Jane Thomson, The Fabulous Ladies’ Wine Society
Although we’ve happily reached a stage where equal numbers of women and men are graduating from viticulture and winemaking, retaining women in the Australian wine industry is another story entirely. Currently, participation rates in winemaking and viticulture are at just under 10 percent and – even more worryingly – in decline.
Most think that to increase the number of women in wine we need to work harder at attracting women into the industry. The reality is, we have little trouble attracting them, it’s keeping and supporting women in their long-term wine career that’s the challenge.
What’s going on? Why are they leaving?
This year the 2018 Australian Women in Wine Awards wants to raise industry awareness of this significant retention issue, as once again we strive to champion and celebrate the work of Australian women in wine.
In this series, some previous winners highlight challenges they have faced, what’s kept them in their careers, and what they’d like to see more of to assist women to achieve their career potential in wine.
WBM – Australia’s Wine Business Magazine is a proud sponsor of the awards. In this series, some previous winners highlight challenges they have faced, what’s kept them in their careers, and what they’d like to see more of to assist women to achieve their career potential in wine.
Jenny Semmler, 919 Wines
Winner 2016 ‘Owner/Operator of the Year’
What attracted you into the wine industry?
I sort of fell into it sideways, then fell in love with it. Just today I’ve been thinking about why I love the industry so much. It combines scientific rigour with artistry to build a sensory product from which people derive great pleasure. Add to this the variations from each vintage, vineyard and winemaker, and the psychology behind great marketing, and it becomes an industry where there is always something new and exciting.
How many years have you been working in the industry? And did you have any other careers before that? If so, for how long?
I trained and worked as a pharmacist for only a few years before entering the wine industry in the late 1980s.
What do you think are some of the innate challenges women may face in this industry that make staying in their wine career difficult?
Some challenges are different depending on which sector of the industry they work in. However, for me the cost and availability of childcare during the long vintage hours and on shiftwork was a huge burden. Childcare issues are compounded in rural areas, particularly if there is no family close by and your partner is unsupportive (or even actively undermining you, as happened in my first marriage). Even with a supportive partner (as in my second marriage), childcare options can be very limiting and impact on both parents’ careers. Each workplace is different, and there can be a glass ceiling, or even an expectation that women in the wine industry can’t deal with tough issues such as conflicting departments and union issues. However, this has more to do with individual workplace cultures. I have seen incredibly supportive (allowing me to have children at work) through to toxic (dog eat dog), and this really comes down from the top.
Have you personally faced any career challenges that have made you think about leaving?
Yes, toxic workplace culture through a time of company turmoil, and the ol’ glass ceiling. That’s fine, I got my revenge by leaving the company and setting up my own business!
What do you think has helped you stay and progress in your career?
I take measured risks. With my husband by my side we have forged a strong and successful business together, blending our complementary skill sets. The children grew up, and have learned from our foresight, tenacity and planning skills.
What practical steps do you think employers and the industry at large could take to retain more women?
Don’t keep shoving them into the soft jobs, set realistic goals that are achievable, and provide the resources required to achieve them. Oh, and if larger companies would consider company-sponsored childcare for young children, then both men and women would use it and would be more productive workers.
Jane Thomson is the founder of the Australian Women in Wine Awards. There’s only two weeks until entries close on Tuesday 18 September. The announcement of all the winners will occur at Australia’s first Women in Wine Symposium & Awards Day on Friday 16 November in Sydney. For full info and tickets click here