I was incredibly driven, and open about it. It didn’t escape the notice of one older guy who came up to me and said “oh, aren’t you the keen girl in the front row”. At first, it made me feel awful. But then I thought – “actually, yeah. I am the keen one in the front row – because I want to pass”.
Sarah reveals the three questions she’s asked most about being a woman in the wine trade and a female Master of Wine.
Ahh – so are you a ‘mistress of wine’?
This question usually comes from men who aren’t in the trade, but who’re interested in wine – and it’s usually accompanied by a guffaw or wink. The obvious answer is no, not least because implied is a very different career choice.
Is your business your own?
This question comes most often from other women, especially those who work in wine in other countries. I’m asked not just if my business is my own, but if my husband helps me run it; if I started it alone; how I started it.
These questions always make me incredibly humble and thankful for the extraordinary opportunities I’ve had. It’s also a stark reminder of why it’s an international women’s day, because irrespective of the situation in the UK, we still need to keep talking about the underrepresentation of women in business across the world – even, especially, in fields which they love.
In many countries there are cultural and societal barriers that make it difficult for a woman (more difficult than for a man) to succeed with her own business. And when she does, it’s also more difficult for her to gain credibility and win recognition as an authority in business.
Is it difficult being a woman in the wine trade?
This question is most often asked in relation to the perception of the fine wine trade being a bit of an old boy’s club. The ‘old boy’ part is vital – generational perceptions feel impossible to overcome.
When I was studying for my MW it was the week-long residential course in Bordeaux which really hammered home to me how much work was needed to pass. I was incredibly driven, and open about it. It didn’t escape the notice of one older guy who came up to me and said “oh, aren’t you the keen girl in the front row”. At first, it made me feel awful. But then I thought – “actually, yeah. I am the keen girl in the front row – because I want to pass”. No one has anything to fear from the drive of any person to be the best they can be in a job that they love.
But I don’t think that the wine trade is especially difficult for women. Thankfully, corporate culture in every field is becoming more aware of, and is addressing, unconscious bias. Work with love, and with diligence, and don’t take being underestimated personally. Simples.