Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a global day to celebrate the achievements of women and mark a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

This year the IWD campaign theme is ‘Choose To Challenge’ as explained on the official IWD website: “A challenged world is an alert world. And from challenge comes change. So let’s all #ChooseToChallenge.”

Kari Allen, Co-founder of the Sparkke Change Beverage Company, describes some of the background behind International Women’s Day, noting that it: “Gives us an opportunity to stop running for a moment to notice and celebrate all of the extraordinary things that women are achieving around the planet. We don’t always make the time to do that.

“But also, I think it is a day that helps to shine a light on the fact that Australia’s position on the global Gender Development Index continues to fall; we are now 42nd out of 166 countries. We have dropped 29 places in the last 14 years, and we are at the bottom of the rankings for developed nations.

“A few years ago global gender parity was estimated to be 175 years away – today the estimate is 200 years. Time to ask ourselves, as humans, what do we need to do to ramp up change on this front?”

In recognition of IWD, National Liquor News is celebrating the hard work of women on both sides of the off-premise industry, both retail and supply. Here, we talk to several inspiring women about their experiences and observations in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, and also hear their advice and messages to their fellow female industry colleagues.

Retail career journeys

All of the women interviewed for this story have noted the progress that has been made in terms of gender equality and empowerment in the industry over time, but there’s always more that can be done.

Monique Strand, who was the most recent winner of the Retail Drinks Industry Award for Young Liquor Retailer of the Year, shared some reflections on her career so far in retail. She told National Liquor News of a moment from the start of her career that still stands out to her today.

“I remember the reaction from my male store manager when I asked if I could do jobs that the men did. He was shocked and confused. He called me into his office a few days later and asked why and told me he was going to give me more opportunity to learn what they do. It felt as if I had asked to do the impossible. But for me, I had never put myself in a category of I can’t because I am a woman. I believe my determination and my mindset never held me back,” Strand said.

Today, however, she said things are different: “More than ever I see our industry evolving in ways that are empowering for women… I do believe the industry is making a conscious choice to shift the mindset and move towards equality. I believe we are on the right path and it is something that should be celebrated.”

Sharni Wise, Retail Operations Manager at Vantage Group, has been working in liquor retail for most of her adult working life and describes similar observations to the industry as Strand. She told National Liquor News that it’s the small things that are being done over time that will have the most lasting impacts, and encourages everyone to think of the role they play.

“Cultural shifts and perceptions take time to occur and then again to be noticed in society that the shift has occurred. There is no quick fix here, and there will always continue to be new challenges. I believe it is all the little things that over time will make a difference. The grand gestures amplify the message, but the gold, the true growth, is found in the small actions over time. Everyone in the industry has a role to play in this.”

For Caz Bailey, Founder of Woodend Wine Store in Victoria, her liquor career has spanned from the on-premise, to winemaking, to retail, over which time she has gathered a range of experiences as a woman in the industry. Bailey studied viticulture and winemaking, worked in wine bars and fine dining restaurants, participated in a number of vintages across multiple Australian and New Zealand wine regions, and was the first woman in 130 years to work on the wine side of wine shop and delicatessen King & Godfrey.

But despite this, she struggled holding down a job because of her battle with endometriosis, a condition that can cause a number of painful symptoms in women, and one that Bailey said was rarely recognised by anyone at the time. Even today it’s described as one of the hardest conditions for women to be diagnosed with.

“Unfortunately I had endometriosis, and I struggled with it. I struggled holding a job down – I’d get very sick and I would leave somewhere or they wouldn’t give me enough shifts because I was always sick. No one knew about the illness back then, it was called ‘women’s troubles’,” Bailey said.

“Endometriosis was the reason I started the wine store… I probably worked harder for myself than I’ve ever worked in my life, but it gave me the freedom and the flexibility to have another staff member step in when I was suffering.”

Caz Bailey

Female leadership

Women with strong industry histories have told National Liquor News about the differences between now and when they first entered the industry. One of the biggest and most positive changes has been the increase in female representation in leadership roles.

Kathleen Davies, Founder of Nip of Courage, has almost 30 years of the industry under her belt. She spoke about how frustrating it could be to have no strong female leaders to look up to.

“I remember when I first went into the liquor industry and started working for blue chip companies, there were no female leaders in breweries at the time and no one to look up to, female-wise. I was one of 13 females out of 500 male reps,” Davies said.

“Things are a lot better than what they were when I first started that’s for sure. When I look back at what things were like and what they’re like now, I think we’ve moved forward in leaps and bounds.”

Strand said these changes have accelerated even further since she has been in the industry, and that it’s been encouraging to have female leaders to look up to.

