Landmark survey details the extent of sexism in the whisky industry

29 August, 2023

A new survey conducted by the OurWhisky Foundation has detailed the extent of sexism that women working in the whisky industry face.

The survey – Do You Even Like Whisky? The Barriers Holding Back Women in the Industry, is the first survey of its kind and polled 600 women working in the global whisky industry.

The report revealed that a third of women have been inappropriately touched while doing their job, with this figure rising to 44% among those in consumer-facing roles. The study also showed that 27% of the victims of inappropriate touching having worked in the industry for less than five years.

“The results of this survey dispel any argument that there isn’t a sexism issue in our industry,” said Millie Milliken, head of content and the Develop Programmes at the OurWhisky Foundation.

“While ‘it’s not as bad as it used to be’ – an argument often used to dismiss the issue – these issues are very real for women working in whisky right now and there is still a lot of work to be done by businesses to make working in the industry safer for their female employees.

“If you break these percentages down into real-life numbers, the figures are sobering. Luckily, there are tangible solutions that can be implemented by businesses to counteract these issues and actively reduce those numbers. If change is ever going to happen, leaders and decision makers need to sit up and take action – this is something we need to act on now.”

Almost three-quarters of respondents said they’d experienced inappropriate or sexual remarks while doing their job, while 83% have experienced customers preferring to talk to a male colleague.

More than 80% reported being asked by both colleagues and consumers if they even like the spirit, while 89% felt whisky is widely perceived as a man’s drink – just 16% felt the industry was doing enough to change that perception.

“Being spoken over, having your knowledge questioned or being asked if you actually like whisky are common occurrences for women working in whisky,” said Becky Paskin, founder of the OurWhisky Foundation.

“These are surface-level yet widespread examples of unconscious bias manifesting as micro-aggressions – the ongoing effect of decades of male-targeted advertising.

“While the industry appears to be taking steps towards inclusion and better representation, this survey clearly shows women feel they aren’t supported enough. It’s important to realise that while it’s perhaps easy to shrug off a solo incident, these micro-aggressions build up over time to have a devastating impact on the women in our industry.

“The escalation of these attitudes into inappropriate verbal and physical behaviour cannot be ignored. The industry needs to take this issue extremely seriously.”

The OurWhisky Foundation has identified several key areas in which businesses must tackle the issue of sexism within the industry.

To “improve representation of women in advertising and marketing, while avoiding stereotyping”, “Implement unconscious bias and diversity, equity and inclusion training for all staff, including senior leadership teams”, “Implement bystander training and clear anti-harassment policies”, “Conduct a company pay audit and encourage pay transparency to ensure fair and equal pay”, and “Allow flexible working hours and locations for all parents, not just women”.

The full report is available on the OurWhisky Foundation website here.

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