On December 3, Be the Change, an initiative aimed at bringing diversity and inclusion to the wine and spirits industry, hosted its inaugural virtual job fair. The four-hour event aimed to connect employers committed to diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) with more than 700 registered job seekers looking for opportunities in the drinks world.
Over 900 jobs were presented by participating companies. Exhibitors included top suppliers, such as Avaline, Constellation Brands, Moet Hennessy, E. & J. Gallo, Bacardi, Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, T. Edward Wine & Spirits, Jackson Family Wines, Trinchero Family Estates, The Wine Group, and Cakebread Cellars; and leading wholesalers including Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, Republic National Distributing Company, Young Market Company, Breakthru Beverage, Empire Merchants, and Great Lakes Wine & Spirits. The event was hosted by online career fair platform, Brazen, and in collaboration with ForceBrands.
“Be the Change Job Fair was a history-making success in many ways,” said Philana Bouvier, Be the Change cofounder and vice president fine wine and supplier business development at Republic National Distributing Company. “This event was the first time an initiative this personal and powerful has ever happened in the wine industry, and clearly there is a need. We hope that other industries will follow as we continue to expand this initiative across the country and in other companies.”
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Bouvier and three other industry veterans, Lia Jones, Rania Zayyat, and Cara Bertone, founded Be the Change after the killing of George Floyd and subsequent #BlackoutTuesday campaign in June. That social media action, launched within the music business, quickly ricocheted through the wine and spirits community, drawing attention to the extreme lack of diversity within the industry.
“What happened to all the companies that posted the black squares on #BlackoutTuesday?” said Bouvier, who has worked in the industry for 20 years. “It was a great awareness campaign, but how can we facilitate meaningful connections between employers and job seekers that will result in real diversity and inclusion within the drinks industry?”
Many job seekers at Be the Change’s job fair reported encouraging conversations with recruiters. Emily Perlman, who is currently a sales analyst at a midsized distributor, attended the event looking for a sales strategy role at a larger supplier. “This is the first time I’ve participated in an industry’s initiative to diversify, so I’m impressed and excited about the event,” she said. “It also feels good to not feel alone in the job hunt, especially as a younger woman in the LGBT community.”
Recruiters also reported positive experiences. “Our team at Jackson Family Wines was overwhelmed by the amount of talent and potential from this group of applicants, that we otherwise might not have encountered. Be the Change is an excellent networking event as well,” says Rick Tigner, CEO for Jackson Family Wines.
Be the Change will host a second job fair on March 25 in partnership with Wonder Women in Wine, a gender equality-focused nonprofit, and it will expand to include more beer and spirits industry opportunities. Be the Change will also submit legislation that aims to empower inclusive hiring practices in 2021 (more details to come in January).
To help measure the job fair’s impact, Be the Change will follow a selection of applicants who obtained jobs from exhibiting employers and track their journey from onboarding through the first 90 days of employment. This will help determine “whether or not that employer is committed to promoting, uplifting, and educating new employees on their journey into the wine business,” Bouvier explained.
“The true measure of success will be where our employers and candidates are a year to two even three years from now,” said Rania Zayyat, founder and president of Wonder Women in Wine. “We are only just beginning and our hope is to inspire other industries to make positive change,”
“Our goal was to create an equal opportunity experience for all. We are using this time to understand and analyze what we did right and what we need to improve on,” shared Cara Bertone, national accounts sales manager, Folio Fine Wine Group.
Facilitating job placement with dedicated companies is a big part of changing the status quo, says Be the Change cofounder Lia Jones, who is also the executive director of Diversity in Wine & Spirits, but employees have a responsibility, too. “When it comes to implementing DEI initiatives, it’s up the employees to participate,” Jones said. “Employers can create all sorts of ERGs [Employee Resource Groups] and diversity resources, but if employees don’t get involved and speak up, it’s all in vain.”
What Real Diversity and Inclusion Looks Like
The day before the virtual job fair, Be the Change hosted a panel discussion delving into some of the more complicated issues of achieving real social change. “The goal is to hire for talent, not to check a box,” said Susana Balbo, the first Argentinian female winemaker, entrepreneur, and former Congresswoman. She encouraged employers to go beyond the desire of wanting to meet a diversity quota, but to put in the work to find the right fit for the right role. “Employees are applying to positions with knowledge, confidence, and direct goals—they deserve to be acknowledged for what they are bringing to the table to make the company or organization better.”
Enacting sustainable DEI requires long-term support and commitment, said Stephanie Gallo, chief marketing officer at E. & J. Gallo. “Be thoughtful about employee development, advancement, and retention,” she explained. A wine industry leader in DEI, the Gallo organization recently established a diversity and inclusion council to bring increasing accountability to their efforts. “Employee Resource Groups have been integral to the success of the company’s ability to retain and support employees of color,” Gallo added.
Lasting change will require all stakeholders to be fully engaged, argued scientist, entrepreneur, and sensory expert Dr. Hoby Wedler. “It can’t be the sole responsibility of one group of people to lead the way,” he said. “It’s not about teaching, it’s about showing up.”
Chasity Cooper is a Chicago-based wine journalist whose work can be found at the intersection of wine and culture. Cooper holds her WSET Level 2 Award in Wines with Merit, and is a WSET Level 3 Award in Wines candidate. When it comes to wine education, Cooper’s goal is to break down the barrier of intimidation and make learning about wine an enjoyable experience for all.