When you look through the history of the Italian wine industry, you may notice that there is a distinct imbalance between the amount of men and women. Most producers’ stories start with a man starting the company, while many of the world’s most revered sommeliers were men.
That’s not to say that women haven’t contributed throughout the centuries. In many cases, wives worked alongside their husbands to ensure the success of their endeavours. Daughters haven taken over from their parents, and women have been involved in the industry for centuries.
However, it’s only in recent years that women have started taking on more direct leadership roles. A happy consequence of the growth of the Italian wine industry is that more women than ever before are starting their own wine companies, becoming sommeliers, and otherwise becoming entrenched in leadership positions that they may not have held a century or two ago.
Still, there’s a long way to go before women achieve parity with men in the wine industry. Happily, there’s plenty of advice out there for women who want to make their mark in Italian wine. We’ve taken a look at some tips from prominent women in the industry that may help others find their way.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Equal Recognition
You may have heard of Laura Catena, who is one of the top leaders in the Argentine wine industry. But did you know that she was once made Decanter’s Man of the Year.
There should be something that immediately strikes you as “off” with that statement. Despite being a woman, Catena’s award proclaims her the “man” of the year, as though it assumes that only men can win it.
While the award is indeed prestigious, it’s also old fashioned. Catena has railed against the name of the award, even once sending a letter to Decanter that discussed the absurdity of only having a Man of the Year award when so many women now work in the wine industry.
In doing so, Catena shows that she’s not afraid to fight for the right of women to receive recognition for their work. We think that Man of the Year award should be changed to something more gender-neutral, such as Person of the Year. However, it’s only through making their voices heard that women who are in the industry, or aspire to be, can create change.
- Get Educated
This is particularly important for women who do not have a family history of working in the wine industry. The fact is that some people will look down on anybody who can’t offer up proven credentials for their expertise. Some may argue that this effect intensifies for women in a previously male-dominated industry.
The best counter this the credential argument is to go out and get the credentials. Study winemaking, the industry, and whatever else you believe will help you to achieve your goals. There are many wine certification programs that cover a broad spectrum of topics. From the history of the industry, to sommelier training, each credential you earn will boost your standing and make it that much more difficult for the more old-fashioned in the industry to disregard your talents.
You may already have the skills the certification would teach you. But that little scrap of paper ensures that others respect your authority in the subject, which may lead to more opportunities within the industry.
- Don’t be Afraid to Say No
When you’re starting out in the wine industry, it can be tempting to say “yes” to every opportunity that comes your way. While this enthusiasm is important, you must also understand the value of your own time and skills.
Saying yes to everything could lead you to spinning your wheels on projects that don’t take you further on your road through the industry. Instead, practice saying “no” to any project that either doesn’t appeal to you, or can’t serve your needs.
It’s a tough art to master. People don’t like being told “no”, and many feel uncomfortable saying it. To make things easier, chart your intended path through the Italian wine industry and think about what projects will help you along your way. Anything that may distract from your main ambitions is something that you should say no to.
- Get Connected
As with most businesses, the wine industry is as much about who you know as what you know. As a result, you need to get out and start connecting with people in the industry. Anybody who could teach you something, or create an opportunity for you, is somebody that you should add to your network.
However, you should also look beyond the wine industry. Any high-profile women in powerful positions, regardless of industry, have something to teach you. Connect with as many people as possible, and maintain the relationships that you form. You never know what opportunities may await you on the other side of the phone.
Coming back to Catena for a moment, she says that there’s a stereotype surrounding women, both in wine and the general workplace, that suggests they’re less likely to ask for promotions or promote their abilities above others.
You may have this inclination yourself. After all, it can feel uncomfortable to “sell” your abilities when you feel as though they should be self-evident.
However, you may have to counter that inclination with some self-promotion. Don’t go over the top, as this can distract from your talents. But don’t be afraid to talk about what you can do, what you’ve learned, and where you wish to be. Stay authentic and true to yourself, and you’ll notice a lot more opportunities come your way.
The Final Word
As sad as it is to say, you can argue that women still have it harder in the global wine industry than men. However, the tide is turning.
Follow these tips if you’re a women who is in or on the cusp of the industry. They may help you get the recognition and opportunities that you deserve.