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Encouraging diversity in the drinks industry

A panel of industry experts at the recent London Wine Fair discussed equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives in the drinks sector.

diversity inclusion
Experts gathered to discuss how to effect change in the industry

EDI initiatives have quickly become staples for businesses in many industries. In the drinks sector, we’ve seen the launch of Diversity Distilled and OurWhisky, while alcohol firms have pledged to launch EDI initiatives and funding programmes to drive diversity in the industry.

It was also front of mind at this year’s London Wine Fair, where a panel of industry experts discussed the topic: ‘Creating change: Improving safeguarding and equity in the drinks industry’. The panel was chaired by Lulie Halstead, director of IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, and organised by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), The Drinks Trust charity and the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, which are together working on an initiative to create an inclusive and equitable UK drinks industry. They have now launched an appeal for funding to support the project in its early stages.

Miles Beale, CEO of trade body the WSTA, said: “We are collectively trying to create an accountable drinks industry that is equitable, diverse, inclusive and safe. We will shortly appoint an expert advisory council to guide the programme board and to support the right direction of travel for our shared initiative. Council members will be vital to offering support, expertise and urgency, as well as representing communities across the drinks industry.”

The panel- Lorraine Copes, Sofia Gassne, Gary Keller and Queena Wong
The panel: Lorraine Copes, Sofia Gassne, Gary Keller and Queena Wong

The panel comprised Lorraine Copes, founder and CEO of Be Inclusive Hospitality (BII); Sofia Gassne, head of HR, Hawksmoor; Gary Keller, wine and drinks expertise director and disability employee research group lead, Molson Coors; and Queena Wong, founder of Curious Vines.

Speaking about their initiatives in the industry, Copes launched the BII Spotlight Awards to celebrate culturally diverse companies in the sector. She noted that fewer than 2% of industry awards were given to people from diverse backgrounds. “Awards are a huge part of what we do. The work that we’re doing is around celebrating talent that exists in the industry,” she said. Through the awards programme, she hopes that ethnic minorities will see more diversity in the hospitality industry so that Black and ethnic minority talent entering the sector can see celebrated industry role models that look like them.

Copes hopes to expand her BII platform beyond the UK to become a global enterprise.

Hospitality-specific training

Gassne is the founder of Culture Bar, which facilitates hospitality-specific training focused on women’s safety, anti-harassment, and bullying, and EDI. She highlighted that the training she developed aims to look at how “everyone can be part of the solution”, and focuses on both men and women. She said it was important to change the way that we talked about violence. “Women, whenever they’re talking about their personal experience, always said ‘they were so lucky’ when a bad thing happens to them,” she added, noting the importance of the day-to-day language used and its “consequences in the long run”. She added: “We’re going to change this. This is a problem for everyone.”

Molson Coors has rolled out a diversity-and-inclusion council, and six-month parental leave for everyone, regardless of gender, noted Keller, in a bid to improve its EDI.

Wong, who runs a platform that equalises the gender imbalance in the wine world, is also seeking to put the spotlight on “younger talent” in the industry and help them to join like-minded communities and gain visibility.

When asked what her advice would be to leaders in the drink industry, Gassne cited the need for diversity to drive change in the industry, as we often “live within a box to
find solutions”.

Keller noted the need to be “open-minded”, and called on people to “learn from every single background to improve yourself and remain true to your business values”.

In their closing remarks, Gassne urged the industry to “wake up and take responsibility to make the industry a better place to work”.

This was echoed by Copes, who told the audience members: “You all have power, and you all have influence, and if you choose to do nothing you are complicit in the problem that you are trying to address.”

Keller spoke about people being able to be their ‘authentic self’ in the workplace and how the industry needed to strive to be inclusive for all.

Wong called on male leaders to help create a safer working space: “Things are changing and we need to make leaders look forward to the future and change things for the next generation; we all need to be authentic in our commitment to EDI”.

Beale added some final remarks to the seminar, and said that the aim was to create a network and launch an advisory programme. He said: “We are now at the stage where we are ready to address the industry and appeal for funding to make sure that we can resource our efforts fully and deliver the first stage of the programme.”

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