“Empowering the women that power our industry”
Women of the wine and spirits world…do you feel like you’re operating on equal ground with your male counterparts? Why or why not?
…in either case, are you part of the movement? At eBev, touting the powerful female minds leading the way in beverage and beyond is a big part of our mission! As such, we’re so excited to be speaking with Women of the Vine & Spirits founder Deborah Brenner, who has really started a movement by creating this incredible forum and community that serves to empower the women powering this industry!
Deborah, thanks so much for being with us today!
Thank you for having me.
Deborah, when you were working in the agency and tech worlds many years ago, what first inspired you to write Women of the Vine: Inside the World of Women Who Make, Taste, and Enjoy Wine?
To be honest, I was fed up and disenchanted. Most of my career had been spent working in a traditionally male-dominated industry where women had to fight adversity and conquer gender stereotypes without much guidance or support. A sudden divorce was the aha moment for me. I decided to quit my tech job and go freelance for a while so I could give myself some time to think about where I wanted my career to go. During that time, I went on a trip to Napa where I discovered how male dominated the wine industry was. How women at the top were often loners, required to fight extra hard to earn their seat at the table, or in the cellar, as it were. This was in 2004 and their wasn’t much talk about the women behind the wine at that time.
I had no idea that for all my adult life, I’d been enjoying all of these wonderful wines and didn’t know that women were behind the labels. They were mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, partners, volunteers, mentors and mavens whose responsibilities at work, at home and in the community far outsized their pay bracket or job description. This pattern was so familiar, I couldn’t ignore it. Then I started my research. My thirst for knowledge was my driving force. My desire to identify with these women: Their struggles with work/life balance, their fears, their disappointments and their triumphs. From that point on, I felt compelled to tell their stories and after several months of interviews and writing, I wrote the book and got published! In 2007, Wine Spectator selected it as a Critical Read in their Top 100 December issue.
The book would later turn into an attempt to produce wine with women, before pivoting in 2015 into an event that attracted over 500 attendees passionate about furthering the position of women in the wine industry. Fast forward to today, and Women of the Vine and Spirits is a leading industry organization with a very important mission – both for women, and for the alcohol industry. Tell us why you think there was so much passion around the original event/theme, and what precipitated it to grow so quickly from a grassroots organization to one with a global footprint?
Well… there was never before a forum for women to come together in the alcohol beverage industry and women were reaching out to me for many years asking how to get involved with Women of the Vine. Thanks to all of their emails and outreach, I took another leap of faith and organized the first of its kind gathering – the Inaugural Women of the Vine Global Symposium in March 2015. Not only did it sell out but it doubled in anticipated attendance. We filled a void in the industry and in the lives of these women. The women who attended sought out an opportunity to connect through a global network and seek ways to accelerate their business and professional development. They were looking for a global platform to collaborate across all industry sectors and to do business with like-minded women and men. It was clear to me at that Symposium in 2015 that to make a positive impact on the alcohol beverage industry, women needed a voice year-round – not once, annually.
Because of their passion and enthusiasm for more and the request to expand beyond wine to spirits and beer, membership opened in September of 2015 as Women of the Vine & Spirits. What started off as a one-off event and a grass roots movement has quickly expanded into a global organization with corporate and individual members connected across 23 countries. Women of the Vine & Spirits has become a catalyst for creating a positive impact in the alcohol beverage industry by giving women globally a platform and a voice to thrive. Women in this industry have the same challenges regardless of whether they are in the US, France, South America, Italy and beyond. The organization formed a European Advisory Board and participated in Vinitaly and Wine2Wine in 2017 and held our first Summit in London in June 2018 – the international audience was coming on board and seeing that they too had a place in our organization to collaborate, share best practices, and explore business development opportunities.
With such rapid growth from 2015-today, how would you describe the climate for woman in wine when you wrote the book (in 2007), versus where it is today, just a few years after building Women of the Vine and Spirits into an event and an international mission-based organization?
First, I love that you called it an international mission-based organization. That is exactly right – we are an organization of passionate, professional individuals with a purpose. Our mission is to connect, collaborate and commit to make a better industry for women to thrive.
Back in 2007, very few individuals and companies that I spoke with in the alcohol beverage industry were talking about women’s initiatives or diversity and inclusion programs. Women were very underrecognized in the industry back then. Since the launch of Women of the Vine & Spirits, we are now seeing more and more companies and individuals starting internal women’s initiatives, mentorship programs and more. Also, the climate about how we talk about women in leadership roles at alc bev companies is changing – as I mentioned I had to research to find details about these women in 2007, now they are getting featured in magazines, television, etc. and by showing these role models, which is something we are passionate about at Women of the Vine & Spirits, we are inspiring and showing career pathing for the next generation.
You recently held a conversation about the business case for gender diversity – an important way to encourage companies to act, rather than just listen. Why is gender diversity such a critical component of effective teams and companies, and what do you think are the most powerful strategies to encourage action?
Yes! We held a webinar for our members with McKinsey & Company!
It really starts with looking at the consumer and the bottom line. According to our Strategic Alliance partner Nielsen Communications, women represent just over half the US population and control $4.3 trillion (73%) of US spending. So it makes sense that we would want women in leadership roles who are guiding the development and marketing of these products. If your consumer base doesn’t look like your company, there is going to be a disconnect. Moreover, McKinsey & Company found in their 2017 Women in the Workplace study that gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform companies who do not have women in the board room. Collaboration amongst a diverse team is what leads to creativity and innovation and that is the key to increasing the bottom line. This is a part of our mission at Women of the Vine & Spirits.
We know that gender diversity and inclusion cannot be achieved overnight – in fact, unfortunately in corporate America at current rates, it will take over 100 years to reach gender equality in the c-suites. That said, there definitely are strategies companies and individuals can take now to encourage action including making a compelling case for diversity, supported by metrics and accountability, investing in employing training like unconscious bias training, giving managers visibility into the scope of the problem and the tools they need to succeed, creating formal or informal mentor/sponsor programs, strengthening your policies and programs to encourage gender diversity in hiring and promotions like the use of blind resume screening, and giving employees flexibility of fitting work into their lives to help them balance work and family.
Finally, what is your advice for women who are in the alcohol beverage industry today who may still be feeling like they are undervalued or overlooked?
Find your voice and use it. It saddens me that even today, driven, confident women are interpreted various ways in society. Often, people will label them as “bossy”, “demanding” or worse – a “b*tch”. My advice is to counter that with “No, I am not, I am a Badass.” Embrace the term that is now mostly accepted in our vocabulary and what it stands for, such as: driven by values, justice, honor, courage, compassion, humility, integrity, and selflessness. And equally as important, and maybe even the first step, is to find a community of women and men who support you to speak up, take risks, believe in yourself and thrive! Join us today! Be a part of the change. We welcome all to participate in Women of the Vine & Spirits! www.womenofthevine.com
I think that’s wonderful advice for all of us to take note of and heed.
Deborah, thank you so much for sharing such a timely and necessary mission/movement with us today. We love what you’re doing, and beyond talking about it, Beverage Marketing Association would be honored to share its resources to help encourage our industry to embrace such an important organization. Let’s talk offline and see how we can help!
Thanks, Seth! This was a lot of fun! Thank you and Beverage Marketing Association for shining a light on this topic and sharing in the mission to support women in alcohol beverage! Yes, let’s collaborate!
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