Not a time for cheers

Do you even like whisky? What a question. The way it’s framed is insulting, particularly around the presumption of ignorance.

The first-ever global survey of women working in the whisky sector has revealed “widespread examples of unconscious bias” and “micro-aggressions” against women.

The Barriers Holding Back Women in the Industry – is the world’s first global survey of women in whisky, conducted in July 2023 by the OurWhisky Foundation.

The non-profit, which supports women in the global whisky sector, received 602 responses from women from a variety of countries who represent a variety of job roles within the whisky industry.

More than two-thirds (70%) of all respondents said they’d experienced inappropriate or sexual remarks while doing their job, while 33% have been inappropriately touched. This figure rose to 44% among those working as brand ambassadors, or working in the retail and hospitality sectors. These figures account for 27% of consumer-facing women who have been working in the industry for five years or less, indicating that this is not a historic problem.

Almost nine-in-10 (87%) of respondents felt that they experience more challenges in the workplace than their male counterparts, citing the top three most significant challenges they face are unconscious bias (84%), stereotyping (76%) and a lack of representation (54%).

Becky Paskin, founder of the OurWhisky Foundation, noted the efforts made toward inclusion and better representation, however she’s very much aware what the survey clearly shows  – women feel they aren’t supported enough.

“It’s important to realise that while it’s perhaps easy to shrug off a solo incident, these micro aggressions build up over time to have a devastating impact on the women in our industry,” Paskin added. “The escalation of these attitudes into inappropriate verbal and physical behaviour cannot be ignored. The industry needs to take this issue extremely seriously.”

OurWhisky even launched an open source image library to tackle gender bias in whisky. It found that more than 80% of female respondents making, selling and promoting whisky reported are being asked by both colleagues and consumers if they even like the spirit, with 89% agreeing that consumers still widely perceive whisky to be a man’s drink.

Of the 80% of women surveyed who said they work in consumer-facing positions in which they are required to conduct tastings or tours, 89% said they had been spoken over or had their knowledge questioned while conducting a tasting, while 83% have experienced customers preferring to talk to a male colleague.

The report is a very interesting read. From it you discover that until workplaces acknowledge the complex layers and make systemic changes, such inequality will remain a distant dream.

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