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Women Representation in the Whisky Industry

influencer | interview | women

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September 26, 2021

An Interview with Swedish Whisky Girl, young ambassador of whisky culture.

Take a look at the social media of your favourite whisky brand and see what kind of pictures they post. At a glance, did you perhaps notice anything peculiar?

According to research conducted by OurWhisky in 2020, of all the images featuring people posted on Instagram by the 150 world’s leading whisky brands, 82% of them showed men, while only 18% showed women. Have you also observed this disparity?

Despite what popular perception would have us assume, whisky is no longer a man’s drink. In the last decade, more and more women have not only started drinking whisky but have become an integral part of the industry. However, brands on their social media still choose to not properly represent a large proportion of their customers, demonstrating not only an outdated view of society but also a distorted perception of their customer demographic. A choice that could seriously damage the business itself.

Intending to change stereotypes and support women who aspire to a career in the industry, some associations and brands have taken action to make the whisky world more inclusive. In 2020, The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has launched a Diversity and Inclusivity Charter to encourage equal opportunities. The Charter sets a series of minimum benchmarks for all SWA member companies to meet. The aim is to achieve a 50/50 gender balance in the workforce while eliminating any gender pay gap. Indeed, while The Charter is just the start of the conversation, the whisky industry has witnessed the rise of several great women as distillers, blenders, managers, entrepreneurs, and organizers.

The whisky industry is at the dawn of a transformation. A more inclusive approach means allowing new points of view to lead the tradition to unexplored directions, not to destroy or distort it, but to give it new life. A new way of conceiving whisky is being designated, no longer relegated to the world of the elite but intended for a community of enthusiasts who want to explore different aromas. This is all possible thanks to the inclusion of new people in the whisky world with their unique perspectives and ways of understanding the experience, bringing a breath of fresh air.

One of the channels through which whisky culture is changing is certainly social media, where people from the most diverse backgrounds can have a voice and be heard. We interviewed Moa Katarina Nilsson, better known as the Swedish Whisky Girl, and asked her about her perspective on the issue of the gender gap in the whisky world. Moa is a content creator and whisky enthusiast living in Edinburgh. She has a youtube channel where, with a welcoming approach, share her love for spirits and their flavours. We wanted to know her unique perspective as a woman ambassador of whisky culture and her experiences.

As a woman in the whisky business, have you ever felt that you couldn’t access opportunities because of your gender?
Not really, because in my experience through the opportunities I’ve been offered or tried to go for I’ve not been unfairly treated because the industry already knows there’s excellent people of both genders within it, but sometimes it can be slightly intimidating being the only female in a room which can affect how I choose to act or represent myself.

Do you think social media is affecting the whisky industry?
Yes definitely. It seems to me that social media marketing is becoming a much bigger part for many different whisky brands and you can also see that the audiences get very influenced by the opinions of various Instagrammers, YouTubers and other whisky-related social media people. For me, it’s both positive and negative because I feel that it is a great tool where whisky enthusiasts from all over the world can connect over their interests. But on the other hand, I frequently see many people take opinions online as truth or facts which I think can be problematic.

From your experience, do you think your male colleagues are treated differently as influencers?
From what I can see and experience it seems it might be slightly easier to be respected as a whisky influencer if you are a man but since I can only speak from my side of things it’s difficult for me to see the whole picture. I find that there are some people online, primarily of the opposite gender to myself, that frequently seem to care more about my looks than my content, which in my experience seems to be a result of my gender since I rarely see these kinds of comments in the feeds of my male colleagues.

Some of the women in the whisky industry have stated in past interviews that while the industry itself welcomes diversity as a valuable resource for renewal, the audience has often been less welcoming. Do you agree with them?
I have always felt very welcome in the whisky world by the industry itself, but not always from the audience and the followers as the latter seem to focus a lot on what is right and wrong. The environment online can be quite harsh both for men and women as different opinions are treated as if there are rights and wrongs when in fact it’s just a matter of personal preference.

Several associations have addressed the gender gap in the industry, including, most recently, the Scotch Whisky Association which has developed the Diversity and Inclusivity Charter to help create a welcoming environment for people from different backgrounds that aspire to a career in the whisky world. Do you think these are sufficient measures to promote changes towards a more inclusive industry?
I struggle to know myself what I should do to try and influence this matter in the right direction, so it’s tricky to say what other companies or brands should or should not do. On one hand, I love highlighting whisky people that are female, because I identify with them myself in a world where being a woman who drinks whisky often seems to be something fairly unusual to the general audience, and I think it is important to showcase the representation of both genders – but especially for women because it is still a minority in the whisky world. But with that said I also don’t want there to be the two groups: “whisky drinkers” and “female whisky drinkers” because that alienates women and just puts us in a separate category which can make me feel a bit unwelcome amongst “whisky drinkers”. Women are not a category of people that are less suited to drinking whisky, we are also just whisky drinkers. But I do think there’s a lot that can be done for various whisky brands in terms of their gender representation and the focus of their marketing because whisky isn’t just for cigars and leather armchairs anymore – it’s for all kinds of different people with different cultures, hobbies, ways of drinking and preferences.

According to statistics, women represent a growing part of this market in recent years. In your opinion, is whisky still predominantly seen as a “man’s drink” or is this stereotype starting to change?
It is definitely starting to change, although it’s a slow process. And even though many non-whisky drinkers might still have this view, it doesn’t mean that they have anything against it or doesn’t encourage change. Unfortunately, it’s the protests, negativity and the ones scared of change that often speak the loudest which gives them a lot of space, which I’m trying to work against by not giving them the attention they want. Or simply killing them with kindness. In many parts of the world, I think it’s also still predominantly seen as a man’s drink because of how it has been positioned in films, television, books and culture and it’s especially noticeable when you talk to whisky drinkers that happen to be female because many have the same stories about how they often get comments, unwanted recommendations of lighter flavours and experiences with sexism. I really want this to change because it makes me feel so sad that the actions of some people, and this of course not just towards women, will give others a bad experience of the whisky world, which most of the time is so inclusive, friendly and celebratory of an incredible spirit that can unite people with its rich heritage and culture.

What would you say to encourage more women to become interested in whisky culture?
I don’t think anyone has to like whisky unless they want to, but I think if you are a person who either appreciates interesting flavours, fascinating stories and a wonderful community (or all of these) the whisky world has so much to offer and I’d love to welcome you to be a part of it. I’m always happy to assist with questions, recommendations and advice on where to start, and so are a lot of people within the community. If you come across someone who doesn’t treat you well, they are not a true representation of what the majority of the whisky community actually are like.

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