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Calls to boost gender diversity in spirits

Industry experts are urging more action to tackle gender imbalance in senior roles of the alcohol sector.

On-trade gender
The survey, released in March 2022, was called ‘Women raising the bar’

In March this year, a survey carried out by membership organisation Women of the Vine & Spirits (WOTVS) and research firm Deloitte revealed just 10% of women think there has been significant positive change in the alcohol industry’s attitude towards female employees over the past five years.

Speaking to The Spirits Business, Deborah Brenner, founder and CEO of WOTVS, explained how important it was to “drive change from the top”.

“It can’t just be that you are changing your hiring strategy and entry level positions because it will take, you know, a very long time before those positions are being promoted,” she explained.

Brenner also expressed the importance of the work culture within the alcohol industry to make progress with diverse hiring.

“You can hire diverse candidates but they will not stay or thrive if there is not a culture of inclusivity and belonging,” she said.

Becky Paskin, founder of the OurWhisky Foundation, expressed views on the stigma attached to female whisky drinkers.

She commented: “Women often have their knowledge questioned when it comes to discussing or drinking whisky – we’re asked if we want water added to it, and if we know what we’re choosing.

“This attitude exists less in the high end bars, as [staff] have access to brand training.”

A large part of the problem, according to Paskin, is an “unconscious bias” that exists amongst both men and women.

“Women are just as capable of unconscious bias as men. We need to undo all of that damage,” Paskin added.

Paskin explained that, starting with brands, greater representation needs to be seen within marketing and communications, and “promoting women from within”.

“Companies can then be more creative and inclusive,” she noted. “A lot of people look at diversity and inclusion and see it as box ticking – it goes deeper than that.”

There has been progress made in the recent years however, Paskin acknowledged.

“The industry can do more, but looking where we are now versus five years ago, diversity and inclusion has become a greater consideration, not just a marketing thing,” she said.

“Macallan owner Edrington has a series of speakers, experts on diversity and inclusion, to give talks to the entire company about the importance of cognitive diversity. There is a lot going on within different organisations.”

Third-party suppliers have a ‘responsibility’

Recently, Paskin called out Detroit-based Resist Spirits for its marketing of FKNG Bourbon, said to perpetuate gender stereotypes.

“People excuse faux pas in marketing and campaigns by stating that the marketing team is made up of women – it is an excuse,” Paskin continued.

“Third-party suppliers need to think about, before supplying their liquid to a brand, whether that brand is actually offensive before doing so. They have a responsibility to do that, as part of the industry.”

Charlotte Barker co-runs Women’s Whisky Night at London-based whisky den Milroy’s.

While her personal experience is one of seeing “more and more women in power”, she believes that a shift towards better female representation requires a “top down” approach.

However, Barker said: “Getting people into hospitality at all, and trying to find a diverse selection of people, let alone on a gender basis, will be quite difficult – people look at long hours [and] at strenuous activity, [so] it’s going to be hard to see that.”

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