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, Nicole David, Licensee and Director of Elizabeth Bay Cellars, shares some of the common misconceptions in liquor retail and the benefit of having a female perspective.

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

ND: My parents opened their first liquor store in 1966, so you could say I have been in and around the industry my whole life. I spent a lot of time as a young child “helping out” in the shop. As they expanded and bought more stores the liquor industry was a major part of conversation in our household.

Once I turned 18, I was officially employed at Elizabeth Bay Cellars and have been involved directly and indirectly since then over the last nearly 40 years (gosh that makes me feel old.)

Over the years there have been so many wonderful industry events, visits to amazing wineries all around the world, engaging with winemakers and I have been so honored to meet some of the most amazing people in the industry who have taught me so much.

In my 20s my parents encouraged me to travel to Italy, where I spent eight years working in the hospitality and liquor industry. It was an amazing experience and taught me so much in the role I play now.

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

ND: Gosh, so many. One that I always talk about was spending time with Doug Lamb, he taught me more about wines than anyone and was just so passionate.

Another was two years ago, when dad was unwell, being able to just jump in and take over the business, it showed me just how much I had learnt over the years that I hadn’t realised. Sometimes when you are pushed into a situation where you have to step up, you surprise even yourself. It made me realise just how much of dad had rubbed off. He was an amazing retailer and obviously a lifetime of being around him had sunk in.

Becoming the licensee of Elizabeth Bay Cellars taking over from dad, who I believe was the longest continuing licensee in NSW, was really filling some big shoes.

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?

ND: Recognition. I think in Australia there is such a male-dominated alcohol and drinking culture, so in this industry traditionally that has definitely been the problem with networking. Women network and connect differently.

In retail liquor, the product knowledge has been perceived as being dominated by males. Now we have more female winemakers, more female reps, and women are definitely more prominent in our customer base, so it makes sense to promote women working in the industry.

I guess it is also the idea of potentially being around people under the influence, with the perception being males can handle them better. Also, the job does require heavy lifting, so males perceive that women can’t do that side of the job. Or probably women also believe it about themselves.

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?

ND: When I look back at the 60 years my family have been involved in the liquor industry and owned multiple stores, there have been very few female staff. I can literally count them on less than one hand.

Everyone talks about my father in the industry but looking back now as an adult and going through a lot of the old paperwork, mum really was such an integral part of the business, but was never given the same accolades or acknowledgements as dad. It was always spoken about as “dad’s business”. She was even the licensee at three of their first stores. That alone speaks volumes.

My two sisters and I have all worked in the shop, but in our early years there was never any real encouragement to “take over”. There were some young guys who worked with us at the time and people always just assumed they were dad’s sons.

When I first took over, I still felt people came in looking for a male boss.

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?

ND: Be true to yourself.

As an industry, we need to actively seek female employees.

We have an amazing female member of staff, Janita, who has been with us for a number of years now. Her knowledge of Champagne is second to none and the way she interacts with customers is so different to the male members of staff.

We advertised for staff last year and no females applied for the position. We have just this week employed a great young female, but we literally had to poach her off the street. Retail liquor was not something she had even considered, but she is fantastic. So, we need to encourage employers to actively seek out female staff in ways other than advertising.

For the first time in our nearly 60 years as a family in the industry, we now have an almost equal male/female team with myself, my sister Michelle, Janita, and now Jen working in the business.

NLN: If we take a step back and think about women in general who are entering the industry and want to further their careers – from your point of view, what advice would you have for them about doing that and getting into the kind of space you’re in now?

ND: Don’t try and be one of the boys. We need women in the industry who bring a female perspective.

Don’t just look at pubs and restaurants, consider retail liquor. It is so much more rewarding, you can learn so much and there are great opportunities to be involved in furthering your knowledge and networking.

Be passionate about what you do, retail liquor gives an opportunity to build on retail skills and on liquor knowledge. I really love the challenges that retail liquor gives me. Anyone can be at the register, but to be a really good retailer, understanding what your customers want and guiding them takes skill.

I would encourage them to give it a go and not just look at it as a job working at a cash register!

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

ND: I hope that we can encourage young women of today to feel valued, to have a voice and to genuinely be confident in who they are and what they have to offer.

For me this sense of who I am has come with age and experience, but it shouldn’t be that way.

International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1911 and yet still we are having this conversation. When I moved to Italy in the late 80s it was such a big thing there, but we had never heard of it as a celebration in Australia.

As a society, we should embrace the value of the female voice, the female perspective especially in the liquor industry.

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

ND: We really need to recognize what a difference females make in the dynamics of a team, particularly in retail liquor, where we so often have repeat, local customers. Women take the time to get to know their customers on such a different level.

The customers even respond differently to them.

As an industry, it would be great to see representation at high school careers nights because I really don’t think young women consider retail liquor as a career opportunity. We need to open up the conversation about the liquor industry as a career path and show young women where it can take them.

We should look at having female only networking opportunities and training.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *