‘Significant’ lack of ethnic diversity in UK wine trade, survey findsBy Edith Hancock
The UK wine trade has “significant” problems with ethnic diversity and discrimination in the work place, according to a new report.
A survey of 667 people working in the UK wine trade found that less than 15% of professionals come from a black or ethnic minority background.
The Diversity in Wine survey, which was created by Gus Gluck, co-founder Quality Wines in London, acclaimed wine writer Jancis Robinson and Magnavai Janjo, senior account manager at Roberson Wines, found that many people are dissatisfied with the wine trade’s established “white male” dominance.
The industry as a whole does “little to safeguard those who do not reflect the status quo”, Holly Plumeridge, off-trade sales manager at Alliance Wine, said in her analysis of the report.
Over 86% respondents identified as white, but the results show that this figure could be higher. Close to half (45%) of those who answered said their workplace has just one or no colleagues from a black or ethnic minority background.
Just over 2% (2.55%) of those surveyed identified as black, while 3.15% of respondents said they came from an Asian background. Less than 1% (0.45%) of people identified as Arab, and 4.06% of people said their ethnic background was not listed in the survey.
Interestingly, a slim majority (50.97%) of respondents identified as women, but more telling is the way they described the gender diversity of their offices. Close to two thirds (61%) said the colleagues majority of their colleagues are male.
“The fact that fewer than 50% of our respondents were men in an industry where the majority are, means that on balance our sample cannot be seen as a proportional reflection of the industry demographic as a whole,” Plumeridge said.
“It is likely that both the figures of 86% in relation to [ethnic diversity], and 61% in relation to [gender diversity] are underestimates for these statistics and that the true figures are much higher.”
A lack of visibility in the wine trade means that discrimination is also rife, according to many of the comments respondents left.
Gluck, who created the survey, told the drinks business that he felt the report was “quite hard to read” adding there are “quite a lot of microaggressions people don’t really understand” in the wine sector. “It’s probably the worst thing you can experience in the workplace.”
The report found that, overall, people experienced more discrimination at work than they did in the outside world.
Several women who took part in the survey said they were asked about their relationships during a job interview, and whether they planned to start a family. The respondents felt that becoming pregnant would have been a mark against them in the hiring process.
Others were not hired in hospitality for “not being pretty enough”, while many cited a strong regional accent and not going to a private school, or even the wrong private school, as a roadblock in their careers.
A fair few female sommeliers who answered the survey said they were routinely overlooked by guests at work who wanted to “speak to the sommelier”, expecting a man to be in charge.
One respondent said they were interviewed “multiple times” as the interviewer believed their ethnic background meant they were less capable of doing the job.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community also said they were told to adjust their “look” or were looked upon negatively due to their sexuality.
People from ethnic minority backgrounds also said their heritage was routinely brought up by colleagues, and have had to endure racial slurs or assumed stereotypes from people in their workplace.
Magnavai Janjo told the drinks business he recently took part in a webinar with black and minority ethnic members of the UK wine trade to discuss exactly what the survey was seeking to discover.
“It was a little difficult to digest some of the feedback,” he said, adding he was disappointed that it’s “worrying that human beings in the 21st century” still receive racial abuse.
“The time of ignorance is bliss has passed. Just saying racism doesn’t exist and bigotry doesn’t exist is just not good enough.
“It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have but until we have those conversations things won’t change.”
Janjo, who has worked in the wine trade for 13 years, said this is the first time he can remember a conversation about race and discrimination in wine actually taking place.
“I think that’s worrying.”
A number of respondents said they had “just started” or were looking to change the way they recruit and nurture talent to improve their workplace diversity, but a significant few said they felt there was no need to change anything, adding they hire “based on quality of character”.
But Janjo said business owners need a “top-down” approach if unconscious bias is ever going to be eradicated from the hiring process. Most wine businesses ask for a Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) certification of some kind. It can cost up to £10,000 to achieve a certain standard of qualifications, which means that people from BAME backgrounds, who are often disproportionately represented in lower socioeconomic groups, already find it harder to purse a career in wine.
“The spirits industry is light years ahead of us,” Janjo said. “If you jump on most wine websites and go to their “my team” section, you see the same faces.”
“There has to be a top-down approach, and it’s not just the wine side, it needs to be about getting people in from logistics to back office and finance.”
Plumeridge said the survey’s results showed “a lack of understanding of where and how to reach BAME talent and how to attract a more diverse range of candidates.”
Gluck said he hoped the survey will be useful for larger companies in the wine trade that “can act out real change really quickly.” The team behind the survey are already speaking to a handful of large firms to establish things like apprenticeships and training programmes for minority groups to change the face of the wine sector.
“They’ve got projects they’re working on, and will be interested in the data,” he said.
Plumeridge said companies should look at things like mentoring programmes and apprenticeships, while trade associations should think more carefully about BAME representation at a senior level.
Journalists can work harder to highlight wineries and winemakers from minority backgrounds, while brands themselves can adapt their marketing strategies to make BAME communities feel like they are welcome in the wine category.
“We hope that this survey will be the beginning of a process aimed at collecting useful data about diversity in our industry and enable us to address these issues collectively moving forward.”