Distill Ventures digital whisky summit highlights demand for inclusivity in the industry

A recent summit held by a range of entrepreneurs and thought-leaders detailed the need for more inclusivity in the whisky industry - and how this can be tackled.

Published 10th Dec 2020
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

Distill Ventures ('DV'), has shared highlights from its second Whisky Summit, The Women of Whisky; Perspectives on Inclusion, Representation and the Future, which was held on 2 December.

The digital conference, hosted by whisky expert and journalist Becky Paskin, brought a lineup of thought-leaders together from around the globe to discuss and share their own experiences and suggestions on how to foster a more inclusive whisky industry.

Featured speakers included Ashley Frey, co-founder, Frey Ranch Distillery (United States), Hil Ying Tse, managing director, Whiskies & More (Hong Kong), Julie Bramham, global brand director, Johnnie Walker (Netherlands), Laura Davies, distillery manager, Penderyn Distillery (Wales), and Kristy Lark-Booth, owner and operator, Killara Distillery (Australia).

Heidi Dillon Otto, managing director at Distill Ventures North America also provided opening and closing remarks, emphasising DV’s ongoing dedication to fostering a more diverse, inclusive environment.

During the Distill Ventures whisky summit, the women shared personal anecdotes and experiences, prompting a robust discussion on how to foster inclusion in the industry and support diverse leaders to shape the future of the category.

When discussing hurdles that women face in the drinks industry, labelling drink choices as “feminine” or “girly” came up as a top issue.

Hil Ying Tse stated: “A drink should not be a gender base. It should be whatever one likes.”

The industry has a responsibility to remove any stereotypes from brand marketing and communications according to Julie Bramham, who said: "Gender portrayal in advertising is a challenge for many industries and quite a hot topic at the moment.

"We all have an unconscious bias. At Diageo we have developed an open source framework which we use with all of our agencies to ensure progressive female representation at every stage of the creative development process both in front of and behind the camera.

"We need the entire industry to get behind this agenda to drive change.”

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Ashley Frey built on this as she discussed the importance of thinking through the spokespeople used to promote and represent her brand.

She said: "Colby (her co-founder and husband) and I are the face of the company and if Colby is in the picture, I’m right there next to him.

"One of the things that we’ve done is look at our messaging and activities to make sure they're balanced - for example, our marketing program includes combined Mother’s Day and Father’s Day activations so that we're appealing to men and women equally.”

When asked about providing opportunities for women to be in leadership roles and overall advice for women in the category, Laura Davies said: "You have to show that you can do the job.

"You have to show that you are in that position not because you are a woman, but because you can do the job."

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She added, "Know your worth. Don’t sit and wait for someone to give you the same opportunities a man would have.

"It’s really important as women that we don’t sell ourselves short; we take personal responsibility and we push ourselves forward."

Kristy Lark-Booth supported Laura’s sentiment, advising: "Don’t underestimate your self-worth; really believe in yourself.

"With the Australian Women in Distilling Association, it’s really exciting to be able to educate women in the industry and hear their experiences and watch their self-worth grow."

Heidi Dillon Otto concluded: "With over 200 attendees, our Women of Whisky summit was the most subscribed event we've ever hosted.

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"The drinks community from all over the world has spoken loud and clear - it's time to change. Everyone has a role to play in speaking up so that as an industry, we can expedite this change.

"Fostering a more inclusive, representative industry is the key to unlocking a more vibrant, healthy and dynamic sector, but it's not just those in the industry that can help.

"As Kristy Lark-Booth pointed out, we're all consumers too, and we should not underestimate the power of voting with our spending."

The full session is available for viewing here.

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Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne, whisky and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind is the Food and Drink Editor and whisky writer for The Scotsman, as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.
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