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Two-thirds of women in whisky face sexual harassment

A survey of more than 600 women in the global whisky industry has revealed that 70% have experienced sexual harassment while doing their job.

women in whisky
A third of women have been inappropriately touched while working in the whisky industry

The survey – Do You Even Like Whisky? The Barriers Holding Back Women in the Industry – is the world’s first global survey of women in whisky, conducted in July 2023 by the OurWhisky Foundation.

The non-profit, which supports women in the global whisky sector, received 602 responses from women in multiple countries who represent a variety of job roles within the whisky industry.

More than two-thirds (70%) of all respondents said they’d experienced inappropriate or sexual remarks while doing their job, while 33% have been inappropriately touched.

This figure rose to 44% among those working in consumer-facing roles, such as brand ambassadors, retail and hospitality.

These figures account for 27% of consumer-facing women who have been working in the industry for five years or less, indicating that this is not a historic problem.

Unconscious bias

Almost nine-in-10 (87%) of respondents felt that they experience more challenges in the workplace than their male counterparts, citing the top three most significant challenges they face are unconscious bias (84%), stereotyping (76%) and a lack of representation (54%).

Becky Paskin, founder of the OurWhisky Foundation, said: “While the industry appears to be taking steps towards inclusion and better representation, this survey clearly shows women feel they aren’t supported enough. It’s important to realise that while it’s perhaps easy to shrug off a solo incident, these micro aggressions build up over time to have a devastating impact on the women in our industry.

“The escalation of these attitudes into inappropriate verbal and physical behaviour cannot be ignored. The industry needs to take this issue extremely seriously.”

OurWhisky launched an open source image library to tackle gender bias in whisky

More than 80% of female respondents making, selling and promoting whisky reported being asked by both colleagues and consumers if they even like the spirit, with 89% agreeing that consumers still widely perceive whisky to be a man’s drink.

Of the 80% of women surveyed who said they work in consumer-facing positions in which they are required to conduct tastings or tours, 89% said they had been spoken over or had their knowledge questioned while conducting a tasting, while 83% have experienced customers preferring to talk to a male colleague.

The results found that two-thirds of respondents said the masculine reputation of the sector makes their jobs more challenging, however just 16% felt that the industry was doing enough to change that perception.

When it comes to whisky advertising and marketing, just 16% felt women were fairly represented, with only 10% agreeing women are fairly represented by the media.

Paskin added: “Being spoken over, having your knowledge questioned or being asked if you actually like whisky are common occurrences for women working in whisky. These are surface-level yet widespread examples of unconscious bias manifesting as micro-aggressions – the ongoing effect of decades of male-targeted advertising.”

Parental support

When asked about parenting, 62% of respondents said they were concerned about the impact of motherhood on their career.

This answer was most common among women aged 25-30 (70%).

Furthermore, only 39% believed their company’s maternity policies are supportive enough, with 34% unsure what those policies actually are.

In addition, 41% of mothers did not feel supported when returning to work.

Millie Milliken, head of content and the develop programmes at the OurWhisky Foundation, commented: “The results of this survey dispel any argument that there isn’t a sexism issue in our industry. While ‘it’s not as bad as it used to be’ – an argument often used to dismiss the issue – these issues are very real for women working in whisky right now and there is still a lot of work to be done by businesses to make working in the industry safer for their female employees.

“If you break these percentages down into real-life numbers, the figures are sobering. Luckily, there are tangible solutions that can be implemented by businesses to counteract these issues and actively reduce those numbers. If change is ever going to happen, leaders and decision makers need to sit up and take action – this is something we need to act on now.”

In order to tackle sexism in the industry, the OurWhisky Foundation has identified several key areas businesses must focus on.

These include: improve representation of women in advertising and marketing, while avoiding stereotyping; implement unconscious bias and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training for all staff, including senior leadership teams; implement bystander training and clear anti-harassment policies; conduct a company pay audit and encourage pay transparency to ensure fair and equal pay; and allow flexible working hours and locations for all parents, not just women.

The OurWhisky Foundation plans to conduct further in-depth research to gauge the full extent of problems faced by women in the whisky industry.

Earlier this year, the foundation launched an image library to tackle gender bias in whisky.

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