International Women’s Day is held on 8 March every year as a day to celebrate women’s strengths and to continue the fight for gender equality. As we all know, the liquor industry is about much more than just the products on the shelf. It is also an industry of connection and collaboration.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, National Liquor News spoke to influential women across the Australian liquor industry about their experiences and achievements, and we will be sharing a series of profiles online, and in the March issue of the magazine.

Today, Kathleen Davies, Founder of Nip of Courage, speaks about the places that her career has taken her, and the challenges faced by women in advancing their careers.

NLN: Could you tell us how you got into the industry, and what kind of places your career has taken you?

KD: I began my career in the hospitality industry in the early 90s. I started out as a bartender working in pubs, clubs, nightclubs, and fine dining restaurants for about seven years. A highlight when I was in the hospitality industry was the opportunity to bartend in North America for 6 months, which was a fantastic experience. I highly recommend working overseas to anyone if the opportunity presents itself.

While still working in hospitality for about three years, I held down two jobs at a time as I moved my career into sales and marketing roles within the liquor industry. Back in the late 90s, women in the industry were scarce and were paid a lot less than men. I couldn’t survive solely on my full-time wage in the beginning of my corporate career, hence why I held on to a few bar shifts. I worked within blue chip companies such as Bulmers, Carlton & United Breweries, Lion and Coco-Cola Amatil (Licenced Division). I thoroughly enjoyed learning about sales and marketing initiatives, business and brand strategies, corporate culture and the opportunity of working in large teams. During this period, I travelled all over Australia and visited more than 16 countries.

In 2012 I watched the rise of craft beer locally and internationally and began noticing the craft spirits industry starting to emerge in other counties like the UK and US. In 2013 I founded Nip of Courage, an online retailer and distributor exclusively for Australian spirits. Back then there were about 40 active craft distilleries throughout Australia. When starting out in my distribution business I was ignored by wholesalers for my storage needs, so I was forced to set up my own warehousing to house my stock. It was a huge investment, but it was worthwhile especially when Covid-19 hit in early 2020. Having my own warehousing and logistics experience allowed me to transform my distributor model into a wholesaler model, and we went from holding 40 lines to over 400 lines overnight. Today we carry almost 1,000 lines of just Australian spirits. 

NLN: Have there been any highlights or really defining moments of your career so far?

KD: Previously being on the board of WOHO (Women in Hospitality), and now as the Chairperson for Women of Australian Distilling, has definitely been a highlight of my career to date. I am passionate about helping women to reach their potential and giving them the support and career advice that I wish I had in the early years of my career. My goal is to see more women in the future sitting on boards and holding more senior positions within the liquor and hospitality industry.

NLN: Hospitality and liquor are known to be fairly male-dominated – what are some of the common challenges that you think women face in these industries?

KD: Women working in male-dominated industries may face a variety of challenges, including;

  • Not having the confidence to apply for career advancement
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Pay equity ensuring women and men performing the same role are paid the same amount
  • Lack of mentoring and career development opportunities
  • Sexual harassment
  • Fewer female role models in senior leadership positions to aspire to
  • Feelings of isolation and exclusion

NLN: Do you think there are issues with gender gaps in hospitality and liquor, whether that be pay gaps, ratio gaps, gaps in opportunity, etc? Have you personally experienced these?

KD: Yes. Yes. Yes and yes.

NLN: What are some positive ways that you think women can overcome these challenges, and ways that we as an industry can tackle these types of challenges?

KD: The biggest challenge that stands out like a sore thumb is women missing out on career advancement opportunities. Time after time I see roles advertised in the liquor and hospitality industry and there are not enough women applying for these roles, whether it’s an ambassador role, a distiller position or a management role. As women I believe at one stage or another, we purposely derail our own careers without knowing it. And why, I believe it is because of imposter syndrome.

My personal tips for helping to women overcome self-doubt when applying for their next dream job:

  • Think like a man and wing it: Men don’t always tick the boxes when applying for roles that they really want, so why should women? Men just confidently apply for step up roles whether they tick all of the boxes for a role or not. I say women should fake it ’til they make it, have a crack.
  • Don’t fear failure or rejection: The best lessons in life are learnt when we fail or don’t get the job that we really wanted. Just learn from your failures and get up and have another crack. It’s called resilience, thicken that skin up and stop dwelling on why it didn’t happen, it’s okay to fail.

NLN: The theme for this year’s IWD is Inspire Inclusion – what does this mean to you?

KD: Inspiring inclusion to me means actively working towards breaking down barriers and biases that prevent certain individuals or groups from fully participating and contributing to our industry. It involves promoting diversity, celebrating differences, and embracing the unique perspectives and experiences that each person brings to the table.

NLN: What do you think we can do as an industry to value and encourage women’s inclusion?

KD: There are several ways as an industry that we can encourage women’s inclusion:

  1. Promote diversity and inclusion initiatives: Implementing initiatives such as mentorship programs, diversity training, and creating a welcoming and supportive work environment for women.
  2. Support women in leadership roles: Encouraging and supporting women to take on leadership roles within the industry can help to increase representation and create role models for other women aspiring to enter the field.
  3. Create networking and support opportunities: Establishing networking events, industry forums, and support groups specifically for women can help to foster a sense of community, provide career guidance, and create opportunities for collaboration and growth. I highly recommend checking out these Aussie organisations for networking opportunities:
    • Women of Australian Distilling (Spirits)
    • WOHO – Women in Hospitality (Hospitality)
    • Mix Haus (Hospitality)
    • Pink Boots Society (Beer)
    • WaR – Women and Revolution (Wine)

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