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Can Women of Wine break through the glass ceiling?

Published:  23 July, 2008

Having made its name, and the front cover of Harpers, with the Full Monty wine trade striptease, the Women of Wine (WoW) organisation got down to more serious business last week, by debating sexism in the wine trade.

A panel of four women and one man, headed by WoW honorary president Jancis Robinson MW, gathered in London's Bishopsgate to discuss the question: Is there a glass ceiling for women in the wine industry?'

Though no-one could deny the self-evident truth that women have failed to breach the upper echelons of the drinks industry, opinions differed about why that may be the case, and who was to blame.

For panelist Lulie Halstead of Wine Intelligence, who feels that discrimination because of age has been more of a problem in her career than because of gender, the absence of women from the top jobs was their own fault. We let ourselves down with our lack of skills, energy and determination. Fundamentally, I don't believe that there's anything to stop

us [women] succeeding in the wine trade.'

For Margaret Davis who, as a partner at city law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse, specialises in employment law, however, the existence of a glass ceiling was all too real. I've hit it so many times I'm stunted,' Davis said, before reeling off a series of statistics illustrating just how far women, in all walks of professional life, are behind men in terms of pay and access to the top jobs. Women account for 30% of managers in Britain. They earn 24% less per hour than male managers [and] only make up 50% of managers in sections traditionally associated with women: education, health, social services. Women make up just 7% of the senior judiciary, 7% of senior police officers, 9% of top business leaders and 9% of national newspapers editors,' Davis said.

She also drew on two cases involving drinks companies in her own professional experience as examples of how women had been prevented from taking on senior jobs because of their gender.

Most of the audience members present did not feel that their careers had suffered because of their gender, however, and panellist Mark Bingley of Maisons Marques et Domaines suggested that the wine trade was less sexist than others, refering to the number of women in senior positions in supermarket buying and marketing, as support for his argument.