When I decided to pursue a career in whiskey, I knew it might be an uphill battle. The spirits industry has a competitive edge and being a female in a male dominated space, I knew I needed to be ready to take on the competition. I never set out to be the first female ambassador for The Macallan Single Malt Scotch, but as I pursued my career with unrelenting passion and knowledge, I was able to land my dream job in 2016.
Today, one of the biggest challenges I face in my role is changing the fundamental stereotypes in society that have developed overtime and are now ingrained in our culture. For many years, whiskey advertising was solely targeted towards a male audience and it was widely assumed that men were at the forefront of whiskey drinkers. However, throughout my career this has steadily changed as more women have expressed their curiosity and interest in whiskey.
Not only are more women entering the spirits industry professionally, but there is also a rise in female whiskey drinkers. This is supported by female led groups like 'Women Who Whisky' and 'Women of the Vine' that break down barriers within the male dominated alcohol industry.
As the number of female led whiskey brands grow, it gives women the chance to learn and develop their passion within a like-minded community which then paves the way for women to pursue a career within this category.
My own journey started in 2006, when I moved from London, England to Louisville, KY. As the birthplace of bourbon, it was hard not to embrace the Kentucky's indigenous brown spirit and the culture established around it. I learned to drink and appreciate whiskey in a society where it was almost rude not to. Thanks, Kentucky.
As my passion grew, I became fascinated with the history, heritage and tradition and was eager to learn more. Originally born in Scotland, my family has a deep-rooted love for Scotch so it wasn't long before I discovered and fell in love with the amber nectar of my homeland.
When entering the industry I was inspired to see so many strong, intelligent women leading the way. Today, I am proud to say I am part of this movement to revolutionize the industry, by making whiskey more accessible to women and by empowering them with the knowledge and confidence to push back on antiquated stereotypes. It's exciting to see the culture of whiskey changing before my eyes. Throughout my time in this business, I have continued to see more women who have never tried whisky before attending events as they are eager to learn more and experience whiskey in a new way.
The stereotype that women are less informed about whiskey than men is, surprisingly, still an obstacle that I continue to battle. When I first began working in the whiskey world, it was immediately apparent that I had to work harder to prove myself. I wanted to be an expert, which meant dedicating myself to absorbing every bit of information I could. I started with learning how to differentiate one whiskey expression from another using the color, tasting notes and smell. I researched what made each whiskey truly unique - where they matured their whiskey? How they matured it? What was the process? What was the difference between a whiskey that matured in sherry casks versus American bourbon casks? The more I learned, the more my confidence grew. The stories behind the whiskey and process of how the spirit is made is truly magical, but it wasn't until I started working in the industry that I could really see the craft, dedication and relentless obsession to quality that goes into creating the most admired Single Malt Scotch Whisky in the world.
Through my role I'm able to share a depth of knowledge that will help educate both men & women while dispelling the notion of whisky being 'a man's drink' and that is something I really enjoy.
Recruiting new consumers into the whiskey category, particularly women, comes with its own challenges, not because they're intimidated by whisky, but because they're also intimidated by men who tell them they don't know what they're doing.
One strategy I love that makes whiskey more approachable is to pair it with something familiar. Most people don't know this, but whiskey actually pairs better with cheese than wine does. This takes a well-known occasion - wine and cheese - and puts a whiskey spin on it.
Whiskey and cheese works so well because whiskey has a higher alcohol content than wine, which allows for the rich characteristics of the spirit to bring out the bold flavors of the cheese. Flavor profiles that often get overlooked when pairing with wine or beer, shine through when paired with whiskey. And it's simple! Anyone could set this up at home for a gathering. It's also subjective, so you don't have to be an expert to pick your favorite pairs.
Finding new avenues and experiences to introduce whiskey to any consumer that's standoffish is a struggle. But empowering people, especially women, to feel comfortable going up to a bar and ordering a whiskey is truly what makes me love the work I do. My job affords me the opportunity to share knowledge, despite being a female in a male-dominated space, and allows for me to champion other women, both in the industry and outside the industry looking to break in.
We need to be the change we want to see. We are continuing to see more and more women establish themselves as leaders within the category and if the advice I can share about my journey and the obstacles I've faced can help encourage other women to join in, than that's all I can ask for. I am truly proud of how far I've been able to come in the industry and will continue to push not only my fellow females to think bigger but will challenge society to as well.
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Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."