Celebrating brilliant women in our industry
We’re celebrating International Women’s Day by sharing the stories of a few brilliant woman in our industry that are forging the path of equality, by choosing to challenge gender bias.
Their stories highlight some of the challenges faced by women in a male dominated industry, and why it is so important to find your voice.
Megs Miller- Drinks and Brand Consultant based in Mexico
Nicole Sykes- Maker’s Mark UK Diplomat
Vanessa Lunn- Bartender and Drink Events Manager for Heads, Hearts & Tales
Shatbhi Basu- India’s first female bartender
Amanda Humphrey- Education and Drinks Program Manager, Maker's Mark
What challenges are women in the industry facing, and how do you act against that?
Megs: It’s still very much a male dominated industry and yes, we are progressing every day, but it is nowhere near "there" yet. There are still massive pay gaps, chauvinism, few women leaders and much more. I have seen and faced it all, experienced the pay gap amongst male colleagues in the same role, sexual harassment from senior management and fewer growth opportunities. I used to stay quiet about all these things, but now understand the importance of speaking up. In my career, I have been lucky to travel a lot and it has made me realize how necessary it is to speak loudly for those who might not be able to. We need to continue to push as hard as we can for equality in all areas of life for everyone (gender, race, religion, sexuality, etc).
Nicole: The industry is sadly still very male dominated and although we are getting better, we still have a lot of work to do to change that. We need to inspire the current and up-coming generation that this is a great industry for women to learn, teach and grow. A great place to start is mentoring the next generation of women in the industry, giving them a foot onto the ladder to help them begin their journey and be there to help them during their next steps. The challenges I’ve faced is not having that female mentor to look up to when I started working in hospitality. I’m lucky to have a great community of women that help and inspire me every day, but that was missing in the early years of my career.
Vanessa: As a woman working in the drinks industry, there are obstacles, the most obvious one being that we are not as strong as men; physically it can be a super demanding job. I was always fighting to be stationed at the bar, sending hundreds of cocktails out all night. For a long time, women were not stationed at the busy stations on the bar. Or even in some cases on the bar at all. This was a man's world, where in order to make money, businesses wanted the fastest and strongest team at the bar. However, with a lot of persuasion and hard work I was recognised as a strong enough member of the team to hold the busy stations, being made supervisor, opening various venues, managing launch parties and events and becoming General Manager of a small nightclub.
Shatbhi: When I started my career in 1981, the biggest challenges were a lack of information and limited access to products and equipment. We relied on books and the occasional visiting distiller or brand representative for new and exciting information. Today I think it is more about a better workplace and staff room facilities, safer travel at night and fighting the perception that women in bartending is taboo. It has changed a lot in the last decade, but we still have a long way to go before families proudly let their daughters work in the drinks industry. It is great to see many young women in India persevering and excelling in this space despite it all. This is the beginning of a very bright future for passionate women who know what they want.
Amanda: I am 38 in June and I am pleased to say the hospitality industry has come on leaps and bounds regarding Women’s equality since I started my bartending career back in the mid-2000s. And I want to say thank you to the women before me who paved the way and made this possible for all of us. That is not to say it still doesn’t have a way to go. Woman are still marginalized when it comes to pay disparity within the industry, balanced representation for Women and people of color in higher management and executive levels is still an issue that needs to be addressed. Work life balance is still a problem for Women in the industry wanting to start a family whilst having a successful career. We can all act against this by speaking up when we see something unfair and proactively supporting conversations around these topics, making sure everyone has a seat at the table. I am conscious that my experience within the hospitality industry differs from many Women across the globe. I am incredibly lucky to have had both female and male mentors and colleagues that had my back and pushed me to learn and excel within the industry. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.
What is one key piece of advice you think everyone in the industry should know?
Megs: You are not alone and there will be a team of women to empower you to get through anything life throws at you. My nearest & dearest are my amazing army of female hospitality pals, they give me the strength to tackle anything life throws my way.
Nicole: Never forget your first day, you were new once upon a time.
Vanessa: In every industry you start at the bottom and are not always treated with the respect you believe you deserve. Everyone has their own story, culture and history which makes them who they are, you must realise that not everyone had it easy, not everyone was shown love and respect. If you want people to treat you with respect, you need to earn it. Work hard and treat everyone with kindness, even if they are not exchanging the same toward you. I have managed to go from washing glasses and being told I was never going to make it to the bar, to running venues. People soon change their minds when they see you working well and being nice to your co-workers and customers. A simple smile goes a long way.
Shatbhi: Whatever you choose to do within the drinks industry, do it because you love it and not to be different. Be open to learning every day and evolve as time goes on. Be inspired by others but don’t try to become them or be better than them. Build your own unique style and personality. Be the best that you can be and then some. Be grounded and always keep in mind that the most important person in our atmosphere is the consumer – the person who spends money on our product and service. Never underestimate or look down upon them. Don’t blindly copy world trends, understand them and then choose those that make sense for you. And share.
