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  • Aussie Wine Month Story: Women in Wine

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Aussie Wine Month Story: Women in Wine

12 April 2017

For our story today we are featuring a wonderful speech that Corrina Wright, winemaker at Oliver's Taranga in McLaren Vale recently gave at the Aussie Wine Month event Wine Day Out. Corrina's speech discussed the general and specific challenges that women face in the wine industry. Corinna challenges us all to be brave and shake things up, improving diversity and making our Australian wine community a better and more accepting place. 

Being Brave - Corrina Wright

Last year I had to pull on my Brave pants. Not brave in that I had a life-threatening illness or was climbing Everest without oxygen, or that I managed to finally conquer my lifelong irrational, but debilitating, fear of octopus, by actually touching one. It seems that kind of brave is still out of my reach.

This was a different type of brave, a ”standing up for myself & what I thought was right against the crowd”, kind of brave.

Some of you have may have heard about the whole Perth Wine Show Judges dinner being held at a male only club, so I am not going to go on about it, but I do want to give some insight into how freaking hard it was for me to come to a decision to boycott the dinner.

Why should it be hard? I’m pretty sure that most normal and rational people can see it was a poor choice to hold a dinner of mixed company at a place that by its very being, potentially excluded half of the attendees - even if “special permission access” had been secured for the evening. No brainer right? It's not appropriate, and you don't think it is right. So don't go. End of story.

Not. So. Simple.

 As Sue Bell and the members of the Women in Wine Awards committee can attest, the internal and external dialogue was like a stomach churning ride in a Sydney cab filled with the body odour of the dead. Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Do I want to be THAT girl? Do you need to be in the room to make a change? All of these Agricultural society guys are just volunteers, it's not their fault. Am I being disrespectful? Just ignore it and it will go away. I mean we are not curing cancer here! Why should I miss out on the camaraderie and flash wines at the dinner, just because I feel I need to make a point? Change is slow, you are just being impatient. Get over yourself Corrina. Who cares about wine shows anyway?

Eventually, after many sleepless nights, tears, support from hubby, email trails and discussions - I did decide to boycott the dinner. The decision made clear when the other female associate judges said that they wanted to boycott as well, but they couldn't as they were afraid if they made a fuss, they would never get another judging position again. I couldn't have this placid approval of a broken and wrong system continue for another minute. It needed to be called out. I decided to become ‘that girl’ and own the shit out of it!

Did I feel better? Not really. Did I even make a difference? Probably not, although I hazard a guess that the judges dinner in Perth will not be held in a male only club again.

I suppose what I am trying to show with this one small personal story, is that it is hard to be brave. It is hard to challenge the status quo and do things differently. But I would argue that bravery is exactly what this industry needs right now. Not just in the diversity space. As Steve Pannell said way more eloquently than I can earlier today,  we need bravery in the way we tell our stories, make our wine, market our wines, in the industry bodies that represent us, and in the creation of the future of our wine community which has such epic potential.

And this isn’t just my story. The results of a survey by the Australian Women in Wine Awards released recently make some pretty sobering reading. I know we are not the only industry facing these types of concerns but- of the almost 300 wine women respondants 42%  think or know they are paid less for the same role and 2 out of 3 have experienced sexist behaviour at work.  25% have had maternity leave issues, even though only 40% of those surveyed had children. Further, 1 in 5 think they don’t have the same career opportunities. The majority of this has been suffered in silence, with women often feeling a lack of power to change these situations, and so tacit approval continues. It is much easier to pour out your stories anonymously on a survey, than it is to make a stand in person.

I challenge you all to be brave and to challenge your own unconscious and concious biases. And I mean seriously, don't just fob me off and say, that you ALWAYSembrace diversity, “l mean, Corrina, I have a mother/daughter/wife/gay/Muslim/whatever friend, so I am fully supportive” Are you? Are you really? Did you choose not to hire that young cellar hand for vintage because she was too hot, or not hot enough, or might not be strong, or was she really not right for the job? Did you tell your staff to put up with innapropriate comments because they are good customers?

Don’t kid yourself that you are always hiring on a merit basis. Like there is some magical completely objective scale that you measure people on! That’s like saying that unicorns exist. Its an excuse that is used to hide behind all too often. The 50/50 male/female directive from the organisers today created some bristle, but it left no room for excuses. It only would have taken ONE person on the Perth Wine Show organising committee to say, “Hang on, that’s a bit of a terrible idea”, and it would have saved a whole pile of angst.

Internally the lack of diversity and the continual adherence to “the way we have always done things” is stopping us from uncovering the potential of this special industry. We are losing, blocking or quashing change agents, smart operators, potential young guns by giving mouth service to the acceptance of diversity, but by slipping all too easily into the old ways and allowing group-think to justify bias.

Cultural change comes from the individuals within an industry. Today I want to challenge you to be brave and shake things up, because I for one, am getting impatient and I don’t really want to wait another generation. We may not be curing cancer, but we all get to be part of the wonders that are created on the vine, in some of the most beautiful places in the world, with wonderful communities and enjoying pretty epic lifestyles and there is room for ALL of us. 

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