International Women’s Day on March 8th is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in their community.
With 2016’s theme a #PledgeForParity, we asked eight rather brilliant women in the Drinks Industry for their thoughts.
Twin entrepreneurs Joyce and Raissa are co-founders of low-calorie soft drinks Double Dutch. Winners at the Virgin Start-Up Foodpreuner Festival in 2015, the mixers use innovative flavour pairings to enrich the taste of premium spirits.
Jess left Project Management at Innocent Drinks to co-found The Duppy Share Rum – a premium, cask-aged golden rum with a naughty streak. With punch parties and joie-de-vivre, Jess is spearheading a rum revolution…
Co-owner of Bubbledogs, super sommelier and Champagne expert Sandia Chang knows her wine. With stints at Noma, Per Se New York and Marcus Waring at The Berkley, she consults with passion and champions small-scale producers.
Identified by Forbes as one of the most powerful women in Mexico, Bertha was the first certified female Maestra Tequilera (a distinction previously only held by men). One of Food and Wine's most innovative woman, Bertha founded Casa Dragones Tequila to critical acclaim in 2009.
As Head Sommelier and Operations Director for JKS restaurants (a portfolio including Michelin-starred Gymkhana, Trishna and Lyle’s) Sue is an expert in her field, with a current focus on interesting wines from emerging regions with indigenous varietals.
Lizzie and her sister Melanie (Head Distiller) founded socially responsible Macchu Pisco in 2004. While Melanie handles the growing of grapes, distilling, and packaging, Lizzie directs the legal, marketing, and importing.
Having worked at restaurants such as London's River Café and Melbourne's Attica, as well as Bistrot Bruno Loubet and The Zetter Group, Emily founded her Wine Consultancy Vinalupa to share her passion and expertise for all things wine
Discussing Gender Parity in the Drinks Industry
Q.1 Working in a fairly male-dominated industry, do you feel that you have been judged as a result of your gender? Are there any incidents in particular?
JOYCE+RAISSA – DOUBLE DUTCH (J+R) "The drinks industry is definitely predominantly male - but if you think about it, our industry is all about exposure and getting as much brand recognition as possible. Who do you think all those men will remember at a f&b convention; the 50 men or the 2 only girls… We took our disadvantage and turned it into one of our strengths."
JESS – DUPPY SHARE "Yes, people don’t expect to meet a girl who owns a rum company and that can give you an edge!"
LIZZIE – LA DIABLADA "My sister Melanie was certainly not welcomed when she first arrived in Inca, she was even dubbed "la gringa" and chided for "overpaying" farmers for their grapes. People can’t believe that Macchu Pisco wasn’t a legacy handed down by our father or grandfather but founded by us, two sisters, and that we were introduced to the more refined points of pisco by our 100-year old grandmother!"
SUNAINA – JKS RESTAURANTS "I remember walking into a room of 20 men in suits, all of whom were above the age of 45. They were nothing but welcoming but I think it is probably natural to feel a little out of place in such a scenario! I think it not only came down to my gender, but I was only 22 when I started in the industry. I can imagine that certain guests who were used to drinking wines older than me were a little dubious or startled when they asked for the sommelier and I presented myself!"
BERTHA - CASA DRAGONES "When I co-founded Tequila Casa Dragones with Bob Pittman, one of the founders of MTV and current CEO of iHeart Media, he wanted to work with me because of my credentials and my knowledge of tequila - we were just two entrepreneurs, regardless of gender."
SANDIA – BUBBLEDOGS "I’ve been fairly lucky that I've never been judged as a result of my gender in a negative way. If anything, I remember when I was a young chef, my chef de cuisine at that time said he much preferred having women as cooks because they are more detailed and caring and less testosterone driven."
EMILY – VINALUPA "I have never felt that I have been treated any differently for being a woman at work and neither have I expected to be. The only difference I have experienced is that guests and press are in general a lot more curious of me, because I am female…"
Q.2 Do you see continued gender inequality in the drinks industry,
or are there promising signs of change?
EMILY "From my own experience, I don’t see gender inequality in wine today. There are now so many women and men who work in wine, most of whom are forward thinking individuals who take pride in their work and appreciate the knowledge and hard work of their colleagues. Of course, there does seem to be an extra mention if some one is a female but I do believe this will become less frequent."
SANDIA "I believe we don’t see any more gender inequality in the drinks industry. Both employers and guests recognise and will prefer talent over gender."
