The Distill Ventures digital conference, hosted by whisky expert and journalist Becky Paskin, brought a lineup of thought-leaders together from around the globe to discuss and share their own experiences and suggestions on how to foster a more inclusive whisky industry.

The Women of Whisky; Perspectives on Inclusion, Representation and the Future was held on 2nd December 2020.

Featured speakers included Ashley FreyCo-Founder, Frey Ranch Distillery (United States), Hil Ying Tse, Managing Director, Whiskies & More (Hong Kong), Julie Bramham, Global Brand Director, Johnnie Walker (Netherlands), Laura Davies, Distillery Manager, Penderyn Distillery (Wales), and Kristy Lark-BoothOwner & Operator, Killara Distillery (Australia). Heidi Dillon Otto, Managing Director, Distill Ventures North America also provided opening and closing remarks, emphasizing DV’s ongoing dedication to fostering a more diverse, inclusive environment. The full session is available for viewing here.

During the summit, the women shared personal anecdotes and experiences, prompting a robust discussion on how to foster inclusion in the industry and support diverse leaders to shape the future of the category.

When discussing hurdles that women face in the drinks industry, labeling drink choices as “feminine” or “girly” came up as a top issue.

“A drink should not be a gender base. It should be whatever one likes.” Hil Ying Tse, Whiskies & More

The industry has a responsibility to remove any stereotypes from brand marketing and communications  according to Julie Bramham, Global Brand Director, Johnnie Walker. As Julie said, “Gender portrayal in advertising is a challenge for many industries and quite a hot topic at the moment. We all have an unconscious bias. At Diageo we have developed an open source framework which we use with all of our agencies to ensure progressive female representation at every stage of the creative development process both in front of and behind the camera.  We need the entire industry to get behind this agenda to drive change.”

Becky Paskin

Ashley Frey, Co-Founder, Frey Ranch Distillery built on this as she discussed the importance of thinking through the spokespeople used to promote and represent her brand. As she shared, “Colby (her co-founder and husband) and I are the face of the company and if Colby is in the picture, I’m right there next to him. One of the things that we’ve done is look at our messaging and activities to make sure they’re balanced  – for example, our marketing program includes combined Mother’s Day and Father’s Day activations so that we’re appealing to men and women equally.”

Laura Davies (picture: Jonathan Myers/ WalesOnline)

When asked about providing opportunities for women to be in leadership roles and overall advice for women in the category.

“You have to show that you can do the job. You have to show that you are in that position not because you are a woman, but because you can do the job.” Laura Davies, Penderyn Distillery

She added, “Know your worth. Don’t sit and wait for someone to give you the same opportunities a man would have. It’s really important as women that we don’t sell ourselves short; we take personal responsibility and we push ourselves forward.”

Kristy Lark-Booth (picture: Gintonica)

Kristy Lark-Booth, Owner & Operator, Killara Distillery supported Laura’s sentiment, advising, “Don’t underestimate your self-worth; really believe in yourself. With the Australian Women in Distilling Association, it’s really exciting to be able to educate women in the industry and hear their experiences and watch their self-worth grow.”

Heidi Dillon Otto, Managing Director, Distill Ventures North America concluded, “With over 200 attendees, our Women of Whisky summit was the most subscribed event we’ve ever hosted. The drinks community from all over the world has spoken loud and clear – it’s time to change. Everyone has a role to play in speaking up so that as an industry, we can expediate this change.

“Fostering a more inclusive, representative industry is the key to unlocking a more vibrant, healthy and dynamic sector, but it’s not just those in the industry that can help. As Kristy pointed out, we’re all consumers too, and we should not underestimate the power of voting with our spending.” Heidi Dillon Otto, Distill Ventures

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