Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Women in Wine — Wine Bloggers Conference 2015

L to R: Amy Power, Karen MacNeil, Stevie Kim, Meaghan Frank
One thing I’ve noticed since the end of #WBC15, Wine Blogger Conference held in the Finger Lakes, is a lack of controversy over any of the panel sessions and speakers. Maybe those posts are coming down the pike, but so far everyone has commented on how convivial the weekend was, and most seemed very pleased overall with the speakers and sessions that were presented. 

One panel in particular that I really enjoyed was Women in Wine.

Wine writer Karen MacNeil; Meaghan Frank, General Manager of Dr. Frank’s Winery in The Finger Lakes; and Stevie Kim, Managing Director of Vinitaly International spoke about their success in the world of wine and the challenges they face, in a great thought provoking session moderated by Amy Power.

It was very interesting to hear the generational differences from the discrimination that Karen faced back in the early days of her career, to the relatively smooth path of acceptance that Meaghan experiences. But as Stevie showed in her very illuminating presentation—women still lag behind in the top power and decision-making positions, way behind. It’s not a perfect world for women in wine by any means.

I was surprised by some of the audience commentary that many women, even very young women, still feel intimidated. Lucky for me, I was blessed with good training for dealing with a patriarchal society--I went to Catholic school.

Even as a child I was constantly questioning the powers that be. I  could not adjust to the rigidity of the curriculum and the lack of answers to my questions. Eventually, at the age of eight, I was invited to leave Catholic school and I finally got to go to public school. I thrived in an experimental lab school with a non-graded system where pupils worked at their own level in each subject. I was only in third grade, but I studied at the sixth grade level with kids older than me. This gave me a leg up so to speak on the feeling of being an outsider, but also a sense that I belonged. When I ended up working in tech companies, where I was typically the only sr. level woman in the room, it did not faze me.

Stevie Kim said she wears heels to make sure she can look more directly in to the eyes of whom she is speaking with (and I did notice she has some amazing shoes) – I’d love to do that too if was able to walk in heels with out twisting an ankle. But everyone has to find their own technique. Heels or not, Ms. Kim has obviously made the most of her considerable talents and creativity to make VinItaly and many other programs promoting Italian wine a success.

The advice of the moment for women in the workplace is to “lean-in” to their careers. But I never lean in—I lean back and observe intently. I pay close attention to the conversation, especially the unspoken parts of a dialog, as more often than not it’s what’s left unsaid that becomes important. 

I’ve never felt held back or intimidated because of my gender. I just approach situations head-on. I know my skills, my value, my worth and I don’t let anyone else define me. 

I don’t think you can be equal on an unequal playing field but I believe you can change rules by your determination and presence at the table. Dealing with gender discrimination or exclusion by gatekeepers in the wine world, or anyplace is not easy. But it helps if you’ve been raised to believe your role is not merely to set the table, but to sit at the table, to own it--that it’s a given you belong, not an exception.

Being strong, outspoken, honest, and female is not an easy path. Not everyone will like what you have to say. And that’s okay. Do we need legislation to make sure women are compensated equally and fairly? Hell yes. But I believe the only limits for advancing and getting key positions in any industry are in one’s own head. I’ve worked with incredibly talented and supportive men and women in my career and I’ve also run into to some very difficult people, male and female. It’s not always about gender in the workplace, it’s about the individual.

I was very inspired by what the panel had to say, but I think Amy Power summed it up best at the end of the session—“Here are three great examples of people working in wine who just happen to be women.”

Stay tuned for upcoming posts--
Straight Outta Corning and WBC15: Finger Lakes Day-by-Day Recap

{Photo above sourced from @binNotes Twitter stream} 

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