarities between beauty and drinks. It’s been one of my biggest pleasures at my time in Diageo being able to learn from her and she does put the team before everyone else. She’s an incredible mentor to many.

“Lastly, in Australia, Paige Aubort, who is the founder of the Coleman’s Academy, a bartender and activist for women’s rights. She can bring the worlds of bar and feminism together in a way that really does inspire everybody, not just women, but in a way that all humans feel comfortable.”

Not forgetting, of course, the many women who are paving the way and left an amazing legacy within the industry. Diageo global brand ambassador Jenna Ba recently challenged the Diageo Bar Academy audience to a quiz related to influential women in the drinks industry.


As female empowerment grows and more women are confident cranking up the volume on conversations about equality, as Lauren previously stated, it’s time to make sure we bring other marginalised groups with us. Business owners can help by being transparent about their company values and mission statements; by adjusting hiring and interview processes to attract more qualified and wholly capable women into top roles; and to be clear on where they stand when it comes to making a welcoming space for LGBTQ+ team members.

“When we talk about creating inclusive and safe spaces for hospitality, it shouldn’t be just about bartenders who identify as a man or woman, we have to be mindful that people have the freedom today to present themselves in a way they feel most comfortable,” Lauren adds. “Each country and region will change drastically on resources, as those are conversations we’re still having and it’s important to really find the people in the industry that represent who you are, the type of person you are and how you identify.”

For women looking to build a career in the bar industry, as someone with 24 years’ experience in hospitality, Lauren encourages you to “keep pushing” to make it happen. “Use social media, Zoom, LinkedIn – connect with those who inspire you, reach out and create a network of strong support,” Lauren adds. “Training is really important, make sure you’re always bettering yourself. Diageo Bar Academy is a great resource. Whether it’s the free e-learning, masterclasses, podcast or articles, there is a wealth of content to equip us to be great bar professionals and leaders within our industry.

“Your reputation is your most prized possession – remember it takes years to build, and seconds to destroy.

“Lastly, tell people what you want. Sometimes we get nervous, but being able to answer the question ‘what do you want?’ and not being afraid to tell everyone around us, means opportunities that might show up in the most random moment won’t pass you by.”

For our male-identifying associates, Lauren has some equally poignant words of wisdom: “Make sure you’re hiring people on skillsets and attracting the right people who align with your core values. You’re our most important allies in what we’re trying to achieve; you’re part of building this equitable, safe and wonderful world to be in.”

As the world moves on from International Women’s Day, it’s important we don’t lose sight of the work that still needs to be done, and that we all continue to #ChoosetoChallenge inequalities, today, tomorrow and every day thereafter.

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