Could It Be More Than Sexism?: Women in Wine

winesexismI don’t know how to assess the status of women in the wine industry. But that doesn’t mean I ought not consider it. This is also the perspective that James Lawrence clung to when he wrote, “Wine, Women and Subtle Sexism”, a January 12 article in Wine Searcher. Buried fairly deep in the article is this conclusion and question by the author: “Of course, identifying that sexism exists is very straightforward, tackling the issue is another matter altogether.”

Again, I’m not sure how to assess the status of women in the wine industry. However, I do know that claiming sexism does exist in an industry, including wine, is not a great feat of deduction. On the other hand it would be a great feat of deduction to claim that no sexism exists in an industry, including wine.

The article itself, with the exception of relating certain personal observations such as the hanging of girly calendars in wineries heidiByears ago, the observation by a winery visitor that they were surprised Cathy Corison knew what a solenoid was, and the insistence that some American wineries exude a certain “machoism”, doesn’t go too deep into how or why or to what extent the wine industry might have a sexism problem. Then only attempt to explain why women make up roughly 10% of the winemakers (why is the number of winemakers and not the number of directors of marketing the metric for assessing the progress of women) is to note that women are more likely to pull out of the job market in order to raise children.

Fiona Donald of Seppeltsfield Wines in Australia is quoted this way:

“From personal experience, what is required of a winemaker at harvest time is not family-friendly. So, if you decide to have children, you and your family have to navigate who is the primary care-giver and, if it’s you, what are you and your family going to do at vintage? Some families cannot make it work and so sometimes it is the woman who pulls away from her chosen career.”

Reference to the historic tendency of women to most commonly act as the caregivers to children is surely one explanation for why women are often underrepresented in a number of professions, including winemaking. However, the author of the article seems ready to brush off this issue:

“While the family incompatibility argument rings true to an extent, surely not all would-be female winemakers want children? What about the millions who balk at the idea of sleepless nights and a moribund sex life?”

TurleyHYet even my casual observation of the job market, women’s place in the wine industry and the role of caregivers in families  suggests that there is something to this “caregiver” argument in explaining why men outnumber women in so many industries.

In 2015 Pew Research reported that 85% of women between the age of 40 and 44 had children. Meanwhile, in 2015 Gallup reported that of women with children under the age of 18, 56% would prefer to stay home with them than work. In 2012, Pew research reported that 29% of mothers chose to stay at home rather than work, up from 23% in 1999.

It would be unwise to take the above data, do some calculations and attempt to determine exactly what percent of the gender imbalance in the wine industry was due to women being the primary caregiver for young children. However, it would be equally unwise to not conclude that this tradition has little to do with the question.

Whatever level of sexism exists n the wine industry and however that sexism works to deter women from working in the industry (at least as winemakers) I have no idea how to answer. Nor does the author of the Wine Searcher article, nor do any of the subjects oCarol-Sheltonf his article who are quoted at length. However, a couple of people quoted in the article do have a suggestions on how to bring more women into the wine industry. Eileen Crane, CEO of Domaine Carneros, has this to say:

“What I believe the industry can do is include more women on board of directors. Boards that include women are more likely, in my opinion, to hire women CEOs. Women CEOs are more likely to hire women managers or winemakers. The majority of students in the UC Davis enology department today are women. So the interest of women is there. The educational qualifications are there, they just need someone to open the door to their first winery job. That door opening is likely to come from the trickle-down from the top.”

It makes sense.

Donald has this observation:

“Women are coming into the industry but leaving. The wine companies who seek to retain experienced female winemakers who are starting families, are negotiating flexible working arrangements, different roles, temporary positions etc. This is a realistic approach to the realities of life.”

Craine“The Wine Searcher article has a number of interesting comments. The last one was on my mind as I wrote this post: “Most men…clearly don’t get the subtleties of sexism in the workplace.You’re part of the problem and you don’t even realize it.”

The author of that comment, “Wino2017”, may be right. In my 25+ years of working with winery CEOs of both genders, women winemakers of both genders and marketing folks of both genders I too may have completely missed the more obvious and more subtle examples of sexism in the American wine industry and I may be part of the problem. But even if I am, I’m positive that an explanation of why there are more men than women winemakers probably has a great deal to do with matters and circumstances that go well beyond subtle sexism.



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