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  • Women in Wine: Cynthia Lohr at New Hampshire Wine Week

    Cynthia Lohr

    By Cathy Huyghe for Forbes.com

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    Sometimes an opportunity crosses your desk that is just too good to pass up.

    Even if it means traveling to New Hampshire in the dead of winter.

    That's exactly how it felt to receive an invitation to attend the annual Wine Week hosted by the New Hampshire Liquor Commission (NHLC), whose program this year featured the theme of Women in Wine, in particular Cristina Mariani-May, CEO of Banfi Vintners in Tuscany; Gina Gallo, third generation winegrower with E&J Gallo Winery; Cynthia Lohr, co-owner of J. Lohr Vineyards; and Dr. Laura Catena, a fourth generation Argentine vintner with Bodega Catena Zapata and her own Luca Winery in Mendoza, Argentina.

    The opportunity to speak with them, individually and altogether, was rare and valued, especially in the context of a dialogue around women in the wine industry (a personal and professional focus of mine this year in particular). I now know to also add Nicole Brassard Jordan, Director of Marketing, Merchandising and Warehousing for the NHLC, to my running list of accomplished women to watch and to hear.

    The highlights below are my takeaways from the event, and they dovetail with conversation overall about women in the industry. I've organized the takeaways into two parts -- first, two fundamental components of effective dialogue on the topic, and then two areas of concern and need for improvement.

    Let's start with two factors that facilitate a productive dialogue: the participation of men at the table, and the voice of younger people whose own experience in the industry so far has been inclusive and supportive.

    Men and Young People at the Table

    Certainly this was a conversation about the advancement of women. Just as certainly, it was about encouraging and welcoming the participation of men. There is, I believe, a sincere interest in advancing more women to positions of equality -- equal in terms of pay, representation, and leadership roles. Given that most decision-making roles in the industry are currently held by men, their active participation is obviously elemental in order to effect the change.

    There was also a sensitivity toward the men in our workplaces who contribute to a supportive and encouraging environment for us all, and who are impacted by the repercussions of the #MeToo movement (and its backlash) in the sense that they are now cautious and gun shy in their interaction with women, even about giving compliments, for fear of them being misconstrued.

    It's a real concern, but withdrawing from dialogue won't help. We need to keep talking. And we probably all need to just take a breath.

    A breath of fresh air came from young people I spoke with, who expressed relief that the conversation wasn't negative toward men and that, instead, there was an awareness of keeping the pendulum from swinging too far in the opposite direction. They are new to the industry and, as an indication of hope for what's to come, they feel supported, heard, and respected in their roles.

    Pay Equality and Owning Our Voice

    Absolutely, there are well-intentioned men and women throughout the industry, and examples of successful and satisfying roles that women occupy.

    There's also absolutely a gap, and most of us are hovering over that gap without knowing how to move forward.

    The gap is between intention and execution -- between the intention for women to be equal contributors and partners in the business of wine, and the actual, operational execution of that intention.

    How do all of us, not just some of us, get to the other side of the gap?

    We can start with learning from the examples of those who have reached the other side, and highlighting them. We need more of those examples, and we need to be part of them to know that they’re relevant to us personally.

    In addition, we can take concrete steps toward improving two areas of concern: income discrepancies and owning our voice.

    Cynthia Lohr, a strong advocate of women's advancement whose professional experience is rooted in the tech industry, expressed the need to address the pay gap between women and men. Laura Catena also spoke of addressing that gap within her own company: once she pointed out that the discrepancy existed among employees, her father immediately endorsed its correction. He was ready and willing; the catalyst was her pointing it out.

    It seems like a by-the-numbers change for a business to make -- and it is -- and companies who proactively execute the change can serve as models for others to follow.

    There is a less obvious factor also at play here, however: owning our voice, and the confidence to ask for the pay raise ourselves when there isn’t a senior person advocating for it on our behalf. It's a psychological barrier that other women have pointed out, and I’ve experienced myself, that is often rooted in a lack of exposure to female role models who themselves were paid fairly and equally for their work. There just were -- are -- not very many of them for us to emulate or learn from. So owning the voice that advocates on our own behalves is a learned behavior and one that doesn't feel immediately natural, not after decades of internalizing the message that the work women do is valued less in dollar amounts.

    For that reason, I believe that financial education can be a central tenet of the movement to advance more women in the wine industry: it's about the confidence to own our voice about the value we bring to the business of wine.

    The road ahead in this conversation is long and it won't always be smooth. But, as I witnessed in New Hampshire last week, we already have momentum that is fueled by good intentions. The work now is to execute on the bigger scale.


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