Thursday, 16 November 2017 09:52

What NZ women in wine think

Written by 
Jeni Port. Jeni Port.

Diversity in the workplace is a catch phrase, too often an empty one when it comes to women in the wine industry.

So says Jeni Port, a wine writer based in Melbourne, who addressed the Bragato Conference on the subject of Wine, Women and our Future.The following is a transcript of her presentation.

To get a grasp on the future of women in the New Zealand Wine Industry, we have to start with the now. What’s happening right now?

The future for women in the New Zealand wine industry is predicated to an uncommon degree by their gender. It will decide how they are treated in the workplace, how they progress in their job, how they are valued, whether they are happy in their job and ultimately whether they stay in their profession.

Their future is being decided right now and frankly it’s not looking that rosy. We know that because the advisory board of the Australian Women in Wine Awards, which I am a member of, last year asked them in a ground breaking international survey of women working in the wine industries in six major producing countries; New Zealand, Australia, California, Germany, Italy and France. We asked questions about equal pay, equal opportunities, workplace treatment during and after pregnancy and sexist behavior.

This is what we found in the New Zealand wine industry.

There is a one in 10 chance that women will experience unfair treatment in their time in the industry when it comes to work related issues to do with pregnancy, maternity leave and having children. We asked those who had experienced a problem to tell us more. This is what they said, in their own words.

“I was under fixed term employment and promised a permanent winemaker job. Once I got pregnant, there was not even a conversation about it. The company just employed someone else.”

Another explained bluntly; “I was made redundant at six months pregnant.”

A third said; “there were all kinds of stated and inferred presumptions about my ability to work, based on my status as a mother.”

There was a 50 percent chance that women would experience sexist behavior in their workplace in the New Zealand wine industry. Sometimes it is seemingly the little things. Words said in an about kind of way, or insensitive actions that have a slow drip effect on a woman’s confidence. Comments about her clothing or her looks, about her ability to drive a forklift, that was a common one, her ability to move wine barrels, climb wine barrels, fix equipment. Or maybe it is a naked female calendar in the lunch room. Being called a good girl, being called a lab slut and being talked about in a sexual manner. Sometimes it is more combative. Here we have some direct quotes.

“Some men do not want to take advice from a woman.”

Another said; “I had a manager who used to refer to certain jobs as pink or blue. He also used to constantly ask me when I was going to start a family. I didn’t hear him asking the fellas that.”

When women in the wine industry are required by their employers to attend functions as part of their job, whether that be wine tastings, dinners, promotions for wine consumers or trade and media, wine show festivals, they unwittingly enter a new round of sexist hell. In our survey 30 percent had experienced sexist behavior in these places. It is delivered by the public, from wine writers, sommeliers and wine buyers, and sometimes from employers. “There is an assumption,” said one respondent, “that you are a waitress and nothing more at these events.” “Women are often expected to set up and clean up.” “People assume because I am a woman, I must be there only to do the accounts and admin. In fact, I was the CEO.”

“Over enthusiastic male attention, unnecessarily unwarranted and not appreciated,” said one respondent. “Suggestive and lewd words and behavior,” said another.

“So many of these are so male dominated that the talk often descends into sexist comments and jokes,” said one “And no females are asked to comment on wines or called upon to give opinions.”

Twenty-nine percent of women in our New Zealand survey either know or believe they are not receiving the same pay as their male colleagues. And 38 percent said the issue of gender equality in the workplace was something that worried them.

So what are we going to do?

This is the lie of the land at present, and how women are treated now. The future of women employed in your industry depends on how you address these issues.

First acknowledge there is a problem. Women make up around 50 percent of the population in this country. Every year they give birth to around 61,000 children. Women have babies – accept that. The median age of a woman having a baby in New Zealand is 30.2 years. The biggest group of women who participated in our New Zealand survey (34.8 percent) and therefore we believe to be the dominant female working in your industry, were aged between 30 and 39.

Seventy-eight percent of the women had a bachelor degree or graduate degree. This is a well-educated, professionally minded bunch of women. Why would you knowingly dismiss or provide a workplace where women are treated badly? Do nothing and I expect a few things will happen.

There will be multiple cases brought to the court, of harassment and unfair dismissal. Or worse there will be mental health issues. It is illegal to fire a person because they are pregnant. It is illegal to ask a person if they intend to start a family and when, and then treat them differently. Just ask the new leader of the Labour Party here in New Zealand.

The cost will be to the bottom line as well as to the reputation of individual companies and what is undoubtably one of the most exciting wine industries in the world.

Two: women will leave the industry. This is already happening in Australia. Women represent up to 50 percent of enrolments in Australian winemaking and viticultural courses. Yet they only represent just under 10 percent of the wine workforce. Female viticulturists make up only eight percent.

We know why they are leaving. Our 2016 Women in Wine Survey in Australia identified exactly the same issues as in the New Zealand industry.

Three: Women will set up in competition, a gender war by itself or even by happenstance where women will start their own wine companies, own winemaking and wine consultancy services. Companies that make it hard for women in the workplace are effectively turning their backs on 50 percent of the population. That is a lot of talent to ignore. And they will take it somewhere else within the industry, or they will leave the industry. The arrival of the Fabulous Ladies Wine Society, whose founder Jane Thompson also founded the Australian Women in Wine Awards, is an excellent example. Fab ladies has 10,000 members, conducts wine tours, events, wine classes and education and runs an on-line wine club. She is taking away business from existing companies because she saw an opportunity there.

Four: In New Zealand, the gender pay gap – the difference between women and men’s earnings, is running at about 17 percent. The New Zealand Ministry for Women’s Research reveals that while 20 percent of the gender pay gap is driven by education and occupation, 80 percent is driven by a factor such as conscious and unconscious bias, and differences in men’s and women’s choices and behavior.

The future

If you haven’t already, develop a workplace code of behaviour regarding fairness, sexism as well as a recording system. It will benefit all of your employees, men and women. And place it in a prominent position where it will be seen every day.

Be open minded. So your winemaker who is a woman is pregnant – talk it through with her, don’t ignore her and DON’T sack her. And don’t encourage her to return to work and then demote her or sideline her. And be aware that while you have expectations that she should be at the winery 16 hours a day for three months during vintage, this may not necessarily be productive to her and her colleagues.

Develop a more flexible approach towards women and men who may need to take time off work to assist with childcare and sick children. There will be a lot less stress in your company in the future when these issues arise and they will.

This is not a male versus female argument, it really isn’t. It’s about fairness and decency and taking a leadership role.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room. Every time a question of gender balance and diversity arises, so too does the question of merit. “We treat everyone equally,” is the common reply. “We treat everyone on merit.”

A few years ago I questioned the chairman of a wine show in Australia, whose judging panel was made up of 10 men and two women.

He was taken aback. He was defensive to say the least. He selected the best possible candidates based on merit, not gender he argued. We agreed to disagree. If he could only find two capable women of merit for his panel, then the industry had failed. What was the industry and what was he willing to do to bring women up to speed to ensure they were as capable as males?

He saw this as a reproach. I saw it as an industry wide problem.

If you want women to participate and thrive, if you want to work together to help build your wine industry going into the future, tend to the differences that exist now and address them.

 

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