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Soapbox: Five steps toward wine industry diversity

Published:  05 August, 2020

Black wine professional Magnavai Janjo urges the trade to swap discomfort for progressive conversation and sustainable steps towards greater inclusivity. 

Over the Past few weeks, we’ve heard countless calls for our beloved trade to roll up its sleeves and engage in the creation of a more diverse and inclusive industry. Having been involved in several conversations on the matter, here are my thoughts about how any individuals or companies can play their respective parts in this process.


Admittedly, it’s an uncomfortable topic to broach, and as such one habitually avoided. For anything to change, however, we need to have open and equally uncomfortable conversations. This begins with personal reflection for the individual and self-assessment for the companies. Consider, for example, what the gender split of the company is and, of that split, how many women occupy senior and executive roles? What does this percentage account for? How many BAMEs does your company employ? What positions do they occupy? A simple brief like this can go a long way to yielding actionable results – and quickly.

Courage to engage the issue

An obstacle I have encountered in recent weeks has been the fear of ‘getting it wrong’. Good-willed companies and individuals that acknowledge the issue and wish to be part of its solution often lack confidence to act for fear of misjudgement and the potential backlash this can provoke.

My suggestion is to consult BAME Wine Professionals UK and BAME in Hospitality – leading groups that can guide you toward ways to affect change. The worst course of action is no course of action; we must avoid letting fear inhibit us from creating a better and more inclusive industry.

Diversity from within

It is worth keeping in mind that change need not be some grand, external gesture – an internal process can have an equal impact, yielding greater benefits. In my experience, although there has always been some degree of diversity in the wine trade, it has been primarily within the more manual echelons of warehouse personnel. Proactivity in offering more robust career progression options to BAME employees at this level could be an effective remedial measure. Not only would this improve BAME visibility in the industry but be practical in minimising the potential risks and costs integral to the process of hiring externally.

We are all attracted to groups that look and sound like we do. If we want our industry to appeal to BAME communities, we should actively seek to portray an industry image that achieves this.

Commit to self-evaluation

From various conversations I have had with BAME members in the trade, a concern is that this imperative might be a ‘flash in the pan’; that in a year’s time the industry’s attention will have waned, typically distracted by the next ‘in’ social issue. So it is crucial that, for the sake of a sustained commitment to diversity in the wine industry, we make an equal commitment to self-evaluation. Whatever the plan might be, it is worth reviewing in six to 12-month intervals, adjusting policy and action if required.

Advertising and hiring
outside the box

Interestingly, this point has been raised a few times by non-trade members. The industry’s ingrained habit of recruiting from the same pool of candidates and of advertising jobs through the usual media outlets renders it no surprise that it retains its traditional demographic makeup.

There are, of course, some roles in the industry that absolutely require wine knowledge – wine sales and service for example. However, could we broaden our candidate pool for other roles? Does our head of finance really need five years’ wine trade experience?

In broadening our candidate sourcing, by being more open to non-traditional routes to employment we increase our industry’s exposure to jobseekers who otherwise might never consider wine as a career option.