International Women's Day: how can the drinks industry #EmbraceEquity?

By The Morning Advertiser

- Last updated on GMT

International Women's Day 2023: #EmbraceEquity
International Women's Day 2023: #EmbraceEquity

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To celebrate International Women's Day 2023 on Wednesday 8 March, the Morning Advertiser spoke to some of the leading women in the drinks industry to discover how the sector can #EmbraceEquity.

Laura Lewis, head of marketing, Arc Inspirations:

Laura Lewis Arc Inspirations

Best advice received:

To not spend all your energy trying to compensate for your weaknesses. Instead, focus on the things you are amazing at, get better at them and make yourself known for being brilliant at them.

Overly worrying about the things we’re not great at can be a very female trait. Someone told me early in my career to stop telling everyone what I wasn’t good at and celebrate what I was great at instead.

Best advice given:

I try and pass on the above advice as much as possible, especially to other women I’ve managed and mentored.

I personally feel imposter syndrome every single day and I see it in my peers and team members. It’s important to build up other women around us, call out their successes, support each other and drive their confidence.

I also advise people to build a strong group of peers, inside and outside the workplace, people you can talk to about the challenges you face at work and bounce ideas off of.

Biggest challenges:

I have two young children and both my husband and I work full time, so work/life balance is a real challenge. There is a lot of rhetoric in the media about women not being able to have it all; you can’t be a great Mum and have a successful career.

This simply isn’t true but if you do want to do both you do have to make sacrifices and accept it can be tricky path which can come with a constant guilt that you aren’t giving ‘enough’ to either side.

There are a lot of times I don’t get the balance right but I’m on a journey and learning all the time how best to manage this.

The most important thing is to set boundaries. Everyone I work with knows I’m offline between 5.30pm and 8pm every evening because that’s my time to pick my kids up and do bedtime and bath time.

What are the barriers that are still to be overcome and how could this be tackled?

Hospitality by its nature is a 24/7 operation and evenings and weekends are often our most important service times, particularly in the bars category we operate in.

This completely clashes with being a working parent, as evenings and weekends are also the time you need to be with your family and child care options are limited at these times.

It’s the reason we often see women working in our sites not return after maternity leave. The industry needs to do more to support these women (and Dads too) as we often lose fantastic talent because of this.

It’s a really hard one to solve but I also think the Government need to offer support by considering how we reform childcare provision in the UK to make it more accessible to those working antisocial hours and on lower pay.

How can the sector #EmbraceEquity?

By providing better family friendly policies that support working parents in the workplace.

Allison Crawbuck, co-founder of Devil’s Botany Distillery:


Best advice received: 

Do what you love. My father worked as a carpenter for 40 years and was very fortunate to love his craft.

He would always remind us if we spend a third of our life at work, we should strive to find a career that we truly enjoy. That piece of advice still stays with me and I am very lucky to absolutely love what I do.

Best advice given: 

Go for it. The first step is often the hardest when turning an idea into a business. Once the strategic planning and market research is in place, you have to just go for it.

The biggest regrets in life are often the things that we never got around to doing. There were many people who thought we were crazy to open the UK's first dedicated absinthe distillery, but I am so incredibly proud that we did.

Biggest challenges faced:

Always juggling the many roles required as a small business owner. We launched Devil’s Botany Distillery in the middle of lockdown with not much more than our unwavering passion and a start up loan.

As an independent business without investor backing, we operate with a small team, which means we are involved in all areas of the business. This can be both extremely rewarding and challenging. 

I am also incredibly proud to now be both a business owner and new parent, but this is perhaps the most difficult juggling act of all. A 2022 study on diversity in the alcohol Industry found a lack of work-life balance is one of the top reasons why women leave the drinks industry.

Having started up two independent businesses in the sector, I understand how difficult it can be to achieve a healthy balance of life and work.

While this is still very much a work-in-progress for me, I hope speaking about this challenge will raise awareness for other women in the drinks industry that it is possible to balance both roles.

Have things changed for women in the sector since you began your career? 

We are seeing more conversations around diversity in the drinks industry, which is crucial to action change. There is an increasing number of women in high power positions, and there are so many talented and inspiring young women coming up in the industry. 

What are the barriers that are still to be overcome and how could this be tackled?

Conversations around ways we can encourage and support diversity in the drinks industry need to continue 365 days a year. By championing female distillers and female entrepreneurs in the drinks industry, younger generations will be able to see themselves represented in these roles. 

How can the sector #EmbraceEquity?

Embracing equity is all about empowering individuals with the right tools that will enable them to do their best at the task at hand. By listening to the needs of others, companies can support their teams to strive; it’s a win-win for both companies and individuals.

Since the pandemic, employers and employees have embraced the benefits of flexible working schedules. We’ve all come to appreciate the value of a healthy work-life balance.

Katie Rouse, owner, Couch Bar, Birmingham:

Best advice received:

To take as much advice as you possibly can. Really listen and digest everyone’s feedback and thoughts, whether you disagree at first or not. You’ll receive more and better advice in the future if you listen and consider.

