Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How common is sexism in the wine industry?

I saw a he-said, he-said argument about sexism in wine media this week and it got me to thinking about the state of sexism in the wine industry.

About 20 years ago, the wine industry was male-dominated at every level. Today, women winemakers are common, and some wineries have advertised specifically looking a woman to take the post. Women general managers are more rare, but they exist.

Women sommeliers were rare as recently as 10 years ago, but don't seem so anymore. One place I don't see a lot of women is in wholesaling, which is the most consistently profitable occupation.

But I don't really know what it's like for women in the wine industry, and I'm curious. So I thought I'd do two things: take a poll, and open this post up, for the next week only, to anonymous comments. I'd like to hear insider stories of sexism that people may have actually witnessed.

On the poll, you can select more than one choice, and you can also write in your own.

For commenting, don't let anonymity unleash your inner asshole. Follow these simple rules or I will delete your comment:

1) No profanity
2) Don't insult people 

Have at it, folks.

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Kathleen Inman said...

As a woman winery and vineyard owner and a winemaker, I often encounter very subtle sexism. When pouring at wine events, if my husband, Simon comes along to help, the technical questions about the wines are always directed at him, as people make the assumption that he is the winemaker. Even when they know that I am the winemaker, they assume he is involved with either the farming or the management, yet I also do those things as Simon has his own business and is an attorney in Santa Rosa. Years ago, he began responding to these stereo-typing comments with, "Kathleen does it all, I'm just the trophy husband!"
I also find that when I am working in the wholesale market and I call on accounts with a sales rep, I often find the buyers often assume that I am the Inman Family brand manager, not the winemaker. All of these things are very subtle, but I think examples of sexism.
Although it may seem like women are common as winemakers these days, this is not actually the case. Prof. Lucia Gilbert at Santa Clara University published a paper last July and her analysis showed that only 9.9% of wines were made by women winemakers, however, more than 28% of the most lauded wines (based on an analysis of a book called Opus Vino) were made by women. The success of the women that are in lead winemaking positions helps to aid in the impression there are more of us, when actually we are just making more than our fair share of outstanding wine! It is true than women are basically equal with men in the graduation rates from enology schools, but yet for whatever reason, parity in lead positions has yet to be achieved.

Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka said...

Kathleen, thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response here. It does us all good to hear what you have to share.

You also get at one of two quick things I want to say.

Blake, double check your stats. The proportions you claim as common are no where near parity in actuality. Also, a multiple choice poll will be of no genuine help in gaining insight on a question of complex social dynamics such as this.

W. Blake Gray said...

Lily-Elaine: Double check what stats?

Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka said...

Blake, admittedly I was being quick in my comment. "Women winemakers are common." That's an implied statistic. It's not that common.

W. Blake Gray said...

Do you prefer Lily-Elaine or Hawk?

We're getting very semantic here, as it depends on how you define "common." I don't think I implied that there is parity. I don't think, with 9.9% of wine made by women (thanks, Kathleen,) you can call women winemakers "uncommon."

To put 9.9% in perspective, Asian-Americans make up about 9.3% of the population of California, according to US census data. Would you call that "common," or "uncommon?"

Alana Gentry (@girlwithaglass) said...

Perhaps this is of limited value but here's an obvious example. I detest the role of the "basket girls" who work in the higher-end Napa wineries. Across the board, you see pretty, mostly 20-something women with a basket with 4-6 wines in them. In my experience, they are chosen for their "hostess" qualities rather than their depth of knowledge abut anything more than the basics of wine tasting and the winery they are working for. I personally find it sexist as heck.

Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka said...

The idea structure of this paragraph is what I'm referring to: "About 20 years ago, the wine industry was male-dominated at every level. Today, women winemakers are common, and some wineries have advertised specifically looking a woman to take the post. Women general managers are more rare, but they exist."

The first sentence makes a claim of the industry having been male dominated. The following sentence then claims that women winemakers are common. The implication of these two sentences occurring side by side is that in winemaking, at least, dominance is no longer an issue (or at least implies that it is far far less of one). However, according to what has been shared in comments here, 9.2% of winemakers are women. Let's reword that statistic this way: 90.8% of winemakers are men. Put that way, it hardly sounds as though there has been a significant 20 year change making winemaking less of a male dominated industry. Nor does it make women winemakers sound common.

