Wine businesses across the world are facing questions of how and when to pass the business on to the next generation, says Rebecca Gibbs.
Insults and coffee making: the first ever WiW survey results
Wednesday, 30. November 2016 - 11:45
"I was made redundant at six months pregnant.” Her name is unknown. Very little about her is known, other than she is a young woman working in the New Zealand wine industry, but many can appreciate her anguish at losing her job because she happened to be pregnant. She is not alone.
Women working in the Californian wine industry have experienced similar treatment. “When pregnant with my second child,” records one woman, “I was laid off, as the owner of the company did not believe customers wanted to see a pregnant woman discuss wine.” And in Australia, too. “I applied for an internal role at a previous wine company and was asked if I planned on having children, because they didn’t want to hire someone that would eventually go on maternity leave.”
Their experiences are collated in the world’s first international survey of women working in the wine industry.
Hundreds of women in six major wine-producing countries completed the survey, covering equal pay, workplace treatment during and after pregnancy, and sexist behaviour. Winemakers, viticulturists, owners and managers in Australia, California, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and France (where the collection of data was disrupted by summer holidays and vintage and could not be included) were encouraged to detail their experiences honestly, through anonymity.
The project was conducted by Meininger’s Wine Business International magazine and Australia’s The Fabulous Ladies’ Wine Society on behalf of the advisory board of the Australian Women In Wine Awards, a not-for-profit. Women in Australia, New Zealand and California were contacted through industry directories, while women in other countries were contacted thanks to the help of international women in wine organisations, including Vinissima in Germany, La Donne Del Vino in Italy, and Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence and Femmes Vignes Rhône, among others, in France. Women of the Vine in California also encouraged their members to participate. The number of women to complete the survey were: in Australia (274 respondents); California (247); Germany (197); and Italy (141). In some cases, surveys were incomplete. German women who participated did not leave individual comments about their experiences, and the French numbers were too low to be considered.
Pay and conditions
Up to one in five women across the countries surveyed said they did not receive equal pay to their male counterparts. Italian women (37%) were among the most disadvantaged. Figures were generally higher when asked whether they “believed” their pay was not equal. Here, 30.5% of Californian women, and 23% of New Zealand and Italian women believed the statement to be true.
The question over equal pay appeared symptomatic of a sometimes strained workplace environment, where women often felt they were not valued as equals. “When introducing a regional sustainability programme for viticulture, it was suggested by a man to hand the programme introduction and running to another man in our region, as they’d be taken seriously,” writes one Australian female viticulturist. A New Zealander put it more succinctly: “I have discussed this with my wine industry girlfriends, and we all agree that there is the slight feeling of not quite belonging.”
Internationally, maternity leave provisions for employees are often government legislated. Nevertheless, a significant number of women reported being unfairly treated in their job after becoming pregnant. Experiences included being made to feel guilty for being pregnant, being fired, returning to work to a lesser position and being purposely derailed in their careers.
And when they did return to work, a lack of flexible childcare arrangements often caused concern.
The number of women who reported unfair treatment over maternity and childcare issues were: Australia (25%), California (15.8%), Germany (20%), Italy (13%) and New Zealand (10%). They told of employers withdrawing job offers, restructuring job roles while women were on leave, and asking women to return early from maternity leave.