SUNAINA "I definitely feel there has been a change over the last 6 years. The change was already in progress when I started, however now I feel that you are almost more likely to see females in certain roles than males. I think the barrier has been broken down, almost completely."
J+R "While it’s still predominantly male, I think there is definitely a number of female bartenders and sommeliers on the rise. And it’s only becoming better. Look at women like Ella Woodward or the Hemsley sisters, although they aren't on the executive team of big corporations, they are having a significant effect and are inspiring other women."
JESS "More female distillers are coming up through the ranks and more and more talented female bartenders and brand ambassadors too."
LIZZIE "Promising signs of change are definitely on the horizon, especially in the US where women in the spirits industry are organizing under the banner of LUPEC, Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails."
BERTHA "I can still honestly say it’s still male dominated. Yet, as with most historically male-dominated industries, women are now taking more leadership roles and when you focus on creating the best possible product, it invites producers, industry leaders and consumers to look past gender and focus on the quality."
Q.3 Do you have a female role model?
J+R, EMILY, LIZZIE, SANDIA "My mum!"
LIZZIE "And my grandmother. She taught me many of the business skills I practise today. It is her principles that have imbued Macchu Pisco with a social conscience and inspired us to give back to the community and to work with a co-op of women farmers."
BERTHA "I’ve have had the pleasure of working with some of the world’s top chefs—many of whom happen to be women. Equally, I am inspired by businesswomen like Bobbi Brown, Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey who have been extraordinarily committed and focused as business leaders."
JESS "Since we started out on the Duppy journey, I have been incredibly lucky to have Heather Graham, ex-Marketing Director at William Grant, as my mentor. Heather has had a brilliant and impressive career and is a strong proponent of women in the industry. It’s inspiring to see what she has achieved and also how she supports and mentors those around her."
SUNAINA "Jancis Robinson is an inspiration to us all, with what she has achieved. On a day to day basis it is great to be able to connect to other women who are in a similar boat, who you can spar with and discuss all kinds of wonderful ideas and concepts."
Q.4 How do you think we can address female stereotypes within the industry?
LIZZIE "It is important to celebrate the great strides being made by women, but it is also incredibly important to discuss how to balance the lifestyle that might be required along with building a family - those are real-life issues which, when addressed, will help open wider doors for more women to enter this industry and thrive."
J+R "I think the best answer to those stereotypes is to prove, “we” women can create a successful company. I think if you believe in your product and are passionate about what you do, you will succeed even if its in a male industry."
SUNAINA "I think it is being addressed on its own accord by the achievements and ambition shown by such a large number of females in the industry. This is proving that there is no longer a disparity between the genders and the playing field is definitely levelled."
BERTHA "I have always considered my male counterparts as equals and ultimately was treated in the same manner. Overall, I think it’s important to focus on doing the best job possible, at all times. At Casa Dragones, we hire the best possible talent, regardless of gender."
EMILY "Honestly, I think the best way forward is to stop categorising women differently. We are forever bunched together in lists with other women, instead of lists with other people!"
SANDIA "We just need more women to not feel like there is a stereotype and not let that stop them from pursuing a career in this industry."
JESS "I think we need to do more to give women the confidence and ambition to believe they can go to the top, which holds true of any industry. There is a brilliant and supportive network of women building drinks businesses including Florence from The Pickle House, Cara from Ban Poitin and Katherine from Axiom Brands."
Q.5 And finally, do you have any advice or words of wisdom
for women trying to break into male-dominated professions?
EMILY "Do your job to the best of your ability and accept nothing less than you are worth."
SUNAINA "Rise to the challenge - and don’t see barriers as unbreakable. If you have the passion, drive and ambition, you should have the confidence to succeed in what you do best, regardless of your gender or who you are up against.
LIZZIE "Be assertive! Every time I think I'm only going to ask for X, I push myself to ask for X+."
JESS "Go for it! Believe you can do it and use being in the minority to your advantage."
BERTHA "Definitely just go for it! Be confident, creative and passionate. Be the best that you can be and be good at what you do. It is all about passion and believing in yourself."
J+R "Use your femininity, your passion, mix it with hard work and discipline, top it up with your own personality and you will have a perfect cocktail to succeed. Basically you just have to try and do it!"
SANDIA "I would recommend not to think of yourself as a women trying to break into a male dominated profession!"