As the meaning of what we say, semantics is the way through which we express our views, and gain insight into what we're actually talking about. So, yes, of course we're talking semantics. That is not the same as being pedantic.

I could go on but I'll leave it at that.

Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka said...

(i obviously switched that number from 9.9 to 9.2 % but i think even with the correction the point is still made. "90.1% of winemakers are men")

kschlach said...

Oh, and I think you should each refer to yourselves as Mr. Gray and Ms. Brown. Start a new blog called Reservoir of Wine Dogs...

Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka said...

Blake, the semantics of this haven't been exhausted, but we don't have to discuss them any further either.

I took the time to respond here because you requested responses that could give insight into the issue of sexism. How we shape a discussion--the ways in which we communicate--determines significant aspects of how the subject matter can be understood, and reviews our own views of an issue as well.

Dealing with our own semantics becomes necessary if we want to allow for more effective communication. I limited my response to two straightforward points, though I could have gone further.

(1) Looking at the juxtaposition of statements in the one paragraph I referenced earlier is a way of pointing out how the wording of this post already limits the discussion of a rather serious question. Suggesting that 9.9% of winemakers being women means women winemakers are common implies that for women in winemaking you don't expect much, or at least not many.

(2) Creating a multiple choice poll as if opinion from a small, and unpredictable selection of people could give insight into a complex and far reaching social dynamic trivializes the issue. Thanks to experts in statistics, we already know this sort of poll gives no actual insight into the subject matter polled. At best, then, it serves as a distraction, not a source of information.

W. Blake Gray said...

I guess I'll point out at this point that we have a lot of comments about semantics and not a lot of examples of sexism.

Bob said...

Blake, I answered "No more common than in other equally paid professional jobs" which, I want to point out, is the same as "common at all levels". So, take your pick. There are professions that are more sexist than winemaking, but wineries seem to me to be about "average" in this regard. Kathleen Inman's account is quite illustrative.

W. Blake Gray said...

Bob: Regarding the equality of those options, I'd like to quote Jeff Lebowski: "Well, that's just like, your opinion, man." That's a much, much bigger issue.

Maybe I shouldn't have combined the poll and the call for comments. The poll measures for beliefs; the call for comments asks for actual experiences. Unfortunately not getting a lot of the latter. What I'm getting so far is a disconnect between believing something to be true -- maybe it is, I stated up front that I just don't know -- and having any actual evidence of it.

Anonymous said...

All - back to the serious topic at hand - sexism IS, without any doubt, prevalent thruout the industry at all levels. It is, in reality, more blatant than most other industries, and there is huge room for progress - but don't hold your breath.

The one area of progress has been women winemakers - and even then, #s don't stack up. Perhaps it is the perceived "artistry" of making wine, or the wonderful support groups/alliances made which help support up-and-coming women. But the rest of the industry is dramatically under-represented. But why???

1) Mediocre Management - most of the business is way behind the run...less sophisticated mgmt. They don't know what they don't know...that diversity in the ranks adds value.

2) Old School - parallels #1 above - many last-generation in control, and an inherent bias against professional women.

3) Supply - there are fewer women in the ranks of the industry (probably for obvious lack of opportunity) hence tough to find star talent.

In any case, the opportunities for a forward-thinking company are obvious...esp. considering that women are the majority of purchasers...

Hang in there, ladies!

Anonymous ex-industry SVP

Anonymous said...

Blake - specifically to your last comment re: actual results...

The #s are pure fact - you can count the number of women executives without taking off your shoes...and of those, many are legacy (related to owners).

Across all management, I'd guess the percentage women to be ~10-15%, vs. the working population at 52% women. I suspect my 15% estimate is way too high.

ex-industry exec

Anonymous said...

Seems much worse here than it was in the software industry. At least much more blatent and overt in the cellar.