Amanda: I cannot stress enough the importance of finding the right mentors and group of friends within the industry that inspire you, that challenge your biases, that build you up and share information for the betterment of you and the industry as a whole. We all grow this way.
Why do you love working within the drinks industry?
Megs: The definition of hospitality. Not many careers are strictly focused on taking care of one another. We are lucky to get to work in such a wonderful industry.
Nicole: It’s true that no two days are the same which is incredibly exciting, the reason I get out of bed in the morning. I’m also a chatterbox so I love how much of a social butterfly it allows me to be.
Vanessa: The people. Meeting so many people from all walks of life, showing them a good time. The challenge of conjuring up a special cocktail for someone to suit their taste. Watching their faces light up when you get it right. The industry itself has some pretty solid characters who become friends along the way. If you enjoy people's company then hospitality is for you.
Shatbhi: In my mind, it is the most fascinating space ever. It encompasses a whole spectrum of learning skills from geography and history, culture and tradition, science and art, skills and technique, psychology and communication and a whole lot of patience. It challenges you to get better all the time. Pushes you to explore and create. Meet the most interesting people. And share ideas and collaborate with amazing contemporaries. It excites me even after four decades – a seriously long love affair!
Amanda: There are so many reasons but mainly because I have always felt a sense of belonging in our industry. Our globally connected community and the strong sense of togetherness as one big hospitality family. The creative outlet is another reason I love working in the drinks industry. no two days are ever the same and as someone that gets bored easily this fits perfectly with my personality type.
Who are three women that have influenced your career, and how did they influence it?
Meimi Sanchez - She is determined, stubborn & a fighter. She has been for many years, not only one of my closest friends, but my constant reminder to chase my dreams & push myself harder.
Esther Medina - Was my boss in London many years ago. I always will appreciate the time she always took to teach, explain and help her team to succeed to be better bartenders.
Sophie Decobeq - Being a European female starting her own agave brand in Mexico helped to fuel my own move to Mexico. I admire and look up to this wonderful heart-warming woman every day.
Rosie Paterson – The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh. She was my first female manager and really inspired me to make what was really just a job at the time, a career.
Kaitlin Wilkes Back – The Blue Bar, The Berkley Hotel, London. Kaitlin is my former flatmate and is one of the most career driven people I know. She has been a great mentor for me and continues to push and inspire me.
Anna Sebastian – The Artesian, London. A woman I look up to, she is incredibly motivated and stands up for women and inclusion in the industry. She has created a real community of women here in the UK through her platform Celebrate Her.
The women in my family – my Mom and Aunt who gave me my first book on bartending and the other Aunts who added to my skills by sending me loads of information.
Victor Bergeron, or Trader Vic as he was known, as it was his book that changed my life and got me completely immersed in the bar. My family and friends constantly encouraged me to push boundaries and stood by me.
The people in the hospitality and drinks industry who believed in me, embraced me wholeheartedly which made me discover my potential by the challenges thrown at me. I believe women can achieve brilliance in our space as they have all the abilities one needs to succeed. They have great instincts, a super sense of flavour, great presentation skills and a great ability to multitask and communicate.
Jane Bowie our Master of Maturation and Head Of Innovation at the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. Jane is the reason I fell in love with Bourbon and why I wanted to become a whisky ambassador all those years ago. Jane a Kentucky native, was the first American Whiskey Ambassador in the UK market. She hosted a training session for me and the team at the now closed Private Members Club Paramount, London. She was incredibly knowledgeable and super engaging not just about Maker’s but about category as a whole. It was the first spirit brand I felt a real connection with and that was down to her. It really stuck with me. Jane continues to inspire me to this day. She is a true visionary when it comes to liquid innovation. All the cool Stuff you see coming out of the distillery liquid wise is headed up by Jane and her team.
The second is a collective rather than a specific individual. A group of incredibly inspirational women that I am proud to call my friends. They all work in the UK hospitality industry in varying roles, from Global Ambassadors, Drinks PR consultants, Brand Managers to Bar Managers. As a group of super talented, creative friends we constantly inspire and learn from one another. Shout out to Meimi Sanchez, Andrea Montague, May Kongsrivilai, Rebekkah Dooley, Jenny Willing, Megs Miller and Sasha Filimonov for always supporting each other and driving each other to improve. These women are creating the education programs, new liquids, global drinks strategies, industry publications that you see out in market and are inspirational not only to me but Young women looking for career opportunities within the sector. Remember, If you can see her you can be her!
Lastly, Claire Warner for being one of the first to open up dialogue about mental and physical health within our industry. it needed to be done and no one was talking about it. She really was one of the first to start inspiring lifestyle change within our industry. Claire then went on to set up the nonalcoholic brand Seedlip and in turn pioneered a whole new drinks category. She is pretty incredible!