In July I had the privilege of addressing the Australian Wine International Technical Conference (#AWITC) on diversity in the wine industry, where I focused on three themes, principally regarding the US market, where many in the audience do business and market their wines:
- Unconscious bias, gender diversity, racial and ethnic diversity
- Barriers to entry mean we are missing talent
- Understand the business case, not simply social justice
I shared a story that was published in Wine Enthusiast magazine in May 2018, written by Julia Coney, a wine writer in Washington, DC. Here are excerpts from her article:
“Excuse me, you look like you work here.” “Are you sure you’re in the right room?” “I’m sorry, I thought you were the help.” “How do you afford to travel like you do?”
I grew up in a house where words meant things. And not just the words themselves; “it’s not what you say, but how you say it,” echoed daily. I used to mock my parents for saying it until I became an adult and realized the adage’s simple truth. The questions and statements above are just a few things that have been said to me while I attended wine tastings. Did I mention I’m an African-American woman? Maybe I should have led with that. Now, read those statements again. Do you see a problem? Now multiply these statements with looks, comments, and racial bias—real, not perceived. This is my wine life. My response to most of these statements was to ignore the person. Anything else would have given validation to their statements. I chose to act like they didn’t exist. There were no words needed.
The wine world is interesting. It’s wide and vast, but the thinking about who wine represents still sits in a time-lapse. My beloved industry is made of dynamic, smart people, some of the kindest people I know. There’s an energy that makes me come alive when drinking, reading, writing and discussing wine. But, like most fields, there are issues around diversity that need to be addressed, and the lack of representation for people of color is a major problem.
I’m often the only person of color at tastings. We represent less than 10% of attendees. How is this in 2018? I know many wine professionals of color. We’re out here, it’s not hard to find us. We just need to be welcomed in. So, if you see me at a tasting, say hello. That’s a great place to start both change and a conversation. Don’t judge, and don’t make assumptions. Whatever you do, don’t mistake me for “the help”.
Julia’s writing resonated with me because this has been the story of my corporate career when I was often the only person of color in the room, mistakenly confronted with the assumption – that unconscious bias – that I didn’t belong.
There are signs of progress in the US wine industry — a growing list of black and Latino winery owners in California and Oregon and a few investors in wine brands – mostly wealthy athletes and entertainers. Dwyane Wade and John Legend, have developed wine brands in Napa Valley. Lebron James promotes fine wine tasting with his NBA teammates. And this is drawing African American consumers to fine wines. I created a wine education program in Washington DC for women from diverse backgrounds called Fine Wine Divas to help them experience wines from around the world with food pairing. Small steps but so much more needs to be done by the industry to recognize and capture this huge consumer market of African American consumers worth $1.2 trillion. Most African Americans get their cues for wines to drink from hip-hop lyrics and rappers! Why isn’t the wine industry paying more attention to this market?
AdWeek recently reported that only 25 of 77 Chief Marketing Officers in the food and beverage category were female. Of chief marketers surveyed, 87 percent were white; only three percent were black/African American. About five percent of CMOs identified as Asian and Hispanic/Latin. How can these teams successfully execute diversity and multicultural marketing campaigns?
Fortunately, awareness of the business case for inclusion and diversity is on the rise. While social justice typically is the initial impetus behind these efforts, companies have increasingly begun to regard inclusion and diversity as a source of competitive advantage, and specifically as a key enabler of growth.
Diverse teams tend to better reflect your customer base. They make better and more innovative decisions. Diversity is essential for recruiting and retaining, quality talent today. And finally, the clincher: Companies with diverse boards and senior executives make more money, period.
Recent McKinsey research found that companies in the top quarter for female representation on executive teams were 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profits than companies in the lowest quarter and 27 percent more likely to experience better long-term value creation. Closing the gender gap at the executive level is more than “doing good”—it’s a needed step to increase the bottom line.
Finally, the wine industry worldwide needs to look at our supply chains and examine whether there are human rights abuses and diversity challenges there. The current immigration situation in the US has meant that many vineyard workers must now be legal residents and there are many in California who are. Of course, we’re seeing shortages of vineyard laborers, and the impact can be devastating; some vineyards simply aren’t able to harvest their fruit because they don’t have the people power.
The industry should take this opportunity to hire laborers year-round, helping them learn about the functions of the wine business, including wine production, cellar operations, sales, and hospitality management. A winery owner or manager should invite workers to educational tastings and host courses on these topics. Of course, language training is also a prerequisite.
It’s the right thing to do and it makes business sense—when laborers learn more about what’s being made, you develop a more passionate, engaged workforce. It’s important that vineyard laborers are treated with dignity and respect. We should recognize the value of these workers and give them opportunities for growth and education. They are the foundation of the operation. If they don’t work, nothing happens.