Career 18 January 2017
I am frequently asked to share advice with young women who are seeking careers or seeking to advance in careers in business. Quite often these requests for advice involve careers and businesses that have traditionally been considered “male dominated.”
I share two thoughts, the first of which is no different than that which I share with young men: work hard – work really, really hard – work as hard as you can – and when you don’t believe you can work any harder, work harder. Hard work matters.
After I share that gender neutral thought, I share this thought: stop thinking about the fact that you’re a woman.
For as long as I can remember – certainly, dating back to my teenage years – it has been my view that if a woman doesn’t want others to think about her gender, it makes no sense whatsoever for her to think about her gender. If a woman wants to be considered and treated without regard to gender, she should comport herself without regard to gender. If a woman wants her gender to be irrelevant, she shouldn’t consider it or make it relevant.
At no time during my career did I walk into any setting – not an NFL owners’ meeting, not a meeting with Raiders owners, not a football operations meeting, not a meeting with coaches, business associates or others - thinking about my gender.
It is nonsensical for me to hope and expect that those with whom I interact will interact with me without regard to gender if I am thinking about my gender.
I am also frequently asked if I believe I was tested because I was a woman. I never thought or worried about that. But let’s say I was. People are tested for different reasons. What’s the best thing one can do when one is tested? Pass the test.
I am also frequently asked if I experienced gender based resistance during my career. I certainly experienced resistance. Was some of that resistance gender based? Let’s say it was. Would I have done anything differently if I stopped to consider that it might be? No. I wouldn't have conducted myself or done anything differently. I did my job.
I comported myself without regard to gender and I didn't waste any time or expend any effort or energy worrying about my gender or whether anyone was bothered by it. If others wanted to waste their time or expend their effort or energy worrying about my gender, fine, better they than I.
Related to this, I don’t believe that women must – or should – support other women simply because they are women. To do so is not consistent with a gender blind approach. Over the course of my career, I received support from both women and men and I offered my support and to both women and men. I support women when support is warranted and I support men when support is warranted. I don’t believe it is fair for me to consider gender when interacting with others if I don’t want others to consider gender when interacting with me. If we want men to treat us without regard to gender then it is only logical and right for us to treat men without regard to gender. After all, gender blind is gender blind.
I’ve discussed these issues with a number of accomplished women for whom I have tremendous respect. I have observed that those women with whom I have discussed this who are roughly my age – certainly of my generation – agree that it is counterintuitive to think about one’s gender while hoping and expecting others will not. I have also observed that those women with whom I have discussed this who are younger than I strongly disagree with my views that women in business should conduct themselves without regard to gender.
Many of these same women also strongly disagree with my views that women in business are not obliged to support other women simply because they are women. As such, I have concluded that it may well be that my views on these topics are generational.
I don’t care that I’m a woman.
I don’t want those with whom I interact professionally to care that I’m a woman. I don’t think about the fact that I’m a woman. I don’t want anyone with whom I interact in business to think about the fact that I’m a woman. I want my gender to be irrelevant and I conduct myself as if my gender is irrelevant. That approach may not work for everyone but it worked for me.
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.