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Lad culture called out for continuing to sideline women in whisky

Published:  21 February, 2022

The whisky industry is still suffering from a prevailing “laddish culture” by some consumers and members of the trade who see female employees as a “novelty”, the head of Penderyn’s distillery operations has said.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s US forum, Women Who Whiskey, Laura Davies, general manager at Penderyn Distillery, said she had experienced side-lining behaviour from men during distillery visits.

Despite working at the Brecon Beacons distillery for a decade, she said it is not uncommon for male visitors to wrongly assume she works in the sales department or overlook her altogether, as they fail to fully grasp her role.

“Occasionally, someone comes to the site and introduces themselves to the male first and ignores me completely. Or we walk into a room and they speak directly to my male colleague and ignore me until they’re pulled up on it,” she said.

“When I have travelled with a male colleague, I’ve been asked: ‘Do you work in the sales department?’ a few times. That sort of insinuation is you are somewhere you shouldn’t naturally be.”

The role of women in whisky has been the subject of particular debate since the public spat between journalist Becky Paskin and whisky writer Jim Murray in the autumn of 2020. At the time, alleged sexist comments about Penderyn’s single malt range were made. Now, Davies is speaking up to encourage women to engage in open dialogues about the issues they face.

Change must be made for the better “rather than just to cause an uproar. You can create change rather than create drama”, she said.

Despite casually sexist remarks – men occasionally tell her that they have bottles of whisky in their cupboard which are older than she is – Davies insists she had always been well supported and respected by her team.

While men make up a large part of the various teams she manages, she says “They see me as an equal. They have never told me I can’t do something because I’m a woman. I speak with our importers in the US regularly, they value the female opinions just as much as the males.”

Recent figures from Kantar have gone some way to debunk the myth that whisky is still a male-only consumer base.

Around 40 million more glasses of whisky are consumed by women in Britain each year than were drunk back in 2010. While the amount of whisky women drink shot up by 15% during that time, it only increased by 6% for men.