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Leaders address women’s under-representation in the industry

women employeesInternational Women’s Day is celebrated today, March 8, but the numbers still show all is still far from reaching equality in the private sector.

Vinomofo co-founder Andre Eikmeier has called on wine industry stakeholders to join the #metoo movement to address the under-representation of women in the sector, alongside “toxic and juvenile” bro culture in start-up circles.

Eikmeier told Inside Retail on the eve of International Women’s Day there are series of striking inequities in the wine and startup communities regarding the representation of women and how they are treated in the workplace.

“This is obviously a fucking problem and we have to address it,” he said.

Referencing the global push against sexual harassment that has emerged in the wake of allegations against high profile individuals in the entertainment industry in recent months, Eikmeier said some men were made as examples to change what’s considered acceptable.

“This movement we’re in the middle of is really powerful and needed … it’s really dangerous for someone like me to say it’s not a problem, every time you think those barriers aren’t there you see Uber and a whole bunch of others and realise it doesn’t take much before you suddenly have a toxic bro culture,” he added.

National Retailers Association (NRA) CEO Dominique Lamb has also warned retailers they must not rest on their laurels with regards to addressing gender inequities. She called on industry leaders to “set an example” for less diverse sectors of the economy.

Lamb said that there’s been a strong push for more diversity in the retail sector over the last 12 months, but “real action” was still required to address the under-representation of women in leadership positions.

“Female representation has always been most concentrated in customer service roles, but then becomes increasingly sparse with every rung up the management ladder,” Lamb said. “There has been a strong push for more diversity across the board and we are seeing a focus shift. This is heartening but we need to see real action and a move towards workplaces that allow female leaders to progress by embracing everything they have to offer and cultivating them throughout their careers.”

Vinomofo also has launched today a wine case filled with wines made exclusively by female leaders in the industry to promote female entrepreneurship in the community and it will add a permanent search tag to its site to enable customers to search for drinks made by women. The e-commerce business hopes to set an example for some of the generational laggards in the wine industry that Eikmeier believes aren’t embracing change quick enough.

“The [older] generation is still pretty prevalent in the wine industry … it’s a bit like casual racism, it’s a prevailing attitude – shit needs to change,” he said. “I don’t expect them to change their views overnight, but I do expect them to consider that they’re no longer of this day or era … either shut the fuck up if you can’t understand, or really change yourself and your opinions.”

Vinomofo’s co founder Eikmeier said that ultimately change should be driven by women in the industry, but men also have an important role to play in facilitating change.

“I just present my opinion and get out of the way, a movement like this has to be driven by that group of people … [but] because we, by default – and changing rapidly thank god – are the incumbents, we’re the ones that can really clear the barriers and my job is to do whatever I can,” he said.

Furthermore, the Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s  (WGEA) data on women in leadership released in February shows women hold just 13.7 per cent of chair positions, 24.9 per cent of directorships and only 16.5 per cent of chief executive roles in private-sector companies with 100 or more employees.

In the ASX-200, only 26.2 per cent of directors are women as of January, while women were only 25 per cent of new appointments to ASX 200 boards in January. But WGEA’s latest report found that more Australian employers than ever are taking pay equity seriously, which Lamb said was encouraging.

“As one of the most gendered industries, we have a duty to set an example for others to follow, and collectively implement industry-wide initiatives to achieve true gender balance in the upper echelons of the domestic retail sector,” Lamb said.

Moreover, former Myer CEO Bernie Brookes, a long-time advocate for gender equality, said last week at Inside Retail Live quotas represented reverse discrimination and were ultimately misguided.

“Reverse discrimination has two distinct disadvantages, it doesn’t help productivity … you’re getting a person who isn’t qualified to do the job,” Brookes said. “What has to be done is everyone has to report on improvements to the pay gap and representation, and they have to be accountable to it.”

But Lamb also pointed out that women were sculpted in a way that’s not conductive to climbing the corporate ladder, and that this barrier that needs to be addressed.

“It’s endemic in women, we’ve been unfortunately environmentally sculpted not to lean in and be promoters,” she said. “We want to basically have a system that embraces women for exactly who they are because of what they bring to a business.”

While Vinomofo has not used quotas to promote diversity in its own business, but Eikmeier advocated the practice as a way to break through barriers in the workplace.

“Quotas are important, I know it seems like it isn’t merit based and, in a way, can seem a bit dis-empowering to women as well – but you just have to even the representation,” he added.

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