“The number of women being promoted to managerial roles has grown. I remember there was one female store manager in our area group [when I started] and now it’s almost half women,” Strand said.

Wise added that this momentum can and should be fostered even more – starting with reflection and the industry asking itself some important questions.

She said: “There are some amazing female leaders. The challenge for our industry is how do we create an environment that attracts and retains them? How do we encourage the businesses within our industry to have policies and systems that can then support and nurture this? I would encourage industry bodies and executives of business to ask key female leaders these questions, workshop it with them, and find out what is important to them in a career, workplace and what attracts and keeps them in industry.”

Monique Strand

Sharing support and advice

One of the core tenets of IWD is to celebrate all of the different kinds of achievements of women and in doing so, be inspired by their journeys. Through different experiences in different parts of the industry, we all learn unique lessons – below, a range of industry leading women share their top messages and advice for their fellow females around the theme #ChooseToChallenge.

  • “Take pride in any path you decide to pursue, whether you are blazing a new trail or following the footsteps of women that have inspired you. The liquor industry is wonderfully diverse and there’s still a way to go. Join in and always choose to challenge the status quo when it doesn’t feel right.” – Danielle Allen, Co-founder, Two Birds Brewing.
  • “There is so much power in staying true to who you are and how you want to show up in the world or the industry you are a part of. There is no mould, rulebook or way women must be in the industry. Diversity is where beauty lies, where ideas can be born and change will come from everyone collectively being more aware, sticking to their truth and providing space to listen to another point of view.” – Emma Evans, CEO, CAPI.
  • “Follow your heart – sometimes you might need to speak a little louder than normal so people can hear you. Don’t be afraid to make yourself heard.” – Freya Hohnen, Winemaker, Once & Well.
  • “Find the community that believes in you, close to home and around the world. Dive in believing that you can do it (because you can!), and go back to check in with that community of supporters regularly. They will help you maintain forward momentum in the tough times. And remember that there is no overnight success that is not about ten years in the making.” – Kari Allen, Co-founder, The Sparkke Change Beverage Company.
  • “I had a very influential business woman tell me once that if you don’t know something or don’t know how to do it, that’s okay. Find mentors, hire people that have different skill sets to you and remember its okay to say ‘I will come back to you on that.’ … As the old adage goes, knowledge is power and this is something I like to empower my team with to give them all the confidence they need to succeed in their careers.” – Jaz Wearin, Co-founder, Modus Operandi Brewing.
  • “#ChooseToChallenge means that if something’s not right and we feel there’s an inequality, we can call it out… It’s not an easy industry and now it is even more competitive. But it has such an amazing scope to be creative. The reward comes not in awards – but when you experience the pleasure that people express when drinking your gins.” – Sarah Lark, Co-Founder, Kangaroo Island Spirits.
  • “We work through challenges by communicating and coming together – talking it out, and actively listening can solve so many problems. What I personally have learnt is that powerful and impactful leadership, not knowing the answers, and being humble and fragile, can all exist at the same time.” – Lucy Clements, Operations Director, Premium Wineries ANZ.
  • “Firstly, challenge yourself. Know your worth and let your voice be heard. Secondly, challenge those around you. We know we still have a long way to go in terms of gender equality and it’s not just women’s responsibility – it’s everyone’s responsibility. Challenge yourself and others to lead the change.” – Alli Macdonald, Lead Brewer, Malt Shovel Brewery.
  • “I find the best way to overcome challenges is to have clear goals and continue to focus on what you can deliver and what is in your control. For me, the biggest lesson for 2020 was that we cannot control everything! Sometimes external events or forces will significantly change our plans. The challenge/skill is how do we adapt quickly and try and operate and make sense of that change.” – Anjanette Murfet, Chief People and Communications Officer, Accolade Wines.
  • “Trust your own ability and back yourself. Use your voice and don’t accept inequality. As soon as you do accept it, you normalise it. Don’t feel you need to make a choice between a career and being a mother. The industry is evolving and there are roles that will be right for you.” – Monique Strand, Retailer, Dan Murphy’s Campbelltown.
  • “Just to be yourself, authenticy is so powerful.” – Sharni Wise, Retail Operations Manager, Vantage Group.
  • “You can do anything! Go with your gut, listen to other people, get advice – find someone you admire for a mentor.” – Caz Bailey, Founder, Woodend Wine Shop.
  • “We need to be conscious of the way we talk to ourselves, there’s all these little things that we do subconsciously and don’t realise – the negative talk, we’ve got to stop doing that.” – Kathleen Davies, Founder, Nip of Courage.

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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...

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