Best advice given:

Take yourself out your comfort zone, use ingredients and flavours that you wouldn’t usually and explore what they can do. Never make one ingredient, make many at different ratios, the development process can’t be rushed. Host and perform as much as you can, even if it makes you nervous, it’s the most effective way to build your confidence.

Biggest challenges faced:

Throwing myself back into the cocktail competition game after a seven year break. The biggest challenge was just allowing myself to believe I could be considered and that I have grown in my skill set, it’s very easy to stay stagnant and be comfortable. The competitions that scare me the most, I’ve taken the best skills away from.

Have things changed for women in the sector since you began your career?

Absolutely. The first 10 years of my career in hospitality was a fight every day, to play the ‘tough chick’ who could be taken seriously by male bartenders and managers.

I couldn’t allow myself to make mistakes as mine, as a woman, would always be amplified over others. I used to hide how tired I was after working 70+ hours so I didn’t appear weak and my friends and family had to deal with the lack of personality and stamina I had in my minimal time off.

There are still a lot of people who deal with the same issues today but I’ve seen a huge change in a working environment for bartenders, making sure there is a work and social balance, which breeds creativity in the hours they work. There is still a lot of change needed in the way we breed creativity for our teams as equals.

What are the barriers that are still to be overcome and how could this be tackled?

Diversity in recruitment language is always the biggest on my agenda, make sure your place of work is approachable to everyone. The best person for the job may not even apply if they don’t see you to be an encouraging and safe environment.

How can the sector #EmbraceEquaity?

Language is still the most important, it shows you are taking notice, learn a person’s pronouns, make sure you’re aware of any disabilities and cater to them the best you can, give your full team equal opportunities to learn, be creative and excel in their career goals.

Opening this conversation to your team could help you make the right changes, if you don’t ask and review your own performance as a person, teammate and/or manager, you don’t have the opportunity to grow.

Rachel Bailey Palumbo, co-owner, Hey Palu, Edinburgh:


Best advice received:

Fail fast, know when it's time to throw in the towel and move on to the next thing

Best advice given:

Be humble.

Biggest challenges faced:

Being heard. It wasn’t until I started my own business I felt I had a seat at the table.

Although, in the early days of the business this definitely took a minute for people to realise it was owned equally with all decisions e.g. working with brands etc needing to be agreed by both of us and not just my male business partner. 

Have things changed for women in the sector since you began your career?

I started in hospitality in the mid 90's and the working environment was very different. Being a female manager back then was constantly challenging and by the time I was 25 I left the profession to do something completely different.

The main difference now is that women are being taken more seriously. Behaviour that was accepted as just part of the job 20+ years ago is now being called out and challenged. In addition to us seeing more women in key hospitality roles.

What are the barriers that are still to be overcome and how could this be tackled?

I think post Covid, the one barrier I am seeing a lot in hospitality is to find new ways to inspire younger women to join the sector and make a career in hospitality.

Hospitality can be very demanding so giving young women the tools to be confident and resilient are key to ensuring they are set up for success for whatever role or challenge they take on. 

How can the sector #EmbraceEquity?

Helping women build strong a personal brand through mentoring and sharing their knowledge to help lift everyone up.


Callie Thirsk, owner, Fox & Chance, Birmingham:

Collage Maker-06-Mar-2023-01-46-PM-1094

Best advice received:

The strongest leaders surround themselves with people who inspire them and who have talents and ideas that exceed their own. It takes a combination of all types to make a successful team and business. By creating an environment that nurtures individual talent, the business will see natural success. 

Best advice given:

Learn to stop letting others' opinions get in the way of your own success. The only person you should be competing against is yourself, especially as everyone's success looks different. If you're constantly worried about what other people think of you and the things you do, you'll never have time to focus on the things you want to achieve. 

Biggest challenges faced:

Having to find my own way to build my confidence and self-belief. I've had my opinions and my ideas questioned and challenged and put down throughout my career, an unfortunate side effect of working in a male dominated industry.

The consequence of that was I learned to find my own voice and stand behind my beliefs with conviction. The only person who was ever going to teach me to have that confidence and to not be afraid of taking up space was myself.

That lesson was one of the most difficult challenges I've faced since starting in hospitality, and while there's still plenty of progress to be made, finding that voice has gotten me to where I am now. 

Have things changed for women in the sector since you began your career?

One of the most exciting changes I've seen through my career is seeing an increase in women role models within the industry. When I started as a bartender, the people who were used as examples of inspirational and successful role models were all men with a distinct 'bartender bravado'.

It's amazing to see this mould get broken time and time again with strong, confident women making their mark in all areas of hospitality, from running award winning venues to being hugely influential spokespeople and everything in between, each with their own flair and style.

What are the barriers that are still to be overcome and how could this be tackled?

While there's been dramatic changes in the presence of women throughout the hospitality sector, there's still a long way to go before achieving true equity and equality.

I still regularly find people assuming my position within my business to be lower than those of the men within the team. I've been lucky enough to learn to combat that by speaking up and not being afraid to take up space in conversations, whether with guests, contractors, brand reps, or anyone else I come across on a daily basis.

