Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a global day that celebrates women and marks a call to action for accelerating gender equality.

There are a couple of themes around this year’s IWD. One is around the tag ‘Embrace Equity’, which highlights the differences between equality and equity, and how we can create an inclusive world. The other, set by UN Women Australia off the back of the UN Women Global theme, is ‘Cracking the Code: Innovation for a Gender Equal Future’, which is about innovating to create meaningful positive change. 

In recognition of the importance of IWD and these themes, The Shout gathered the insights of some inspirational women across several parts of Australia’s liquor industry, to find out what the day means to them and what conversations and action they hope these themes will prompt in the industry.

Jennifer Anderson, Managing Director, W. Short Hospitality

Anderson believes that equity starts at the top of any organisation, and having a diverse head office team has led to an industry-leading inclusion for staff.

“It can’t be an accident that we have one of the most diverse head office representations in the industry. We have a vast range of different roles that require different skillsets and degrees of experience. We look from within first, but are always keen to broaden the net and take the opportunity to bring new faces and diversity into the mix.

“At the end of last year we implemented a paid parental leave scheme that I believe is industry leading and recognises the significant value that both women and men as either primary or secondary carers bring to the business.”

Linda Boswell, General Manager – Western & Central Region, Australian Liquor Marketers

Fortunately, Linda counts her experiences around equity as mostly positive, however she has noticed that unconscious biases can arise from the different ways that people think, even as the industry shifts. Being aware of these biases is a great first step, and Linda has been challenging herself to think differently around the theme of equity, not only between genders, but between generations. She said it’s important to understand that the needs of those entering the industry now are different to those generations that came before them – recognising and catering to this change will ensure equity.

“What excites me is we are experiencing a greater level of diversity of thought from the newer generations. For them it is not just about gender it about the experience for all and more pleasingly, I feel they are confident and comfortable to have a voice because of the environment we are creating to nurture our future leaders,” said Linda.

“I believe a holistic conversation focusing on embracing the needs across generations is starting, has started and needs to continue to be had. Equity is all about inclusivity and the more conversations, formal and informal we can have on this topic the better our industry will be.”

Jane Thomson, Founder, Fabulous Ladies Wine Society and the Australian Women in Wine Awards

An important note Thomson had to make around this year’s IWD was about how social media and the trends within it have developed to have a negative impact on women. In particular, she said that the objectification and sexualisation of women on social media has skyrocketed, which is detrimental to the fight for gender equality.

Then in terms of the #EmbraceEquity IWD theme, Thomson said that “it’s great, but it’s probably not urgent enough,” and that the issue deserves stronger attention and funding to create lasting improvements.

“We’ve tiptoed around equity in the wine industry for a long time, and there’s a lot of lip service paid to it… but there’s just not the urgency to make actual long-lasting change in a concrete way,” Thomson said.

“The industry just isn’t putting its hand in its pocket to say, let’s actually really address the issue of equity and gender equality. To solve any issue in the wine industry, we know we need funding, but when it comes to this particular one, no one seems to have it.”

Bianca Dawson, Chief Training and Development Officer, Australian Venue Co.

Dawson was CEO of pub group Sand Hill Road when they were mostly bought out by Australian Venue Co. She made the switch over to AVC as Chief Training and Development Officer with the remit to focus on gender balance throughout the company, and particularly in management. Dawson has many programs underway to achieve this goal, but a focus on diversity is a huge component of her main program.

“One of our big focuses within our HerHospo program is a larger-scale Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) project. Our focuses for 2023 with HerHospo is with our First Nations and LGBTQIA+ communities, so I think when you talk about equity, it’s the importance of DEI and the strength of women within other minority groups. We’re introducing pre-employment programs for First Nations communities, really working out how we can have a larger scale impact. We have to embrace DEI for women across multiple areas.”

Jessey McGowen, Australian Red Winemaker at Pernod Ricard Winemakers

McGowen has been grateful to have strong leaders around her since she entered the wine industry. She believes she has flourished as that network has expanded over the years to become more diverse. One of McGowen’s favourite things about the wine industry is this sharing of ideas and knowledge, similar to sharing a bottle of wine at the dinner table – but she recognises that the opportunity to join this table in the first place can be harder for some due to subtle biases, and that is something the industry should focus on dismantling.