Would love to see a follow up on ageism as well. Tough industry to catch a break in if you try to enter after 40, at least in my opinion.

- Sandstrom - said...

Blake, want to start out by saying I enjoy many of your topics presented.

This one, is tough. You're going to build argument quickly, as I think we've already seen.

Anyway, but that being said, I think Sexism absolutely exists, but does so in so many other professions just as equally.

Here, there is the added variable. Alcohol. I've had conversation about this with many females, and I feel that this is where the line can blur all too often. It is in my eyes, also on the female to try to control specific outcomes, and not all females in the wine industry are keeping a good reputation for all the females out there.

An Example; In wholesale, I've heard men, who'd work the whole day with a female counterpart, and respect her as equal throughout the day. But later, after the day, and after a few drinks, she lets her guard down, and the man lets alcohol influence a possible bad decision. She's instead, now looked at in a different light because of the added variable in alcohol. Maybe this isn't sexism, but the more often the woman doesn't stand up for herself, and allows a sexual encounter, the working relationship is flipped on it's head.

The more this happens, the further the sides move apart, forging a reputation that allows sexism to become more prevalent.

This and tasting companies, and larger distributors and spirits purveyors also are not helping the cause. Having models as tasting associates, are present more as an object than for the reason we'd all be there in the first place; the wine.

W. Blake Gray said...

Sandstrom: You gotta start a conversation somewhere. Maybe this could have been better done. I'll admit, I was hoping for more. But it's early, maybe people will post over the weekend. said...

I agree with many of Kathleen's comments. I will call a meeting, stand there and ask all the questions and have someone respond to my husband - who just happened by ...
I have seen women all through my career afraid of mentoring other women because of the belief (often true) that there is only room at the table for one of them.
I have not heard of a female wine buyer willing to trade sex for a placement, but I have seen men do it first hand...

Anonymous said...

There's a wonderful example of sexism right here in this comment thread. It isn't wine industry specific, but it is a great example of how sexism is often rooted in paternalism and different expectations for men and women.

Sandstrom, while I agree that sex and the workplace are more often than not a terrible combination, I am unsure if sex is one of the main contributors to sexism. However, regardless of whether or not sex is a contributor to sexism, if it is a contributor, then all parties are responsible for this problem, whether they are both female and male, or all male, or all female. It is not "on the female to control," and women are not responsible for "keeping a good reputation for all the females out there." This reflects and promotes the idea that men cannot control their actions, while women should be chaste and ladylike. Everyone is responsible for their own actions, and if sex is a contributing problem to sexism, then both men and women are responsible.

Specific to the wine industry, I encounter sexism on a weekly basis working in wine retail. Often, male customers will deny they need assistance, only to seek out one of my male coworkers for help choosing a wine. Other customers will be less surreptitious about their preference for male assistance, and when I ask them if I can be of any help, they reply with a straightforward, "Honey, be a dear and fetch me that gentleman over there."

martysfo said...

Very interesting and highly explosive topic. I work at a family owned winery with the niece of the founder. She is extremely knowledgable, and not given any real responsibility because she is a female. She is personable and should be groomed to be the face of the business to millennials, etc. As for other positions, you see women in the hospitality and event departments, but only now as the last generation of ownership moves on, getting their chance at some real responsibility. Too bad, they are wasting some great talent.

Anonymous said...

Blake, I'll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female winemakers - we did.


But you can't hold the whole Napa Valley responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole industry? And if the whole wine industry is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our capitalistic institutions in general? I put it to you, Blake - isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!

Anonymous said...

I am a viticulturist, a female viticulturist and it’s not an easy road that I have chosen. All too often there is apparent sexism. More times than not it comes in the form of not being included. The vineyard managers, foremen, and sells reps don't insult me or put me down by any means, they simply don't include me in many of the conversations. I feel like I am constantly fighting to get information from them. I am always providing information and advice to the managers with little to not feedback. It’s a difficult and frustrating situation. The “Good Old Boys Club” is still in effect.

That’s just my 2 cents for what it’s worth.

Anonymous said...

