Women in Wine: What a Year it Was
Some people take stock of their lives and the world around them at the beginning of a new year. I, however, have started to take stock of the place of women in the wine world on International Women’s Day. Marked annually on March 8, the day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity, so it seems fitting that we look at the progress and challenges for women in the wine industry.
Although we don’t have formal numbers on women in the wine industry in Canada (winemaking or otherwise), if statistics from other English speaking countries are any indication, women continue to be under-represented in most areas of the industry, especially when it comes to senior management and production. Figures from Australia show that women occupy only 15% of production roles. California has a similar number with only 14% of head winemaker positions held by women, even though winemaking programmes in both countries have almost equal numbers of female and male students. In terms of salaries, according to the 2020 Wine Industry Survey Salary Report (for the US), women’s salaries in the same or similar positions are still comparable to that of men.
Salary discrepancies and lack of representation also occurs in other parts of the wine trade, particularly for sommeliers or senior management positions in wine agencies. Both continue to be largely male dominated and mostly white males at that. The segments of the wine industry in which women tend to dominate are in human resources, marketing and public relations.
The Year It Was
As I look at the past year, it would be difficult to say that things looked very good for women in wine, and I do not mean because of the pandemic. In the past twelve months, the industry has witnessed the #winebitch scandal in the UK and learned about rampant sexual harassment and abuse in the US Court of Master Sommeliers as chronicled in the New York Times exposé. Most recently, a similarly disturbing episode occurred in France when a crude, sexist cartoon appeared in a leading French wine guide, igniting a vicious debate and exposing outdated and misogynist attitudes towards women by the old, male guard of Francophone wine writers. So, after a year like this, one cannot help but wonder how welcoming and safe the wine industry is for women.
There have, however, been positive developments focused on raising awareness of challenges faced by women in the industry, as well as the overall lack of inclusiveness and diversity. Groups such as Femmes du Vin, Vinica Education Society and VinEquity in Canada and the Assemblage Symposium, Bâtonnage Forum, Wine Empowered and Wine Unify, among others, in the US are positive and overdue. They are also a reminder of the long road ahead before the wine industry reflects the gender composition of society, to say nothing of the inclusion of BIPOC (Black people, Indigenous people and other people of colour), LGBTQ2S+ and other traditionally disenfranchised groups.
The wine industry, as convivial as it is may appear, remains overwhelmingly male-dominated and white. Moreover, given that wine consumption continues to drop in many parts of the world and younger consumers are being drawn to the cocktail, hard seltzer, craft beer and low/no alcohol space, all segments of the wine industry need to focus on how to make both the product and business more welcoming, inclusive and diverse or suffer the long-term consequences of inaction.
Janet Dorozynski left life as an academic and has been tasting, judging, teaching & communicating about wine, beer and spirits from across Canada and the world for more than twenty years. She holds the WSET Diploma, a PhD from Concordia University and is a WSET Certified Educator.