Jane Thomson: Australian Women in Wine Awards, London
I asked Jane why she established the Australian Women in Wine Awards.
“After working with women in wine for a few years through my business, The Fabulous Ladies’ Wine Society, I felt frustrated that so many of these women were doing amazing things that too often went under the radar. I was also saddened by the fact that the participation of women in wine was still so low – 10% in winemaking and viticulture in Australia, and that number is in decline. I felt there was more that needed to be done to champion women in the industry and to publicly acknowledge and reward their work.
I decided that an awards program would pack more gunpowder in its barrels than other ‘women in wine’ efforts like symposiums, networks and conferences. While those things are incredibly worthwhile and excellent in themselves, I felt we needed a bit of serious spark to get things moving fast and create positive change. The awards shine a spotlight on the contribution of women to the industry and they are something that everyone – both men and women - can get behind.”
The awards are now in their 3rd year. I asked Jane about how its reputation had developed over the years and what the awards have given women in the industry.
“In the first year, although the general reception was positive, we did have quite a bit of vocal, negative feedback. Mostly around how “sexist” the awards are, and did we really think they were even needed. I think there was a strong perception from many (particularly men) in the industry that things were fine! Of course there was no gender equality issue! What quickly happened was that these awards got women talking and sharing their stories – sometimes for the first time. I think it gave many women the courage to speak up, and discover that they weren’t alone, that their experiences were actually more widespread than even they had realised.
By the second year the negative voices were all but silenced. I think these awards have given women in our industry a chance to shine on a very public platform, and to benefit from the attention that it has received. It’s also created a supportive environment for women to speak out against discrimination and everyday sexism when they need to. It’s sort of harnessed an energy of its own and galvanised us to work together to achieve the change we want to see.
However, the most important impact of all I think has been on the awareness around gender equality that it has created in both men and women in the industry. And awareness and recognition is always the first step in solving a problem.”
London is a land of opportunity for many Australian women. Jane said it was Wine Australia that first recognised how London could enhance the profile of women in the Australian wine industry.
“The chance to hold the awards in London was prompted by Wine Australia, who believed that the awards provided a great opportunity to tell the world just what amazing wine was being produced by our Aussie women. This is the world’s only awards program for women in wine, so it’s also a great chance for Australia to show leadership in championing for gender equality across the wine industry.”
I asked Jane if there had been any surprises in taking these ground breaking awards to London.
“The only surprise so far has been just how enthusiastic the women of Australia have been about taking it to London! In some ways, it doesn’t really make sense – why hold an Australian awards program in London? But London is such an important market for Australian wine, and the thrill of taking the AWIWA to the world was so strong, that within only a couple of weeks of announcing it we had exceeded our target and we now have over 60 female wine producers flying over- not just to attend the ceremony but also to showcase their wines at the trade and consumer events that follow the awards."
The Australian Good Food magazine reported that there are equal numbers of men and women being accepted onto viticulture and winemaking courses. Yet women go on to only make up 10% of the workforce. This seems like a huge loss for the wine industry. The AWIWA draws together notable and emerging women in wine. I asked Jane about its key messages on equality and inclusion.
“Firstly, if it had been the other way around, and men had been dropping out in such huge numbers, then it’s likely money and resources would have been thrown at this incredible drain of talent long ago. Why have we been putting our heads in the sand about this for so long? From a business perspective alone, it just doesn’t make any financial sense. We need to solve this, and fast.
Secondly, understanding why they’re dropping out is crucial to solving it. Last year we undertook the world’s first survey of women in wine to find out why. And the results were – while not unsurprising – somewhat shocking. Two out of every three women (67%) said they had experienced sexist behaviour in the workplace. 42% know or believe strongly they are paid less than their male colleagues. One in four had experienced unfair treatment over issues of pregnancy, children, and/or maternity leave. And nearly one in five believe they do not receive equal career advancement opportunities. It’s only through a deep understanding of the barriers women face in the wine industry, and having the data at hand, that we can appropriately use and distribute time, energy and resources where they’re needed most. Retention is where efforts now need to be directed – and urgently.
Thirdly, for real and genuine change in gender equality in the wine community to be achieved it is essential for both men and women to work together. So while events like the AWIWA are needed and valuable, they alone are not enough. We need a whole community approach.”
There is a huge buzz around the awards in London and it's easy to see why: the awards are celebratory and positive and they provide a wonderful opportunity for women in wine to network, share experiences and acknowledge each other. The attendees are also role-models. I asked Jane about advice for young women starting out in this industry.
“I’m not sure if the advice I give today would be useful for the women of tomorrow. Because, hopefully, within the next couple of years women won’t be facing the same issues they are right now.
Perhaps the only thing I could say is to understand and respect that just because you may not have experienced gender discrimination or sexism, doesn’t mean others haven’t. And if you do experience it, call it out. The imagined repercussions of doing so – which so frequently silence women - are far less than the reality.”
Australian Women in Wine Awards 2017
The Australian Women in Wine Awards 2017 are taking place at Australia House on the Strand in London on Tuesday 26 September. Readers based in Australia can find details on accessing a live stream of the event via Australian Women in Wine Awards.
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