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LWF: 'Fear of getting it wrong' is holding industry back on diversity

Published:  17 May, 2021

Trepidation around tokenism and not taking the right tack on issues of diversity and inclusion is stopping greater strides being taken in workplaces, it was said at this morning’s London Wine Fair (LWF) session on equal opportunities in the wine trade.

Panellists at the session made it clear that the industry has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. For example, Pam Rowan HR, director of Pernod Ricard UK said she was the only female board member back in the mid-noughties. “Now it’s a 50/50 split”.

Recent initiatives like the scholarships from the Gerard Basset founded Liquid Icons are also helping.

However, Ross Carter, CEO of The Drinks Trust said there is still a “sense of fear among some. A lot of people are very willing and want to see change, but I think there’s a fear of getting it wrong and that’s a barrier potentially because it can be quite inhibiting. There’s also a real risk of tokenism. Organisations and individuals perhaps feel as though they need to take a position but are fearful of really engaging with the conversation and as a result, no real change comes about. Personally, I believe you have to be willing and courageous to have those conversations in order to drive real change.”

Carter added that there is still some “soul searching” to be done when it comes to making meaningful change on issues of diversity and inclusion (D&I) and also individuals’ own personal routes into the trade. Carter said he encountered very few barriers when looking to enter the wine trade as he “fitted the profile” at the time. "There were a lot of people who look like me,” he said.

This was contrasted by the experience of Sumita Sarma, wine business strategist, writer and consultant at Sumilier Services, who said she found it difficult to penetrate the industry as an ‘outsider’ having started her career in the banking industry.

“I think we’re put in silos in the wine trade, and that led to incredible levels of frustration for me. Today, I’m working on my own, something that I’ve been forced to do because I was never offered a job anywhere. I’m thriving in what I do but to be very honest, I could have contributed a lot more than what I was able to do in the last eight years. Where I felt there was a big gap is moving from the WSET into a career role. There’s a massive gap there, no support, no mentorship no connections whatsoever,” she said.

The panel agreed that a collective effort is needed across the industry to effect change, with Deano Moncrieffe, co-founder and owner, Equal Measures and Hacha bar making the point that diversity and inclusion policies need to be measurable.

He said: “There are two things I think are really important. Number one is having the confidence to be able to actually go to whoever the point of contact may be. [Secondly,] how are we measuring success of D&I initiatives? How do you quantify what you’re doing? And how do you make sure that everyone feels open enough to be able to share their experiences? The biggest barrier if you feel excluded in any way is having the confidence to go to the responsible group. I’ve experienced it myself. It can lead to extreme levels of isolation.”

WSET chief academic officer Jo Anderson admitted that the organisation is on its “own journey” when it comes to looking at D&I within the organisation. It is also working on a number of ways to open up opportunities globally, including mentorship programmes.

Clearly, she said, frustrations still exist around gaining a WSET qualification, while “still being met by various obstacles” with regard to gaining employment: “Education is a great potential leveller in terms of giving people the knowledge and the experience as something they can use to enter the industry. But clearly, that has not always translated through to [opportunities] for people from diverse backgrounds.”

It is something the WSET is looking to address, Anderson added, with D&I programmes currently working with educational and industry partners globally, including Equal Measures and BAME Wine Professionals in the UK, along others in the US.