Women in bars: Why don’t you get it yet?

Women and feminism are a hotter commodity than a Kardashian right now, yet somehow a lot of people still don’t get it. Though that doesn’t stop people having a view on it, wanting to define it, some even wanting to monetise it, and others wanting to place certain rules around it. The problem is, I don’t want to buy feminism. Most people don’t. Most people are confused by the issues pertaining to women. What they do want is to understand it and how it relates to them.

I was recently privileged to be invited to the third session of Coleman’s Academy, a not for profit women’s organisation for the liquor industry run by Paige Aubort. I was asked to conduct a Q&A with friend Lindsay Rogers on the day, who previously won NSW Telstra Young Business Woman of the Year for her young and dynamic creative agency Chello. Paige thought Lindsay would provide great inspiration and a bit of perspective for the some thirty girls on the day as someone that built her own business outside the liquor industry

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 3.14.12 pmFor Lindsay and I, attending women centric conferences or networking events is common, we revolve in industries where large organisations are required to host these types of empowering events as a part of their social responsibility and a benchmark amongst peers in their business. It’s lunches, breakfasts, drinks, lots of money thrown at being politically correct. Which don’t get me wrong, definitely has systemic benefits.

But let’s be honest, some events are great but most are all pencil skirts and boring name tags, a merry-go-round of practiced conversation. Where is the authenticity? So, we decided we wouldn’t talk about the ‘same old stuff we hear at events like Women In Focus or Business Chicks because everyone’s heard that same spiel before and it’s a walking yawn”. We wanted to be carefree, cool, girl’s just want to have fun and stuff.Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 3.35.30 pm

WRONG, the civil liberties we experience are not the same for women in the bar industry. We are privileged in the fact we’ve begun to become numb to this ensuing conversation around women’s rights and the growing support for them across all factors. So privileged that we assume the same for all women. Wrong again. The first thing Paige said to me when we arrived completely dispelled my previous perceptions. 

“I bet you’ve never seen a whole group of girls occupying a bar like this before, have you? This is the only time we see each other. If you’re a bartender, you’re usually the only girl that works at that bar. When I had heard that RAchelle started at Baxter’s, I waited till she was working and went over To see her. when you hear about a woman working in a neighbouring bar you have to wait till she works, go across and wait for her to serve you. that is how we connect, that is how we support each other. We don’t have other women to talk to, to relate to, at our place of work. Where are the lunches, the conferences, the women based workshops? There’s no infrastructure in our industry to encourage and support women.”

We are reminded time and time again that feminism is about equality, but I Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 3.12.22 pmwas interested to understand what that meant for women in bars. While I certainly know what it’s like to drink at them, I don’t know what it’s like to work at a bar,  but I do understand that there are biological differences between men and women, which still remain throughout our work cultures, and the same path to success that exists for men is not necessarily always open to women. That being said, even with all of the progression achieved by the women who’ve come before us, I still feel this industry is archaically behind others when it comes down to its own social structures. The women that back Coleman’s Academy rightly aren’t cool with that.

Paige told me that for her equality was about being treated without bias.

“Being treated the same as the person who came before and the person who came after you, as if you were standing behind a big door where the person you are interacting with could not see your race, ability, gender, age, physical appearance.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 3.12.48 pmKnown industry figure and delightfully engaging bartender, Jenna Hemsworth also spoke on the day and the common thread between speakers seemed to be equality or no equality, if you want to make something happen, you are going to have to do it yourself. You need to back yourself.

Lindsay told the room that at the end of the day, it’s you that will get yourself over the line, nobody else.

“I get asked about gender in business a lot, and I’m extremely grateful for organisations and initiatives like the Telstra Business women’s awards and Coleman’s Academy because it’s putting women on the map where there has been a gender imbalance in the past. It’s also wonderful to be in networks of other likeminded people who ‘get it’, are your biggest encouragers and push you further. However, I also believe that if you’re really damn good at whatever it is you do, gender won’t be a question, your competency will be undeniable.

Jenna held our attention when she described the many times she’s been either held back or discriminated against in her work. She regaled the women at the bar with how the most powerful thing she learnt was to use her voice.

“I used to be this timid, young petite thing until I realised that wasn’t getting me anywhere. I suddenly found my voice, because I had something to say, and sure sometimes that gets me into trouble but it’s gotten me where I am today. Use your voice because what you have to say matters.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 3.15.31 pmSitting at the back of the room while Jenna spoke, I suddenly realised how hungry all these girls are for support, inspiration, engagement.They give some serious fucks about their future and won’t be taking no for an answer. As hands flew in the air when it came to question time, there wasn’t a yawn or wandering eye in the place.

Which makes me wonder, in 2016, when there are over 15000 women’s organisations in Australia alone but only one of them is in the liquor industry, what is everyone that holds some slice of power doing? Why isn’t there more support for an organisation like Coleman’s particularly when it’s an issue so blatantly spoken about. Particularly when it’s so blatantly an issue. If only we could all create as much noise about this as we have the lockout laws.

Women make up 50 percent of purchasers and consumers yet they’re given minimal presence in bars and distributors. This is an opportunity to tap into the changing nature of the bar industry at the best time possible. For liquor brands and distributors, at the end of the day, these are as much your customers as they are your salesman, it’s an opportunity to not get left behind.

Because, while this issue may have once been whispered in the walls it’s now echoed in the streets. And take it from me, it’s only going to get louder.

All photos: Daryl Kong

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