Women and BC Wineries

Recently I was sitting across the table from a young, energetic and impassioned female who wanted to work at a BC winery and asked me if the wine industry is male dominated or is it an industry that she could break into and have success? I didn’t know what to say to her. Should I tell her to go “all in” and pursue her dreams? Should I tell her to step carefully and make sure she works for the “right” winery, one that has a good hiring record and develops their employees? Or should I tell her to run the other way? A few years ago I would have told that her gender wouldn’t matter at all and just to do what she wanted to, go for anything that appealed to her. Today, I found myself not able to answer her question.

If you own a winery or are someone in senior management, how would you answer her question at your winery? Let’s say she wanted to work in the vineyard at floor level doing pruning, suckering, harvesting and general operations. How about if she’s worked many years in vineyards and has taken viticulture classes and is looking for a vineyard manager job, would you consider her? Let’s say she is looking for a cellar job, or is qualified to be an assistant winemaker or winemaker. Would you consider her?   How about if she wants to be a hospitality worker or a hospitality manager? How about if she runs your tasting room already—would you ever consider grooming her for taking over sales and marketing? Now let’s say you’re growing large enough in production that you need someone to be your company’s CFO, CEO, GM or Director of Sales. Would you consider hiring or promoting a female? What about if you’re looking for another board member? Have you considered women?

I bet a lot of you, if not all of you have said “Yes! Of course I’d hire a female for all of those positions—as long as she’s experienced, was in the right salary range and was a good fit for our winery”. So now let me ask you, HAVE you hired women in those positions?

What percentage of the people who work at your winery are women? How many are in senior positions? If you have a board of directors, how what is the male/female ratio (the same question for your investors)? If you calculate your total payroll, how much goes to men versus women employees?  Have you ever calculated the average salary for a woman at your winery versus the same number for a man? Are there certain areas of your winery that are male dominated or female dominated? If yours is a small winery you don’t escape these questions. With over 300 wineries in BC and the overwhelming majority of them being under 5,000 cases you may not hire more than 2-4 people a year but the same questions apply. If you have never asked any of these questions then this topic is not front-of-mind for you. I would also say that you may tend to fall back to the easy, old ways of hiring. “Men are physically stronger” therefore they get more vineyard and cellar positions. “Women are good with people” so they get more tasting room and administration positions but often will never move up from these roles. Senior management at BC wineries is male dominated. If, however, you have made an effort to promote and hire women in this industry and you do care about pay equity, you think about how you personally can give women a leg-up in this industry then why aren’t you tooting your horn more? There are seriously talented women out there who want to work at your winery but they need to know you exist, that you care about such things.

The day is fast approaching, if it is not here already, when BC winery owners will not have enough skilled labour to fill positions. Competition for the really tuned-in workers will be fierce and you cannot afford to ignore more than half of the population. More importantly, the workers already know about this shortage and they will not take the first job offered to them but they will be in the driver’s seat. They will be asking you at interviews what your turnover rate is. What is your record for gender pay equity? They will ask you how many women have senior positions at your winery? They will ask you what your board or ownership or investor gender mix is. As a winery owner or GM you are going to have to know the answer to these questions or that person will move on to the next winery who will have the answers. The wineries that can answer these questions may not have parity but they are way ahead of those wineries that never think about it at all.

And why is it so important that we think about women in this industry, their roles, their salaries, and their seniority other than just because it’s the right thing to do? It’s because the most successful businesses foster diversity. Diversity in thought allows for a truly dynamic work environment—one with innovation, high revenues, engagement with the consumer and empathy. The biggest tool you have in your toolbox as a winery owner to get you closer to a diverse and dynamic workforce is gender, in my opinion.   This is not just having more women overall but in particular, hiring more women in senior and management positions and hiring more women in traditionally male dominated areas of your winery.

I ask you–if you were sitting across from this young, promising talented woman the way I was, how would you have answered her? Is the BC wine industry one she should throw herself into whole-heartedly, should she step cautiously or should she run in the other direction?

What is the answer at your winery?

About Sandra Oldfield

You can find out a bit more about me through the "About Me" page at the top of my blog.
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4 Responses to Women and BC Wineries

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful post – I am glad to say that the BC wineries I work with mainly have women well represented, but the upper management and C-suite opportunities are in short supply so not many women have those roles.

  2. david enns says:

    We have hired with total regard for talent and personal, team fit. Goal is always to be a “team” and that means gender equal by default. Currently we are over 50% female with all positions rotated through both genders over last 10 years.
    Teams work great when everyone has different perspectives and we hire team players which does not necessitate being your best friend. Do the job, care about corporate mission statement and have some fun doing both.

    Lots of room for growth of both sexes in this business and what the we need is talent to grow this business not one sex or the other…talent please! BC wine wins with a bigger talent pool.
    David Enns

    • I wish all wineries were like yours, but some wineries are not that keen on fostering development. They go for the quick hire often of a man that has more experience rather than developing talent from within their existing team. Often this is where women are overlooked. I agree with talent but in order to get talent you have to be trusted that you can grow into a role and here is where I think wineries have to consider if they are doing this equally for men and women.

  3. Sam Hauck says:

    A well written and thoughtful article that raises important questions.

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