Many of these examples of "sexism" I see here seem to be nothing more than not being treated the way you want. Why attribute that to your gender and not one of many other factors (age, personality, likability, etc) that are equally likely culprits?

Anonymous said...

I'm a woman and work as a server in a wine bar. I'm studying to become a sommelier and I love it when (usually male 50 yrs and older) start to pepper me we questions to "test" my knowledge. There's an underlying aggressive feeling to most of these exchanges that feel like a territorial marking of some kind.

Anonymous said...

though I have little information on sexist remarks in the wine industry, I do feel that some statistics need to be looked at more carefully.

While true that 90% of winemakers are men, what percentage of wineries are owner operated? Owner- winemakers who are men, by definition cannot be operated by a woman. And by the same respect Owner- winemakers who are women cannot be operated by a man.

If we take out these small owner winemaker wineries, what happens to the percentages.

In my county four years ago, the percentage of women winemakers was 5%, but if you take out the owner operators the percentage went up to 50%. 3 years ago one woman winemaker quit to go work in another area, and the percentage of woman winemakers went down to zero. Just goes to show how small wineries that only employ the owner can skew the stats.

In my county, there are only two full time employed, non family related winemakers, but there are around 21 wineries.

Anonymous said...

I am a female winemaker working in production in a well-known Custom Crush facility in Sonoma County. My colleagues with whom I work directly do not give me a sense that they perceive me as less capable in a direct manner, but I’ve had some male colleagues make jokes directly to me about their female interns during harvest in an very sexually distasteful manner. This gives me the very real impression that they are not taking Women seriously in the production arena and these are some of the most influential winemakers of the moment.

I really hate to play the sexism “card” (that it is a bit harder at times to be a woman in this business) and I CRINGE when someone asks me, “what is it like to be a woman in this business?”. I seriously don’t want it to be a relevant question.

However, I’ve seen extremely talented and educated young women in the cellar during harvest working circles around male counterparts, and then ultimately see a male with a lackluster work ethic be rewarded with a job offer after harvest. Most of my male colleagues have been as shocked as I am to see this happen.

Again, I do not want to make a blanket statement that this is in any way perceived as acceptable by the majority of men. I don’t feel that it is. I feel this issue is perpetuated by both sexes. I’ve seen women who own labels hire less than exceptional male winemaking talent when there was a more qualified female seeking a position. At the same time, I still love what I do and the majority of my days are not spent considering this issue. I am optimistic, but we still have a ways to go.

Anonymous said...

There's long been a rumor that a prominent Napa winemaker at a name brand winery hands out badges to the year-round male cellar workers if they have sex with a female intern inside a tank.

They're called "Tank Destoyer" badges.

I've heard this from a couple of people who have worked at this winery.

Anonymous said...

As a mixed race person in the wine industry, I would prefer that we all get over classifying and determining that having a certain gender or race or sexual persuasion was better or desirable to hire. I would prefer that only skill or technical ability were the determining factor on who is hired or fired. Anything less is one or another form of rasism or sexism.

Anonymous said...

As with all complicated subjects - it is hard to answer the question posed with a simple yes or no.

Much of the discussion prior does not relate to the area of the wine business that I think is the most sexist & old school – the world of sales and marketing through distributors. It is the most primitive working environment I've ever been exposed to in a career that spans several decades and includes both the technology industry as well as other large businesses in a variety of different industries such as health care and financial services.

What is so unique is that this portion of the industry is almost completely bereft of women in senior/management/ownership/board level positions. It is shocking, actually, how few women run/participate in policy making/own/carry top line revenue & bottom line profit responsibility. To be specific: we sell wine through distributors in about 35 different markets: only ONE of them has women in their senior management. And yet - as most of us experience when we go to work the market, the majority of the sales force today are women - and they are super effective - so there are many women who are available to move up to these senior positions. However, they never seem to be chosen.
But what is almost worse? As a women, you might not expect me to say that there could be anything worse….but there is: and that is the fact that in my 11 years of working and living in this business, I have NEVER worked with a person of color – male or female.

All you have to do is look at the results of the last election to know what the impact of exclusion is. So….is the wine distribution business sexist? Sure….and apparently racist too.

