These four women are changing the whisky game. And now, in an exclusive roundtable discussion, they get real about what it takes to be one of the best craftswomen in the industry, gender perceptions, and what advice they have for aspiring craftswomen. Here’s what they each had to say:
Emma Walker, Master Blender at Johnnie Walker
Emma talked about how being called a craftswoman is a great honor and said it's great praise for the hard work she's put in.
On gender perceptions: “For me, whisky's about flavor. It's there for everyone to enjoy. I would say there's been ridiculous questions, like, ‘Does whisky have a gender? Is it male?’ Whisky is whisky. It doesn't have a gender.”
Similarly, she added, “This perception that there are no women working in whisky, it doesn't reflect what actually happens within our company and within the industry. Whisky is a match. It's a balance. It's a blend of the perfect combination of people.”
Emma’s best advice for aspiring craftswomen is to learn as much as you can. “Experience as much as you can. Just volunteer to get involved in as many different opportunities within the role and also in different areas within the business as well,” she said. “To anyone out there that's looking to join the whisky industry in the future, I would say you need to always be curious.”
Joanna Scandella, Master Blender at Crown Royal
“Being a craftswoman means being passionate and being really caring, looking at the details, trusting yourself. It’s about caring about the product you create," Joanna said.
While many people still think of whisky as a man’s drink, she said, “Actually it's for everybody...that stereotype is being broken down." She added, “I am the very first Crown Royal female blender, but it wasn't because I was female that I became the blender... Now there are more and more women working in the industry all the time, and you can drink whisky the way that you like it.”
She advises other women who want to break into the industry to not compare themselves to others. ”Trust yourself. Be bold, be creative. Sometimes bite off a little bit more than you think you can chew because really, you're up to the challenge.”
Eboni Major, Blender at Bulleit Frontier Whiskey
Regarding gender perceptions, Eboni said, “I think growing up, boys are held to a different standard. Girls are told not to be bossy or told to be seen, not heard, and it just doesn't create a good environment as you grow older.”
And although her experience as Bulleit has been positive, she knows that’s not always the case outside of her work. “I have so many women who I can look up to within our company, that maybe how I get treated internally may not be as different, but the external view is very different,” she said.
Eboni’s advice to inspire the next generation of craftswomen? “Don't ever try to prove anything to anybody. Only do it for yourself, and just take that risk, take that chance because you don't get...tomorrow's not promised.”
“Take credit for any opportunity. I always say when I have a girl, somebody tells her not to be bossy, I'm going to get them... ‘Do not tell her that.’ You own that leadership in you,” she added.
Nicole Austin, Master Distiller & General Manager at George Dickel
When asked about double standards and gender perceptions in the discussion, Nicole said, “I have so often seen failure from a man is just accepted as part of the process. But that failure from a woman somehow leads to questioning everything about her competence in whether she deserves to be there. We don't feel the same freedom to fail.”
Her solution? “Women need to be visible. That lets other people know that there is a place for you and that there's an invitation here and that's how they know that there's opportunity... I've seen a big change in the last 10 years where people were totally surprised, but now look at all the faces around this table, ” Nicole added.
Check out this clip from the roundtable discussion here:
Images courtesy of Diageo