“I was made aware that my promotion was being postponed due to my pregnancy, and then it was only given after I returned to work and proved that being a mom hadn’t changed my work habits.” (California)
“I have worked throughout my maternity leave twice due to limited willingness to backfill the maternity role.” (Australia)
“I was fired two days after my return from one pregnancy.” (Italy)
The question roused some of the strongest responses posted, with women working in New World countries – New Zealand, Australia and California – registering the highest levels of discrimination. Two out of every three women in wine in New World countries said they had experienced sexism at work, ranging from inappropriate language and ‘mansplaining’ – men speaking over women or speaking condescendingly – through to serious impropriety. Many complained of an ‘old boys’ club’ culture that spurned female involvement, and of questions over their ability to perform what was often viewed as ‘men’s work’, often involving use of machinery, along with unwanted comments, some lewd, about their appearance:
“My boss said, ‘Your breasts are looking good today.’” (California);
“Getting asked if it was that time of the month when I was frustrated and angry over someone’s mistakes.” (Australia);
“A woman is seen as more of a secretary. It is important not to have spirit or initiative and not to ‘think’.” (Italy);
“I was referred to as ‘the lab slut’ on my first day.” (New Zealand)
“Women are good for making coffee, that’s what my former employer said.” (France)
Women employed in the Californian (49.5%), Australian (48.8%) and German (35.8%) wine industries felt the most affected by sexist behaviour both at events where consumers were present, and those restricted to industry-based wine shows and tastings. At public events, the most common complaint was the assumption that the woman pouring or talking about wine was a sales rep or in marketing.
“When I point out that I am in production, the most common reaction is, ‘Well, good for you!’ as though it’s novel.” (California)
“People tell me women are unable to make wine.” (France)
And when women attend industry-only events, there is sexism aplenty.
“Near-naked models painted with brand logos at a national sales meeting. Off-colour language and innuendo from sales team at Aspen Food and Wine Classic.” (California);
“I was an associate judge at a wine show and had the chairman of judges grab my ass. It was unwelcome.” (Australia);
“No females are asked to comment on wines or called upon to give opinions [at trade events].” (New Zealand)
The big picture
The first international survey of women in wine reveals that the average woman employed in the wine industry in the six countries surveyed works full-time. In Australia and New Zealand, the majority of women tend to be younger (30 to 39 years) while in California, Germany and Italy, most are older (50 to 59 years), although these last statistics could reflect the makeup of the relevant bodies that participated in the survey, rather than that of the industry as a whole. They are well educated. The majority surveyed have a bachelor’s degree or better.
Each country has its own workplace culture which can have a profound effect on a woman’s place within it. In Italy, for example, while legislation insists that pay must be the same for men and women, there also exists the ‘superminimo’, an incentive payment given on the basis of experience, which can be loosely defined. Meanwhile, only 38% of Italian women under 65 are in the labour market, one of the lowest percentages in Western Europe.
Some countries offer more incentives than others to women to continue working after childbirth. The New Zealand government offers 20 hours of free early-childhood education every week for children aged between three and five. Italian women receive five months paid maternity leave, are allowed daily free time to feed young babies, paid free days for paediatric appointments, and flexi time for school pick-ups. Interestingly, both New Zealand and Italy recorded the lowest results for unfair treatment on the question of motherhood and work. In California, the Family and Medical Leave Act applies to only those workplaces with 50 or more employees, so women employed in small wineries can be disadvantaged.
Gender diversity in business is regarded in many countries as an economic imperative as women increasingly are viewed as an under-utilised resource capable of a major contribution. The wine industry is no different, yet women continue to have low representation. In Australia, statistics indicate that female participation in some areas in the wine industry, notably viticulture, remains as low as 8% to 10%. By comparison, the overall participation of women in Australian agriculture is around 14%.
Inheritance laws in some countries such as Italy can also work against women. “Traditional inheritance patterns (promoting male heirs) must be altered permanently rather than occasionally if women’s place within the Old World wine industry is to be secure,” wrote Ann Matasar in Women of Wine: The Rise of Women in the Global Wine Industry (2010). “Sons regardless of birth order, are still traditionally given the right of first refusal before a daughter,” she wrote of Italy. “Male cousins or brothers sometimes must fail before competent women…grasp the reins of the family firm.”
In many wine-producing countries today, women are a powerful force, the main buyers of wine and influencers of style. Yet academic research is only now coming around to an in-depth study of the role of women in the industry. The world’s first survey of women in wine is one step in what is intended as an ongoing study.
Freelance writer Jeni Port is a member of the Advisory Board of the Australian Women In Wine Awards. California, which produces 85% of total US wine production, is included in the survey as representative of the broader wine industry in the US.
This article first appeared in Issue 6, 2016 of Meininger's Wine Business International.