On a Friday night, over pizza and juice boxes, while visiting my longtime friend Kelli and her son, we asked our children, ages 5 and 11, what they would like to do if they had their own "club". Their answers proved to be inspiring and from that we literally launched a business. We felt destined to create something unique and extraordinary for our kids and knew that if our kids loved it, so would others.
Armed with a degree from UCLA in education, years of teaching both preschool and elementary school and directing a preschool, Kelli started gathering the data and doing the research. With the mindset of everything coming from the heart, Kelli ultimately put together the exoskeleton of a much needed studio offering art and science for children, boys and girls of a cross section of ages. My degree from Marymount California University in Early Childhood Education and years of teaching preschool provided the foundation to create Genius Kids Club with Kelli.
We absolutely knew that we wanted a space where all children could explore, test out theories, express their identity and figure things out for themselves. We had found the key to our new business and now it was time to unlock the door.
The door to the studio was officially unlocked and opened for business on Monday, August 22 with open houses in the days preceding. Genius Kids Club was welcomed into the Studio City community with open arms; parents expressing their thanks at providing a "club" that every child was welcome to join. There are classes every day for ages 10 months to 10 years. Monday, Wednesday and Friday are art days with Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday featuring science. Sunday is a combination of both art & science.
The true joy of having a business where the clientele are children means it's chalk full questions and every day is filled with a plethora of teachable moments. Just when you think you know something, along comes a child to show you how to look at it differently. Be it the clients or one of our own, Kelli and I have learned that the collective of children's thinking is changing and since opening the studio, the kids have made it clear that art and science are not mutually exclusive nor gender specific. While primarily there is a balance of boys and girls in each of the classes, it is still an ongoing campaign to encourage girls to participate in science. Science camps have experienced a larger enrollment of boys so everyone is experiencing the idea of a gender specific genre such as science. Genius Kids Club strives everyday to not have gender labels when is comes to art and science. Whether they are painting mugs as a gift for their parents or wanting to find out the chemical reaction between and a base and an acid, there are girls and boys sitting at our tables with their aprons and science goggles on, anxiously awaiting what's next.
Bet you're thinking "how do you do science with an 10 month old?" Science is simply the study of the world through observation and experiment. Looking, noticing and trying. That is exactly what we do with these precious babies and that is the way they are figuring out absolutely everything. The basis is to work with their 5 senses and how they use those senses to understand all that is around them.
Now the 3 - 10 year olds, they are all about the mess, the bigger the better and and the motto is "Bring It On!" Be it a girl or a boy, making a mess and not getting trouble for it is AWESOME! Recently there was an experiment (an acid, a base and a little red food coloring) with some kids and unexpectedly, the experiment wasn't doing what it was supposed to do, the container was opened at the precise moment that all its contents exited with intense velocity and suddenly the studio was covered with goo! The squeals of laughter, the questions that followed and on why that happened facilitated a discussion with the kids ultimately proving once again that they are listening and very curious and want to explore. Of course using a mop to clean up the ceiling was memorable for all there and an experience like no other.
At Genius Kids Club, every kid has a place to explore, to discover and ask their questions. Kelli and I have created a space specifically for kids, where parents can confidently drop their little ones off and know that they will be having a discussion on the way home using words like chemistry, polymers, acid, bases, among other things.
We sincerely LOVE what we're doing everyday, and look forward to expanding and reaching out to more and more kids. We truly believe that there is a little genius in every child just waiting to show the world what they can do!
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.