However, I find many women I've worked with over the years often leave hospitality because they felt undervalued and did not have the chance to find their voice to defend themselves nor did they have anyone to help call out those who make snap judgements.

Empowering people, men and women alike, to take that stand and help women find their confidence to speak up when unfairly challenged or treated is key to breaking down the still prominent barriers within the industry. 

How can the sector #EmbraceEquity?

I am a firm believer in the power of training equity. Giving everyone equal opportunities starts with offering the same training programs to all.

Structured training programs within a business give people a chance to start on equal footing while also allowing for each team member to potentially find new skills, talents, and interests.

Providing access to external training courses often has the benefit of not only upskilling a team but igniting passions in individuals. That passion reflects in the work that they do and in their enthusiasm for their careers. 

Lucy Busk, co-founder and sales director, NICE Wine:

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Best advice received: 

Hire slow, fire fast. See imposter syndrome and being out of your comfort zone as a good thing, it's pushing you to be better [and] be nice.

Best advice given:

If selling a product, focus everything on sales as distribution truly is the best form of marketing and there is no point doing any of the marketing without the distribution [and] move fast, it's one of your biggest skills as a start-up vs a bigger company.

Biggest challenges faced:

Competing with the decade long relationships and power that bigger brands have with big customers.

Have things changed for women in the sector since you began your career?

In the male dominated world of wine, brands like NICE are emerging. Our team is 80% Women, 75% of our leadership team are women and we're 45% female owned.

There are so many amazing women working hard to bring more female energy and diversity into the industry, two to shout out are Jancis Robinson OBE and Caroline Thompson-hill of Accolade Wines. 

What are the barriers that are still to be overcome and how could this be tackled?

The industry is male dominated and lacks diversity. In order to overcome this, businesses need to work hard to adopt diverse recruitment practices such as spreading the net far and wide in their search, offering part time roles or writing inclusive job descriptions. 

How can the sector #EmbraceEquity?

I heard something recently that I loved, if it can't be flipped, don't say it; would my male co-founder be asked 'what is like being a male founder in the wine industry?' or would a man be asked, 'what is like being a working Dad?’

By asking only women these sorts of questions, it's highlighting the double standards and bias that exists in society. 

Danielle Davies, chief financial officer, Revolution Bars Group:

Dan FY21 (002)

Best advice received:

I would say that it is something along the lines of one person can’t take responsibility for everything; we work in teams for a reason.

Best advice given: 

I’d like to think it is about time management and taking care of yourself. I’m also very hot on the correct use of apostrophes, so hopefully my team have seen this as good advice.

Biggest challenges faced:

Just like everyone else, I’ve faced many challenges throughout my career, but as a standout, I’d say learning when to back myself.

Have things changed for women in the sector since you began your career?

Women are much more likely to give the women coming through the ranks a hand up, rather than try and kick them down.

I feel like my generation of leaders are less intimidated by meeting people we might perceive as being more experienced or qualified than we are, than the generation that we grew up working for.

What are the barriers that are still to be overcome and how could this be tackled? 

Combining being brilliant in the workplace with being brilliant everywhere else. It’s vital everyone has got time to be themselves and do what they love, as the threat of burn out, exhaustion and anxiety risks taking the very best women out of work far too soon. 

How can the sector #EmbraceEquity?

It’s really important the sector, and society as a whole, constantly works to take away the stigma of talking about equality; normalisation is the goal.

Carey Hanlon, general manager, Present Company, Liverpool:


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Best advice received:


Easily the advice to go and work abroad. One of the biggest and best experiences I’ve had was moving to be part of the opening team at Super Lyan, Amsterdam. Overthinking used to often keep me in my comfort zone, on this occasion I made the decision quickly, over a weekend in fact and moved within a month.

It was one of the best choices I’ve ever made and really built my confidence - I’ve taken that with me to every scary decision since. 

Best advice given: 


Don’t be afraid to ask for what you’d like or need from a workplace, you can’t assume others will see these things from your perspective. As long as it’s respectful and appropriately timed, open communication can really help you feel heard and get the most out of your role. 

Biggest challenges faced:


In the early days I was constantly referred to as a great ‘female’ bartender. I used to hate that; it implied I was only great for my gender.

It has in the past created the belief that opportunities given to me were about the gender quota rather than me. Perspective is important though being the exception rather than the norm has its advantages too. 

Have things changed for women in the sector since you began your career?


Things have certainly changed in the industry in the decade or so, since the early days of my career.

I didn’t always feel safe, experiencing verbal and physical harassment, even an instance of stalking, making it sometimes feel like a scary environment to work in. It feels like there’s far less tolerance of this now. 

What are the barriers that are still to be overcome and how could this be tackled?


We lose a lot of experienced women from front of house roles as they move to brand work or leave the industry all together. I feel like progress on respecting and facilitating more of a work life balance could really help keep not just more experienced women in hospitality but everyone. 

How can the sector #EmbraceEquility?


Educating decision makers to realise that having a diverse team will make for a more effective team. It’s not just about morality it makes good business sense. 

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