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‘Sobering’ new survey on sexism in the whisky industry

A third of women working in the whisky industry have been touched inappropriately, a “sobering” survey has revealed, with seven out of ten saying they have experienced inappropriate or sexual comments while at work.

The first-ever global survey of women working in the whisky sector revealed “widespread examples of unconscious bias” and “micro-aggressions” against women, which it said could “build up over time to have a devastating impact”.

The research, carried out by the OurWhisky Foundation – a not-for-profit body set up to support females in the industry – found 70% had experienced inappropriate or sexual remarks while doing their job.

Meanwhile, 33% of the more than 600 women who were questioned said they had been touched inappropriately – with this rising to 44% among those working in consumer-facing roles, such as brand ambassadors, and staff in retail and hospitality.

The Do You Even Like Whisky? survey also found 27% of women working in the sector for five years or less had been touched inappropriately, indicating the problem is not an historic one.

OurWhisky Foundation founder Becky Paskin insisted: “The escalation of these attitudes into inappropriate verbal and physical behaviour cannot be ignored.

“The industry needs to take this issue extremely seriously.”

Her comments came as the research – revealed exclusively to the PA news agency – found that a quarter of women working  in customer-facing roles said they had been asked to change their appearance for their job.

The vast majority of those surveyed said consumers still widely perceived whisky to be a “man’s drink”, with 89% agreeing with this.

Almost nine out of 10 (87%) women working in the industry believe they face more challenges in the workplace then their male counterparts.

Female bartender
A quarter of women working in customer-facing roles said they had been asked to change their appearance for their job (RooM the Agency/Alamy/PA)

Meanwhile, more than 80% of women who work making, selling and promoting whisky said they had been asked by colleagues and customers if they even like the drink.

Almost two-thirds (62%) of those surveyed said they were concerned about the impact having a child would have on their career while about two-fifths (41%) of mothers said they did not feel supported when returning to work.

Speaking about the results of the survey, Ms Paskin said: “Being spoken over, having your knowledge questioned or being asked if you actually like whisky are common occurrences for women working in whisky.

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

She added: “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.”

To help tackle the problems, whisky companies are being urged to improve the representation of women in their advertising and marketing – while avoiding stereotyping.

The OurWhisky Foundation also said firms should implement unconscious bias and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training for all staff, including senior leadership teams.

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

“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.”

She continued: “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 decisionmakers need to sit up and take action – this is something we need to act on now.”