“I hope to see our industry reaching out to the next generation of passionate winemakers to become more involved in their education, whilst also focusing on increasing the level of awareness and understanding of bias and disadvantage across gender and cultural divides,” McGowen said. “Our industry has an ancient history that has thrived from succession planning and innovative ideas, but by taking a more active role in the tertiary education of female winemakers to create a more equitable and diverse environment for these future leaders to enter our industry, our pool of knowledge and collective ability to succeed will only improve.”

Anna Moeller, Deputy CEO, Australian Hotels Association (SA)

For Moeller, part of looking ahead at how we can make change, is to first acknowledge how far we’ve come. She reflected on the attitudes towards women in pubs in South Australia, and how they’ve evolved since pubs were established in SA in 1837.

“If you were a female you could only work in a pub if you were the family member of the owner of the pub. Single women weren’t allowed to hold a hotel license at all.  That was legislated in 1908 and that lasted up until about WWII, and then they could see the sense in letting women run pubs, while all the men were off at the war.

“Back in 1839, there was actually a requirement that a publican had to provide for ‘a traveller and his horse…or any corpse brought to his public house for the purpose of a coroner’s inquest.’ So you could have a traveller as long as it was a bloke, you could have his horse or a corpse in the pub, but you couldn’t have a woman.”

Moeller continued: “So that’s where we’ve been. Now in South Australia we’ve got about 600 pubs, and they employ over 26,000 South Australians. Over half the employees are women. Increasingly, the number of females in management positions is improving. Since the 1990s we proactively established Women in Hotels, which is a networking and support group to try and raise the profile of women in the industry. Some 30 years later it still remains a really strong vehicle.

“I think looking at what we have achieved is what gives you the energy, the momentum and the motivation to keep going.”

Lisa Ingram-Hegarty, Marketing Manager; Melissa Teale, Merchandise and Promotions Manager; and Melissa Hopwood, Head of Retail Systems; Liquor Barons

In the past year, Liquor Barons has undergone a significant restructure of its head office team – now more than 60 per cent of the office team are female. Ingram-Hegarty and Teale both joined within the past seven months and were pleasantly surprised with their entry to the liquor industry, as well as their positive experiences around this year’s IWD themes.

Ingram-Hegarty said: “The ‘digital gender divide’ in innovation and technology is something that I’ve seen across many of the different industries I’ve worked within. I’m proud to say that ‘gender digital divide’ is not something that’s seen within Liquor Barons Cooperative.”

Teale added: “I was anticipating to find a male dominated industry likely with a lingering ‘boy’s club’ mentality. This has not been the case. I have been supported to succeed by our group and the supplier community, and I have no doubt that I have been offered the same amazing opportunities as any man would have been within my role.”

Hopwood, meanwhile, has been at the company for seven years. Her development to reach her current leadership role was made possible by Liquor Barons’ investment in training to further her knowledge – this is a topic that she’d like to see get more attention this IWD.

“I’d like to see more organisations investing into training and development opportunities for females who show an interest in this space,” Hopwood noted.

Ingram-Hegarty and Teale also noted that investment in the development of female staff is critical to ensure equity in the industry moving forward.

Teale added: “Aligning the external perception of the liquor industry with a clear image of gender equity is critical to successfully recruiting new and highly skilled individuals and store owners to the fold.”

Kate MacDonald, Senior VP – Hotels & Hospitality, JLL

MacDonald is ground-breaking in her heavily male-dominated corner of the industry, but thankfully she has not found that to be hindrance to her career in the brokerage of pub properties across New South Wales.

“Today, I am the only female pub broker in NSW, and am surrounded by the most supportive men AND women in the industry.  The support not only comes from within my team at JLL, but also from my clients. Some clients you could falsely assume would be old-fashioned in their thinking. Some live in remote parts of regional NSW and have operated their hotels for longer than I have been alive. These clients have put faith in me, and continue to do so, when they are presented with many other (male) options for representation in the sale of their assets.”

Bree Nicholls and Jenny Cheng, Co-founders, Sip’er

The focus behind the Sip’er business is to highlight women in the liquor industry, but Nicholls and Cheng said that doesn’t mean every product they stock is solely made by women – Sip’er celebrates various dynamics of women and men. The pair have seen that men were traditionally given the more substantial platform in these partnerships, and although there has already been a definite shift towards giving women the same opportunities and resources to be celebrated, there is still a long way to go.

“As we continue to celebrate the gender minority in the industry, the more this will inspire others to do the same, until we see a true balance of public celebration in the industry, regardless of gender or circumstance,” Nicholls and Cheng said.