Anonymous said...

Hello from Australia. Different country, but an industry with plenty of parallels.

I'm 35 years old. I have a degree in Viticulture, graduate qualifications in Enology and 15 years experience across vineyard, winery and management.

When I started out, I didn't think I experienced any sexism. I got into viticulture after university with enthusiasm and I don't think any doors were kept shut to me because of gender. Because of age and lack of experience though, yes.

Looking back now I think there was definitely something there. I see it everywhere today in vineyards: girls working in vineyards tend to get streamed into vine work, running crews, monitoring and cluster counts, whereas boys get put in a tractor.

As I have gotten older I have seen more and more examples of unintended, but no less career-damaging sexism in the wine industry, and particularly as I have crossed over to winemaking and into management. The easygoing but compliant vintage guy intern getting the full time job over the diligent but question-asking girl intern are terribly common. Girl in the lab, boys in the cellar, anyone?

In management the examples of sexism have become more acute and easy to identify, although it has a great deal to do with employer and this issue should be considered on a case-by-case basis. There are some champion business owners out there who take great pains to create flexible workplaces and reward loyalty and effort regardless of gender. I'm sure by the time I retire there will be many more of these and I hope one day to become one myself. However they are the exception today.

In Australia, if you are a female winemaker, the overwhelming chances are that you will only be able to juggle winemaking and a family through nepotism or starting your own business and creating your own flexibility. I can count on one hand the number of 'famous' contemporary Australian female winemakers who are both mothers and employees. Over here, the pay disparity between men and women is around 15% average, so when baby comes, you can imagine who's career most often gets put on a shelf.

In management, I was subjected to nonconsensual changes made to my position as winemaker and cellar manager, when all my KPIs were met an exceeded over a 5 year period. I was moved into a more public role and away from the cellar.

Once I realised what was going on and started trying to have it recognised and corrected, I was criticised for my communication style in management and told that was why the changes had been made, which is at odds with being put out in the public, and is echoed clearly in Cheryl Sandberg's interviews about her book 'Leaning In' - it's a pretty common tactic to criticise a woman for being aggressive or arrogant when she makes inroads in management.

When I pressed on, I heard things like 'I thought you'd enjoy being able to dress nicely once in a while' and more than a few insinuations about flexible roles being outside the domain of winemaking and only available in marketing and sales.

Needless to say, I had to eventually resign and find another job. The punchcarder yes-man guy below me moved up into my position.

But I am still positive and in love with the industry I've been working in for so long. And, you guessed it, I'm working out how to start my own business, so that when my partner and I do decide to start a family, I will be in comparative control of my professional destiny.

The one point that is important to make is: don't let setbacks make you bitter, and don't take your gender experiences home if you can help it, because it will put strain on your domestic relationships.

It is only through thinking laterally and presenting exceptions to the rule that we will provide the examples of progress our daughters and sons need to see and move into. We are responsible for the change we want to see and although it can be hard, it is worth sticking out.

Man About Wine said...

How about age discrimination as next topic? Watch a 55 year old man try to get hired at BevMo! or some other retail names.

Re: sexism, my guess is no better nor worse than in other public contact jobs, and it runs both ways.

What are we supposed to think of young women who get entry level jobs in merchandising with some big companies, and they dress like tarts and show off too much skin?

And of wine directors/somms/on-premise buyers, who throw business at the above mentioned tarts and don't buy from males carrying a bag.

Now I am late to this blog, but what the heck.

Unknown said...

Here is a statistic: For some polo shirts we had made, we analyzed our customer base of winemakers, who buy barrels from us. Twenty per cent are women.

I can remember being on a trip to Burgundy with two of the maybe five then active women winemakers, Zelma Long and Maryann Graf.

That was 1979.

What are basket girls??

The wine business just reflect society. Were all the hotties who promote various drug companies chosen for their grades in organic chemistry?

Unknown said...

About fifteen years ago a wine company here ran an ad: do women make better winemakers? Instead of running a picture of the female winemaker--now owner of her own eponymous winery--, they used a model.