“Changing how an industry is perceived is a long-term game and may not happen overnight, but having a chat with people in your inner circle and workplace is a small action we can all take to spread awareness.”

Jaz Wearin, Founder, Modus Operandi Brewing

As founder of a brewery, Wearin would like to see more effort put into creating equitable opportunities in STEM that lead to more high-flying opportunities for women within our industry.

“It seems obvious that there should be a gender balance when embarking on any sort of innovation given it should be accessible and inclusive of all respondents.

“How do we ensure we are doing our bit in the beverage industry to ensure a gender equal future? Even gender distribution in management, offer training at all levels and capabilities and flexibility for working mothers (and fathers). Not an easy feat, we aren’t perfect either, but it’s the awareness that brings change in the right direction.”

Lena Calabria, Calabria Family Wine Group

Lena is the second generation of the Calabria family’s wine legacy, alongside husband Bill. In the early days of the winery, Lena said embracing equity was an absolute must for the survival of the business – supporting each other became engrained in the company’s ethos, where everyone is championed towards success, whatever their needs or starting point.

“Nowadays, our family business has rapidly evolved, and we see equity at the core of our DNA. We have an outstanding community of females in senior roles of management within the company at the moment [including winemakers Emma Norbiato, Mel McWilliam and Stephanie Lucas],” Lena said.

“There has definitely been progress in this space, but we’d love to see where this will evolve further in the industry and what can be done to further encourage and highlight the success of the female leaders in our industry.”

Rosemary Smith, Co-founder, Black Snake Distillery

At her regional Australian agave distillery, Smith said gender isn’t something she gets hung up on in the industry. Smith runs the distillery with husband Stephen Beale and does believe that in their small sector of the spirits industry, someone of her gender and age is a rarity.

In terms of her thoughts around the Embrace Equity theme, Smith believes in everyone playing to their own strengths and realising the value that they bring – it’s not necessarily about everyone doing all the same things. At Black Snake, for example, Smith’s nose plays an integral part to the distilling process alongside Beale’s scientific knowledge.

Smith continued: “We’re talking about equity rather than equality, because with agave, I don’t think things can be absolutely equal. It’s not physically possible for most women to pick and haul an agave weighing 80 kilos. There’s limitations in this business if you don’t have the strength or the physique to it, so women can take other roles, that are just as important.”

Karli Small, Head Brewer and Production Manager, The Grifter Brewing Co

Around IWD this year, Small said that we need to acknowledge the facts about gender equality and diversity overall in the brewing industry.

“I believe diversity makes successful organisations create diversity of thought, diversity of ideas, diversity of approach. The brewing industry, like many others, has a long way to go in this respect,” Small said.

“Change isn’t spontaneous; it needs to be proactive. Equity recognises that diverse people have equal potential when given the opportunity to exhibit it, and those opportunities must be proactively created. #EmbraceEquity recognises this fact and ideally creates momentum for transitioning from conversation to action.”

Nicola Thompson Hancock, Business Development Director, Mother of Pearl Distilling

Distilling hasn’t always been the home sector of Thompson Hancock, coming from the fashion industry originally. And when she compares her work life in fashion to what it’s now like in liquor, Thompson Hancock sees that different genders dominate both industries, with most of her fashion contacts being female, and most of her liquor contacts being male. With Mother of Pearl, Thompson Hancock has made a point of bringing a lot of women into the company, as well as creating flexible working environments to enable more equitable conditions for everyone.

Thompson Hancock hopes that this mindfulness around equity is something that people can take on board this IWD and beyond, while thinking about the differences between equality and equity.

“I think IWD is about opening the discussion. I found the analogies between equity versus equality really mindful – they actually made me think a lot about how I approach our company structure and working with clients. That’s what’s important, thinking about things in a different way,” Thompson Hancock said.

To read in more detail what these leading industry figures have to say on their experiences within the industry and how it can further improve as a welcoming and equitable space for female-identifying people, read the March issue of Australian Hotelier and look out for the April issue of National Liquor News.

Brydie Allen

Brydie Allen is the Editor of National Liquor News. She has been with Food and Beverage Media since 2019, when she joined the company as a journalist across National Liquor News, Bars & Clubs, The...

Vanessa Cavasinni

Vanessa Cavasinni is the managing editor of Australian Hotelier and Club Management, trade publications for the pub and club sectors respectively. Vanessa has been at the helm of Australian Hotelier since...

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